Saints tackle Ramczyk among NFL’s best blockers
If you ask someone who the best offensive tackle in the NFL is, you’ll get a few answers from those who watch the games closely.
David Bakhtiari (Packers), Mitchel Schwartz (Chiefs), Andrew Whitworth (Rams), Terron Armstead (Saints), Tyron Smith (Cowboys) and Taylor Lewan (Titans) are likely to be mentioned.
I contend that Armstead’s teammate, third-year right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, firmly belongs in the discussion.
Monday evening on the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a heavyweight fight-type of one-on-one scenario played out with Ramczyk against three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Just like his Saints squad did in a 30-28 thriller, Ramczyk earned a win by decision.
Of course, blocking schemes tend to focus on key defenders so Ramcyzk did get a little help with Watt in a few instances, but the brunt of the heavy lifting was handled by the Saints’ former first round pick out of Wisconsin.
The 6-foot-6, 314-pound Ramczyk knew well the challenge he faced against the nine-year pro, also out of Wisconsin.
“He’s very athletic, moves well, plays in space well,” Ramczyk sized up the NFL’s most dominating pass rusher over the past decade. Watt did not record a state, a rare occurrence for the 6-5, 288 pounder with a rare combination of burst and strength. “It’s always a challenge when I face him. He plays with separation.”
Ramczyk maintains that he approaches each week’s opponent with the same way but admitted he put in extra work for the Texans. Watt has played in 105 NFL contests, averaging 4.3 tackles per outing and just under one sack per game. The Saints pitched a shutout against Watt with Ramczyk leading the way.
Growing up in Cheese Head country, Ramczyk favors the style of play of Green Bay’s Bakhtiari. Learning from the best is a process of taking small observations to the practice field and incorporating them into his own game.
“I’m working on a lot of little things that make a difference,” Ramczyk said. “I can’t put my finger on any one thing. It’s been a work in progress.”
Arriving in the Big Easy as the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 draft following the Jimmy Graham trade to Seattle, Ramczyk had previously taken a nomadic ride through college. He attended four different schools before transferring to Wisconsin. He made stops at Wisconsin Stevens-Point, Winona State and Madison Area Technical College before completing that portion of his football journey at Mod State Technical College.
As a senior for the Badgers in 2016, the nomad became a big time pro prospect. In 373 pass attempts by Wisconsin, Ramcyzk only allowed one sack and graded out 98.2 percent as a pass blocker. One can see how that was appealing to New Orleans with an offense built around Drew Brees. He has started 32 of his 33 games as a Saint with only one holding call.
The physical package is all there. Ramczyk possesses exceptional feet but he also shows a terrific work ethic with a blue collar approach. He is a text book blocker who plays under control. Pro Football Focus calls him the best right tackle in Pro Football.
Did we also mention he’s humble?
“Yes, I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he said as he shrugs off the praise. “I appreciate that. I want to continue to work to be the best in the league.”
On Sept. 11, 2017 in the season opener, Ramczyk became the first Saints rookie to start at left tackle since Jim Dombrowski, the team’s top pick in 1986. In his debut against the Vikings, he faced two of the best pass rushers in the NFL, Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin.
The rookie Ramczyk played four games in place of an injured Armstead before moving over to right tackle to take over for Zach Strief, who was lost for the 2017 campaign with a knee injury. Needless to say, he is entrenched in the position.
His pass blocking grades in the first two pro seasons have been solid (77 percent in 2017, 76.4 percent in 2018), making him one of 24 tackles to surpass 75 percent in pass protection over the previous two seasons. During that same time span, he has allowed six sacks, six hits and 30 hurries in 1,006 pass blocking assignments.
“It comes down to a lot of fundamental work. I’m really big on fundamentals in the run and passing game. Stick to what you know. I think getting my feet under me and working up to that second level, getting to those ” backers. It’s easier to get ( away) a holding call there,” he noted with a laugh. “Getting your feet underneath you, playing under control has a lot to do with that.”
Ramczyk is part of a talent offensive line with great tutelage. Under veteran offensive line coach Dan Roushar, the Saints have surrendered 20 sacks in each of the past two seasons, lowest in the NFC. So far this season with four starters back, the unit looks just as strong while integrating rookie Erik McCoy to replace retired center Max Unger.
“It’s one of those things that when the whole line is meshing and be confident with the guy next to you. We lose Max, but Erik steps up at center. He’s doing a really good job. Communication is huge on the offensive line and we have good communication.”
Ramczyk has been a staple of productivity and consistency for the Black and Gold in his short career to date. It is widely viewed that the left tackle of the offensive line is the best and most valuable player of the five up front. Could No. 71 swing back over to the left side one day? After all, was an All-American at the position or the Badgers.
“It’s definitely a big adjustment. The more you play just one position, it’s harder to flip sides,” Ramczyk explained about the left tackle spot. “I’m comfortable at right tackle, but if crazy things were to happen, if I had to switch back, that would be okay.”
Few would doubt Ramczyk would be ‘okay’ at any spot on the offensive line. One of the league’s best blockers is far better than just ‘okay’ already.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…