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New Orleans Saints offensive, defensive lines stacked with homegrown talent

Eight of nine starters on offensive and defensive lines were Saints draft picks


It's not a coincidence that the New Orleans Saints annually have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, nor happenstance that the defensive line can wreak havoc with the best of them.

Not if you look at the team's investment portfolio for the draft.

Of the five offensive line starters, four were Saints draft picks: First-rounders Andrus Peat (left guard, No. 13 overall in 2015) and Ryan Ramczyk  (right tackle, No. 32 in '17), second-rounder Erik McCoy  (center, No. 48 in '19) and third-rounder Terron Armstead  (left tackle, No. 75 in 2013).

And on the defensive line, all four starters were taken by the Saints in the draft: Cameron Jordan  (defensive end, No. 24 in '11), Sheldon Rankins  (defensive tackle, No. 12 in '16) and Marcus Davenport (defensive end, No. 14 in '18) were first-round picks, and David Onyemata (defensive tackle, No. 120 in '16) was a fourth-rounder.

Placing value in the trenches has paid off huge for the Saints. New Orleans yearly is among the teams that allow the least sacks, and has had a top 10 offense every year since 2006. And the defensive line quartet accounted for 29 of the team's 49 sacks in 2018, and 26.5 of 51 last year, despite Rankins playing just 10 games after returning from a torn Achilles, and Davenport missing three after showing improvement after his rookie season.

Accordingly, accolades have streamed in: All-Pro recognition for Jordan (three straight years), Ramczyk (two straight) and Armstead (in 2018), and Pro Bowl spots for Jordan, Armstead and Peat (the last two years).

New Orleans has selected linemen when it appeared it needed them (Jordan, Rankins, Davenport, Peat) and in years when it appeared it didn't (Ramczyk, McCoy, Armstead). It has picked players who arguably were the best in their positions entering the draft (Rankins, Ramczyk and McCoy), and it has taken players whose pedigrees might not have pointed to NFL careers as impact players (Armstead and Onyemata).

But by staying true to the plan, and choosing the best available player regardless of position or "need," the Saints rarely have gone home wrong when they've gone big.

In fact, the Saints have increased their chances of success by moving up in the draft in order to pick McCoy, Davenport and Ramczyk. New Orleans jumped to the No. 48 overall pick to get McCoy, and picked up the No. 116 pick, by trading Nos. 63 and 202 last year, and their second-rounder this year.

"(McCoy is) one of those players that in the process stood out," Saints Coach Sean Payton said after McCoy was drafted. "See his strength on tape in each game. Really had a high grade on him. Played at obviously a high level of competition. See the consistency. Just a lot of things to like with the player."

The move up to pick Davenport was even more decisive. New Orleans gave Green Bay the Nos. 27 and 147 picks in 2018, and their first-rounder in 2019, in order to move up to No. 14 to pick Davenport.

"I was aware of him early on, and you're looking closely at the position fit and looking at the prototype and size," Payton told after Davenport was drafted. "He's someone that we felt fit a lot of the things we were looking for and he can also play defensive end, and we kind of put a premium on that position.

"So from that point to when we are entering the daft -- and we were selecting where we were in the later part of first round -- you know if we were to go up it would have to be for a specific player. And in fact, when we are grading these players…the question might be before the final grade -- would we move to get this player? And [Davenport] was one that we felt we would do that for."

Doing that, and building their lines through the draft, has been a solid plan.

Jordan is one of the franchise's all-time great players, Rankins had eight sacks as a defensive tackle in 2018 and Onyemata has had stretches of dominance. Meanwhile, every member of the offensive line except McCoy – including right guard Larry Warford, a third-round pick by Detroit in 2013 – has either been named All-Pro, or to the Pro Bowl, or both in the last three years. And McCoy appears to be on that path after a strong rookie season.

Considering how New Orleans has invested, perhaps it shouldn't be all that unexpected.

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