By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald Sports
Those looking for the Saints to draft a field-stretching wide receiver with their first selection in the NFL draft were disappointed. The Saints went with the least sexy selection, drafting a center, Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy, in the second round.
Flash back to two years ago. With the last pick in the first round, the one acquired in the trade of wide receiver Brandin Cooks to New England, the Saints selected offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
Seconds later, my phone rang. A friend was on the other end: “We traded Brandin Cooks for a tackle?”
Cooks has played well for two teams, the Patriots and the Rams. In the meantime, Ramczyk has developed into one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
What we continue to see is the transformation of the New Orleans Saints. Back then, the Saints had to rely on their future Hall of Fame quarterback to throw his way to victory. Now, the Saints are a much more physical team, proficient at running the football and stopping the run.
The result is 24 wins over the last two seasons, and back-to-back NFC South titles.
You don’t become a consistent winner, on any level, if you can’t win up front. In 2015, the Saints averaged 93.2 rush yards per game. The Saints were 24th in the NFL in rush yards per game. In 2018, the Saints were sixth, averaging 126.6 rush yards per game. In 2018, the Saints offensive line allowed 20 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL and one fewer than the Super Bowl-champion Patriots.
Seven times in 2018, the Saints won when Drew Brees threw for 217 yards or less.
Brees has become less of an asset in fantasy football, and his real team is thriving because of it.
In 2015, the Saints defense allowed 129.4 rushing yards per game, an average of 4.9 yards per carry. In 2018, the Saints allowed 3.6 yards per rush and 80.2 yards per game.
Here’s what’s happened since the spring of 2015:
The Saints traded tight end Jimmy Graham for a first-round pick and Seattle center Max Unger. In the 2015 draft, the Saints selected guard/tackle Andrus Peat with their first pick.
One year later, the Saints added defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the first round. Defensive end Cam Jordan, a 2011 first-round pick, ascended from being a very good player to being one of the best at his position in the NFL.
A year later, the Saints used a first-round pick on Ramczyk. And, two years later, the Saints drafted a center in the second round.
You can’t argue with the numbers: Sacks are down, rush yards allowed are down and rushing yards are up. And, victories have also risen.
Brees doesn’t have to throw for 350 yards to give the Saints a chance to win. The Saints are a tougher, more physical team. That’s why they will be favored to win a third straight NFC South title.
Ed Daniels is sports director at ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.