The New Orleans Saints landed a very solid young player in Larry Warford.
Although Jahri Evans put together a strong 2016 season, the New Orleans Saints badly needed an injection of youth along the right side of their offensive line. They got just that with Larry Warford.
Warford is a strong presence in both pass protection and in the run game. He’s only 25 years old. And looking around the league at the sort of contracts top tier guards are earning, the Saints got him at a fair price. Around $8 million per year average, for a player that should hold down the position for years to come.
Looking through his tape, two things stand out.
One, possibly the most important trait for an offensive lineman: consistency. Warford is an
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incredibly consistent performer in both phases of the offense. He plays with intelligence and awareness, sound technique, and physicality. You know what you’re getting with him.
In the run game, he’s strong at the point of attack and has the wheels to get to the second level. He can sometimes fail to properly engage. But he doesn’t lose ground, even to some of the bigger Inside Lineman. He understands how to manipulate his assignment to open up holes for his backs.
In the pass game, he plays with impressive awareness. His head is constantly on a swivel, and he keeps his feet and squared to his assignment. As in the run game, he can occasionally fail to properly engage his man. But he’s a real team blocker, always aware of what’s going on around him and able to adjust on the fly as needed.
The second thing that stands out, the flip side of that consistency: Warford rarely makes eye-popping plays. That’s not to undermine how much I like him. I think he’ll be a great fixture on the line. But you’re not going to get many jaw-dropping pancake blocks or huge plays downfield. He has wheels, but just enough to be able to pull to the next level. And he’s physical, but just enough to stand his man up.
Let’s look it over together.
We’ll start with pass protection.
So long as Drew Brees is under center, pass protection is going to be this line’s primary task. Warford looks like he’ll handle himself just fine.
It’s hard to find plays that characterize an offensive lineman in pass protection. Here’s where I’ll start.
Warford (#75 at RG) is at his best when he comes off the snap backpedaling. He does an excellent job of staying balanced and grounded, and wins battles with general strength rather than with hand technique.
Here, Cam Jordan tried to bullrush Warford before spinning away to make room for Craig Robertson on the late blitz.
Warford does well to hold his ground against a very strong Jordan, then passes him off expertly to the center to meet Robertson as he tries to turn the corner. The play breaks down elsewhere, but Warford does his job very well.
And parenthetically, this is a front that Saints fans will likely become very familiar with as the years progress. Jordan—Fairley—Rankins. Sack, Rankins.
Here’s another play that I think well characterizes Warford’s ability in pass protection. He’s able to stand up pass rushers with consistency. And when that DE comes sliding over the top, Warford recognizes it and adjusts. He manages to get a hand on the DE coming free while still keeping his man from coming loose. There’s a bit of a hold there, but it’s a veteran hold. He lets go before anything could be called.
One more play that shows his awareness:
Warford likely gets credited for a pressure here. His man #90 comes free over the top of the line and affects Stafford. But it looks to me like Warford actually saved a sack here, or at least saved Stafford from having to break a tackle.
Even when he’s engaged with his man, Warford has the awareness to see that his RT was beat inside. So he comes to help. Hopefully he won’t need to do this often in Black and Gold. But everyone gets beat, and it’s important to have an OL that is aware of everything around them.
I’m not sugar coating this signing when I say that I found very little bad tape on Warford as a pass blocker. He doesn’t make many mistakes.
I didn’t watch every game, but out of the ones I did I only found Warford responsible for one sack, and only a few pressures.
This was the one sack to Warford’s name that I saw. He fails to recognize the blitz from the linebacker, and follows the stunting DT over center. He recognizes his mistake and turns to lay a block. But it’s too late.
This play doesn’t capture much of what Warford provides as a blocker. I imagine the breakdown began before the snap, but Warford is still typically able to contain this sort of play. Still, its important to see what it looks like when his protection breaks down.
Here’s an instance of Warford allowing a pressure, this time to Nick Fairley. Fairley sets Warford up well, at first taking to his outside then cutting back inside once Warford has his hips turned.
This isn’t a great play by Warford. But there are positive signs here. It’s not that bad. First of all, the Lions are obviously very comfortable leaving Warford on an island in protection. They do it often in their blocking schemes. That’s a good sign for the 25-year old who by all accounts simply priced himself out of Detroit. They liked the guy.
