Zach Streif is quietly having a phenomenal year for the Black and Gold.
If it were mentioned to you that the New Orleans Saints at this stage of the season had one can’t miss, surefire Pro Bowler and possible All-Pro on their team, you might not find that hard to believe. When you have such a prolific offense, it stands to reason that someone might be tapped as a top player at their position. But when you find out who that player is, it could absolutely blow your mind…
Drew Brees is having another monster season. He’s climbing up every list of top quarterbacks of all-time and is still without question or debate the greatest player ever to wear a Saints uniform. And he’s likely to make another Pro-Bowl appearance. But he’s not going to be the All-Pro QB – that will go likely to Tom Brady assuming they don’t take points away from him for missing 4 games for deflating footballs… And if it’s not him, Matt Ryan could be that guy – he’s having a tremendous season.
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No, the player we are looking for is currently the number one player in the NFL at his position per Pro Football Focus’ rankings of every player, and Brees only comes in as the 5th rated QB. That player is Zach Strief.
Dec 28, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints tackle Zach Strief (64) smiles during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
One of only 4 holdovers on this Black and Gold squad from the Super Bowl season, Strief is now in his 11th year with the Saints. That’s a long time in any sport, but an eternity in football for anyone but a quarterback. He was part of Sean Payton’s original draft class here in his first year leading the Saints. Strief spent the better part of his early years playing as a “tackle eligible”.
You hear that call so often, particularly in Saints games, where the Saints may want to use an extra blocker on one side but to make it allowable for that player to line up in the tight end’s spot (or in the backfield), they must report to the referee that they are declaring as an eligible receiver. In our scheme, the tackle is almost always an extra blocker – in some cases, the eligible player may actually be a pass catcher.
Strief did this a good bit in his early years, for the Black and Gold. He took over the right tackle spot when Jon Stinchcomb retired in 2011, and worked his way up to being a very good player. Strief received a Pro Bowl designation in the Saints last winning season, 2013. But the past 2 seasons haven’t been so kind to Strief. While he’s graded fairly well in both seasons, it’s the misses we remember best, and Strief had some high-profile misses.
Better with age
Last year in particular, the Houston Texans game left many wondering if Strief really had enough left in the tank to go another year. J.J. Watt tends to embarrass a lot of people, but when it was made public that he even pointed out to Drew Brees that this was an issue, many were calling for Strief’s ouster. He’s widely known to be a solid character guy, a locker room presence, and a great guy in the community. But that doesn’t keep Brees upright in the pocket.
Who knows if it was that game, or the clock ticking, or just a tremendous amount of self-pride… it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Strief is playing like the Pro Bowler of 2013 again. PFF has him currently ranked as the highest rated right tackle in the NFL. He’s only allowed 1 sack so far this season, and has had few if any penalties called on him. Along with Jahri Evans, they’ve solidified what had looked like a shaky right side of the offensive line. They’re moving people off the ball in run blocking as well. It’s a big comeback story for a mountain of a man on and off the field. Let’s hope Strief remains injury free and keeps up the solid season as he faces one of his biggest tests this year: Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.