- Aug 1, 1997
- Reaction score
- Sunset, La
Forrest Lamp (76) / AP Photo
By Andrus Whitewing, with analysis from Dan Levy | Saintsreport.com Staff
Cesar Ruiz is saying a lot of the right things this off-season in his quest to validate being taken as the Saints first round pick (24th overall) in the 2020 draft. Judging from his elite 9.07 RAS score, there is little doubt that the 6-3, 307lb. Ruiz has the physical talent to become a quality starter within the Saints interior offensive line. However, while he has shown flashes, Ruiz has yet to show any consistency and has at times looked downright lost.
Some contend that he is playing out of position at RG and is better suited to play center, while others speculate that Ruiz' "getting paid" first round money in 2020 left him a bit distracted--more interested in purchasing and trading-in expensive vehicles than studying the playbook. I don't know whether either is true, but whatever the issues were, he at least appears to be focused on football and improving his game now. As he should be, since there is some intriguing competition breathing down his neck.
Fans were certainly concerned enough about the Guard position to remain hopeful that the Saints would address it in the offseason--not just due to questions concerning Ruiz, but with regard to Andrus Peat as well, mainly due to Peat's propensity for being sidelined with injuries. While many complain about Peat's exorbitant contract, my personal observation is that Andrus Peat is a versatile, pro-bowl caliber offensive lineman 98% of the time, and, other than his injury issues, the main concerns with Peat are his occasional mental lapses that always seem to come at the wrong time, making them more obvious. I would also like to see him remain more on balance, so as to not spend so much time laying on the turf.
So what did the Saints do to address the interior line this off-season?
Most will say... Not much! But is that true? Well, it is, if you are only speaking to the draft, and somewhat true even in free agency. The Saints did not draft a guard, however they did pick up a few Undrafted Free Agents. Namely Derek Schweiger out of Iowa State, Lewis Kidd out of Montana State, and Sage Doxtater out of New Mexico State. You just never know when you are going to find that diamond in the rough, but we just don't know a whole lot about any of these three and will have to see if one of them becomes that diamond.
However, I am going focus on the more obvious talents for this article.
Carried over from the 2021 season, the Saints still have Calvin Throckmorton, who was then an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. Due to injuries along the interior OL, the 6-5, 310 lb. 2nd team All-American played extensively at guard, starting 14 games during his rookie campaign, and performed fairly well considering expectations were rather low with him being undrafted. His PFF grade was a humble 43.4, the lowest on the team among starters, with the next lowest being Cesar Ruiz @ 57.9, indicating that Guard play without Peat was severely lacking. Throckmorton had an excellent college career and was projected by some draft analysts to go as high as the second round. However, that was before the NFL combine, where he displayed an unexpected lack of speed and agility. His RAS score left a lot to be desired, but Throckmorton is intelligent, plays powerful enough and with a level of heart to compensate. Still, there frankly isn't enough ceiling to have high expectations out of Throckmorton.
The Saints also have 30 yr. old James Hurst. The versatile 6-5, 310 lb. 9-yr. veteran has proven that he can be a quality starter at either tackle or guard, and due to Saints injuries along the OL last season, also spent a lot of time on the field. Hurst, along with the other tackles (Landon Young, Ethan Greenidge, Khalique Washington, Jerald Hawkins) on the Saints Roster, can probably compete for time at Guard. However, they are also likely going to be competing with 2022 Saints first-round pick Trevor Penning for the left tackle spot. Assuming Hurst--whom I would consider the favorite among that group--loses that battle with Penning, he could end up being considered for a starting role at guard, should Ruiz not show marked improvement.
The Saints recently signed 6-2, 298 lb. OL Josh Andrews. The 30-yr old Andrews formerly played this past season for the Falcons (started 2 games) after stints with the Jets (started 4 games), the Colts (as a backup), and the Eagles (as a backup). Andrews is widely viewed as a serviceable backup and a solid depth signing. His last PFF grade was in 2020 and clocked in at 41.2. He has never graded above 60.0, which was in 2016.
Forest Lamp (66). Credit Michael C. Hebert
That brings us to the most intriguing interior offensive line acquisition this off-season (actually a re-sign): Forrest Lamp. The 28 yr. old, 6-4, 310 lb Lamp, now going into his 5th season, was the Chargers 2nd round pick (38th overall) in the 2017 draft.
A snippet from his bio at the Saints Official site reads:
"In 2021, the Venice, Fla. native joined the Saints practice squad at midseason after going to training camp with the Buffalo Bills and appeared in one contest for New Orleans. In 2020, Lamp started all 16 games at left guard for the Chargers".
"Lamp played four seasons at Western Kentucky and started 51 games. He earned second-team All-America honors from USA Today in 2016, becoming the first Hilltopper to earn All-America from the publication. He didn't allow a sack in either his junior or senior campaign".
Brendon Croce at Fansided had this to say about Lamp when he signed with the Bills in 2021:
"In 2017, Forrest Lamp was considered one of the best value selections in the NFL Draft that year when the Chargers drafted the offensive lineman in the second round. He was considered one of the better interior offensive linemen prospects in that draft class.
However, the first three years didn’t go as planned as Lamp dealt with a number of injuries. He suffered an ACL injury that forced him to miss his entire rookie season. The next two seasons he would miss time due to injury and played in a total of nine games during that stretch."
Going back to the time that he was drafted out of Western Kentucky, Lamp had an exceptional 9.56 RAS score at the OG position, which was actually higher than that of Ruiz' (9.07) score at the center position:
By comparison, Erik McCoy's RAS score was 8.98, Andrus Peat's was 8.54, and Terron Armstead's was 9.59.