Secondly, even after Fairley beats him inside Warford does a great job of recovering and making sure Stafford has space to step up. He’s strong and stable enough to move Fairley even after he’s left flatfooted.
This last play illustrates one of the more consistent problems Warford can have in protection. He doesn’t always do well enough to fully engage his assignment, allowing them to stay free out of his reach. In many cases, that’s an alright tendency. You’re not going to allow penetration to someone who stays that far from you. But it can mean, in moments like this when the pocket collapses, that your assignment will have a straight path to the quarterback.
Fortunately, Drew Brees isn’t much of a scrambler. His movements in the pocket are much more minimal and nuanced than Staffords, and this problem might not affect him in the same way. But it’s something to look out for, especially as that problem bleeds into run blocking.
A look at Warford as a run blocker.
Warford is more widely known as a run blocker than a pass blocker. To be honest, I’m not sure that distinction is deserved. He’s a very solid pass blocker. He handles run blocking well, no doubt, but he has more limitations in that area. From what I’ve seen. And I’ve only watched 2016 tape.
Warford is a solid force at the point of attack. In all the tape I watched, I’m not sure I saw a single time where he’s stood up by a defensive lineman and pushed from his spot in the run game. He’s very strong and tough to move.
But at the same time, he’s not exceptionally explosive. He doesn’t run people over.
He’s at his best when he’s turning run defenders away from running lanes. He uses his strength and body well to get on the right side of his assignment and seal the lane for the back.
Note how easily he turns Fairley away and opens up the hole. It’s not a play where he needs to stand Fairley up and pin him. He doesn’t have to explode and run him over. He just gets under Fairley’s right shoulder and turns him away from the lane.
This is very typical of Warford’s tape. He plays angles very well, and while he may never be running a defender backwards 5 yards he is more than capable of completing his assignment and sealing a defender away from a hole. That’s what you need in a solid run game: blockers that get their jobs done.
The Lions had Warford pulling up into the second level very often. To varying degrees of success. Here he gets his assignment, lays a cut block on the LB. He does well to break out of #95’s attempt to hold him back, and shows the athleticism needed to operate in the second level.
In general, Warford has some solid speed for a lineman. He’s no Landon Turner, and he’ll likely be faster than Jahri Evans is at this point in his career. Not only should that help the Saints break out some longer runs—something that has elluded them for quite some time—it should also help to get their screen game back on track.
This is the sort of play that gets me excited about Warford. Notice how he first uses that technique that I talked about with Fairley: he gets under the defender’s shoulder and turns him away from the play. This isn’t a run play, but I’d argue it’s even more impressive than that early block on Fairley. Here, Warford needs to take his man out of the play while staying free and upright to get down the field and block for the screen pass. This is about as textbook as it gets in terms of that type of block.
And then notice Warford’s speed as he turns upfield and lays the block on the LB. Yes, the Saints have players able to make this block in Andrus Peat, Terron Armstead, and Max Unger. Adding a fourth to that list doesn’t hurt.
Just for good measure, here’s an instance of Warford flashing at least some explosion, laying that DT on his back. Brief cameo from my mouse.
Fortunately, as with the pass blocking, Warford doesn’t do much wrong in the run game. His biggest weaknesses aren’t mistakes, but rather a lack of elite production. Like I said, it’s rare that you see Warford lay someone out.
If he could improve in any area as a blocker, I’d want that to be in his ability to finish at the second level.
Take this play for example.
Warford has a fairly simple assignment in the second level: lay a block on #93. It’s not so bad that he approaches the defender from a sort of contain position. It’s better to land some sort of block than totally miss a player that is likely much more agile than you.
But when he gets his hands on the guy as solidly as he does here, you expect he’d be able to finish the play. Instead, he lets #93 escape without any resistance and chase down the run on the opposite side of the field. You want to see a more disruptive engagement there. Ideally, you want to see a pancake. But short of that, Warford can’t let the LB just erupt into his chest like that and then bounce free so easily. It’s timid play.
From what I saw, Warford seemed to improve in this area as the season progressed.
But like I said: there isn’t much to get down on Warford for. It’s more a lack of explosive plays than any consistent mistake that captures his limitations. He’s strong, he’s smart, he’s reasonably athletic and, above all, he’s young. He’s a very solid run blocker who should, coming from a zone-blocking scheme very similar to what New Orleans runs, fair very well in Black and Gold.