You’ve all heard the news by now… star left tackle Terron Armstead is out 4-6 months with a torn labrum in his shoulder which required surgery. That timeline suggests he’s potentially coming back at the earliest around Thanksgiving and at the latest sometime in December. More realistically, though, he’s done for the year and we are unlikely to see Armstead in a Saints uniform at any point during the 2017 season. That’s not definitive but I think it’s setting yourself up for major disappointment to expect anything out of him this season. So what happens at left tackle? The only two realistic solutions that can work at that position and allow the Saints offense to maintain production are rookie 1st round pick Ryan Ramczyk and 2015 1st round pick Andrus Peat. I’ll go a step further and say it really needs to be Ramczyk, though, and he needs to be good right away.
First of all, as much as I’m tempted to panic and throw in the towel after another devastating piece of news prior to training camp (as if Unger and Fairley news wasn’t already worrisome enough) it’s important to remember the Saints offense functioned at a very high level last season mostly without Armstead. These are good options to have fill in at least tackle. Most teams don’t have this luxury, especially when they lose a player of Armstead’s quality. Both Peat and Ramczyk could be good at left tackle, and both are 1st round picks. Both also played left tackle in college. If anything the Saints are set up to be better without Armstead this year, not worse, because they spent a 1st round pick on Ramczyk. The fact that Armstead is already pretty much done for the year before training camp even starts is really unnerving, though, because Ramczyk isn’t even medically cleared from his offseason hip surgery and the margin of error is out the window. The most frustrating part for me is the Saints offensive line of Armstead-Peat-Unger-Warford-Strief with Ramczyk and Kelemete as primary backups had the potential to be Dallas Cowboys 0-line amazing. I also liked the idea of Ramczyk being brought along slowly to develop as he recovers from his ailment. Alas, that’s all out the window. I still think the offensive line has the potential to be good – just no longer amazing. But good would be enough to win a lot of games if the defense improves. Ultimately I think it falls on Ramczyk stepping up immediately for this line to be “good” for a numbers of reasons.
Yes, Peat has played left tackle serviceably and I think he could go in there and handle it again if needed. But he’s finally found a home at left guard and you ideally want him to stay there. His development has been halted at times by the number of times he’s changed positions and he’s played well at left guard. Having him focus on one position would be preferable. With Unger currently out and likely to stay out until around the opener, too, stability at left guard is heightened in importance. That’s why it is so important for Ramczyk to step in and seamlessly take over at left tackle. It upsets the balance less of how solidly everything else is in place.
Let’s be honest, Ramczyk was viewed by many as the best tackle in the draft and only fell to 32 because of health concerns. He is a 1st round pick for a reason and the vision/goal for him is to be a terrific player for many years to come. Ideally the need for that was a year or even two down the road due to his injury, but that’s now been accelerated. The Saints are counting on Ramczyk to be good and good sooner than expected. If Peat is forced to play left tackle, then the Saints are forced to hope Kelemete, Landon Turner and possibly whoever is covering for Unger can hold it down on the interior. That to me feels a lot less promising.
It’s a novel idea, I know, that your 1st round pick be good and make an immediate impact in his rookie season. The Saints have had mixed results with that lately. But despite losing Armstead, this season can still be special. It’s probably going to take Ryan Ramczyk giving an immediate and real contribution.