In three of Lamp's first four seasons, he was hampered by injuries and spent much of his time on IR. Bad luck? Injury prone? A little of both? No one knows! Thus it's a little hard to get a read on what he will be capable of coming in, except that he did start that full season for the Chargers in 2020--pretty impressive on the surface, and a revealing season in a couple of regards.
During the 2020 season, Lamp played in 100% of the teams 1175 offensive snaps, all at left guard (first among all guards in 2020). He was only penalized once that year: a single false start. Impressive discipline, and Lamp is credited as allowing only 2 sacks in 2020. Not too bad considering this was essentially his rookie season in terms of game experience. However, when checking Lamp's PFF grade for that year, he was only given a 49.4 performance grade.
Prior to seeing that score, Lamp looked to me like a high reward value signing. However, that low PFF "score" needed to be delved into. What I didn't have was film study to drill a little deeper and ascertain how his talents had translated to the NFL thus far. So I asked Saintsreport.com Staff Writer and Analyst - Coach Dan Levy to review some film on Lamp from 2020 and lend his analysis. After a brief review here is what Dan had to say:
The Good: "I watched the first half of the week 8 game vs. Denver (chose it b/c it was the Chargers best rushing game that year). And it's pretty clear to me why Lamp was drafted early"...
"You can see the athleticism. He moves really well, light on his feet, quick hands. Isn't making mental errors. And everything up until the point of attack looks great."
The Bad: "He is just not aggressive. Doesn't have a mean streak--which, inside, is a liability. He looks light in the butt for guard and a lot of that could stem from his more passive style of play. From the get-go in the Denver game he was getting knocked off the ball in pass pro and got run into the QBs face at least twice in the first quarter. He's quick off the snap and is athletic in his set, but pretty high in his base. Pass rushers get into his body. Good hand placement but just not an aggressive punch. He gets bulled by interior linemen and doesn't bully blitzing backers, himself.
He's also disengaged way too easily, poor finish. Some of it looks like effort, some of it looks like the aforementioned issues in both pass and run game (high sets, weak punch, doesn't lock on and drive in the run game). I haven't seen a play yet where he locked on and really pumped his legs beyond the point of attack--and definitely no pancakes (can't see him ever logging one unless a guy trips). In short yardage and screens, he prefers to try and cut block guys (nothing wrong with that but in the handful of plays he did it, he didn't get his guys on the ground).
2nd level he generally takes good angles, but again, he's kinda bumping guys, boxing out--gets his hands inside now and then, but they shed pretty quickly. I mean, Alex Mack was kind of a finesse blocker too but he finesse blocked AGGRESSIVELY. He rarely got bull rushed or generally bullied around b/c he had an arsenal of techniques and counters and he was aggressive at the point of attack, just used really good leverage and athleticism to win or at least stalemate.
I don't want to be too hard on the guy based on one half of football. But aggression isn't typically something you see flipped on for one game and off for the next, and it's hard to coach. He doesn't look like he's hampered by injury or anything--again, he moves really well. He was prob a guy at the college level who could out-athlete guys and finesse his way into some success, and his athleticism got him drafted early. I mean, a guy like that I would definitely call a good backup, and just off of sheer athleticism maybe he's the best guy to challenge Ruiz.
In a lot of ways, they seem to be suffering from the same issues. Maybe Marrone can get one of them to finally step up.
Or maybe Lamp will decide to be a madman this year. Stranger things have happened"
I copied Coach Dan on what I had written thus far, and Dan added: "I am going to dig into a little more Lamp film later for my own curiosity. But yeah, just at a glance I think he and Ruiz may be suffering from the same issues (athletic but a little light/passive for G, need to be nastier, finish better). Maybe the competition lights a fire under them. But you lay out a good case in your article for Lamp being the best candidate on the roster to push Ruiz, if not outright supplant him. He's the one who doesn't have any physical limitations (other than that lack of aggression, which I see as more mental).
So in review, what we have in Lamp--as well as Ruiz--are Guards that, according to Dan, need to become more Savage. More like what the Saints saw in Trevor Penning. Both Lamp and Ruiz are elite in that they are talented guards with high ceilings, and Lamp should be entering his prime. Lamp has only played in 24 NFL games thus far, which is comparable to Ruiz in terms of game experience. Lamp is also disciplined, meaning that he doesn't experience the mental lapses that typically contribute to penalties.
The bottom line: There is solid competition at the right guard position for Cesar Ruiz, which is always a good thing. If neither Ruiz nor Lamp steps up, then I suspect we will be seeing James Hurst starting at RG with Ruiz and Lamp relegated to interior line depth.
Dan mentioned to me that former Saint OG Larry Warford, who opted out of the 2020 season, was still a Free Agent. I remembered that the now 30-year old Warford's final season with the Saints in 2019 seemed rather lackluster, but he graded out at PFF with a very respectable 73.1 that season, and was released in a cap savings move. Still, he has been out of football for two entire seasons now. Worth kicking the tires on, one would think. That is, unless he is basically retired now.
I saw that versatile former Saint and fan favorite OL Senio Kelemete is also available, but is now 32. However, when I checked his PFF grade for 2021 it was a paltry 40.0. Not saying that PFF grades tell the whole story, but using it as a baseline, that's pretty low.
Checking Free Agency, while the pickings are rather slim, there are a few decent Guards left out there should the Saints choose to sign one. I will list them along with their latest PFF grades: