Should Saints Grab a Guard Early?


If you’ve been reading any NFL articles lately regarding the New Orleans Saints, then you already know the views of most analysts and a large section of the Saints fan-base wants or says the first two rounds of the upcoming draft should to be dedicated to the defensive side of the ball.

Hey — I’ve been one of those championing the idea of a one-two punch on the defensive line, hoping that the Saints could grab a pass rusher to help complement defensive end Cameron Jordan; as well as taking a defensive tackle to add some quality depth in the rotation.

I had even become “okay” with the scenario that if a receiver like TCU’s Josh Doctson fell to the Saints in the second round, that they should select him.

One thing that I strongly had felt up until a few days ago, was that the Saints should hold off until the third if not the fourth round to pick an offensive guard in the draft.

But — then came the Saints 2016 season schedule release.

Oct 26, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints fans cheer prior to kickoff against the Green Bay Packers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans defeated Green Bay 44-23. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t get me wrong: I knew the Saints were scheduled to play some high-caliber defensive teams in what is ranked as the fourth toughest overall schedule for the 2016 NFL season,  but seeing the layout really ‘hit home’ for me, especially the games immediately following their bye week in what our editor Barry Hirstius called a “back-breaker” in a recent article.

Let’s not forget that even next season in 2017, the Saints will face off against more in the likes of the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and the Minnesota Vikings; with the last two being away games.

Also throw into the equation that the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both mauled the Saints offensive line this past year, and the Panthers seem to be primed and poised to repeat their efforts on defense in the coming seasons.

Call it jumping to conclusions or being paranoid, but I call it being prepared; or as Robert Redford’s character in “Spy Game” asked his secretary:  “When did Noah build the ark, Gladys?  Before the rain.”

Yes the Saints have questions, a lot of them, on the defensive side of the ball; but there are many just as well at the offensive guard spot — although they all are tied to the prevailing question which is: who will the Saints starting offensive guards be for 2016 and the future?

Aug 22, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans (73) and center Tim Lelito (68) against the New England Patriots during the first half of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With former starter Jahri Evans out of the picture, the Saints re-signed players who could potentially take his spot such as Senio Kelemete and Tim Lelito; who although hasn’t signed his restricted free agent tender, is expected back after turning down the Dallas Cowboys recent offer to join them.

Lelito seemed to be coming around towards the end of last season, but it still should make anyone nervous considering the potential pummeling quarterback Drew Brees could potentially face, even if Lelito is the answer and there is an injury.

I’ve heard the theories of 2015 first round pick Andrus Peat being slotted in to play right guard, or that he takes over for current tackle Zach Strief  — which means Strief slides into the guard position, but we saw last season just what happens when you play Russian Roulette on the offensive line.

That makes the second round pick of an offensive guard seem more possible, or I guess “justified” for the Saints in the coming weeks.

There is an argument that if it’s that pressing, then maybe they should even select one in the first round; but the only guard that would come to mind is someone like Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair — who is the consensus pick as the top guard in this year’s draft, and has continuously been Mocked to Minnesota with the #23rd pick overall.

Even being considered the top player at that position, Whitehair isn’t expected to go until later in the first round or very early in the second round; which is unfortunate for the Saints on both ends.

That being of course the the twelfth overall pick would be too rich to spend on him; unless they trade back, but he’ll likely be gone by the time the Saints select in the second round at #47 overall.

Oct 18, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Stanford Cardinal guard Joshua Garnett (51) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After Whitehair there are some more plausible options in the second round for the Saints such as Stanford’s Joshua Garnett, Arizona State’s Christian Westerman, and LSU’s Vadal Alexander.

Depending on what analysts or draft site you visit, there is only slight discrepancies on who is ranked higher out of the three; but usually it’s Garnett leading the pack, with a ‘back and forth’ between Westerman and Alexander.

The one agreement though is that all three should be easily obtainable for the Saints with their second round pick, and not be considered a huge reach.

I know that dual Saints/LSU fans who root for both teams, would be pining for Alexander; but I’ll just say that although I’m not a big offensive lineman guru, Garnett would be the guy I’d want if the team will be investing a second round pick on.

Brain Pavek of has mentioned on several occasions that head coach Sean Payton loves not only smart players, but ones from Stanford too; which kinda go hand-in-hand when it involves book smarts and football I.Q.

The thing that puzzles me is that the Saints never even took a huge shot at a veteran guard in free agency besides Alex Boone; who ended up signing with the Minnesota Vikings, which would have pushed the need to grab a guard towards that third or fourth round selection.

Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Louis Vasquez (65) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

More options passed them by in free agency, with really only one viable choice left currently in former Denver Bronco Louis Vasquez — who surprisingly remains unsigned, which might mean that he’s looking for a substantial payday but that’s just me speculating.

If the team stands pat and doesn’t sign a veteran guard, then another scenario that WWL-TV contributing writer and Saints Happy Hour podcast host Ralph Malbrough has suggested could occur which is the “double-dip” — where they take two guards in the draft, one early on and one in the later rounds.

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Assuming the Saints would do that and invest a higher round selection in say someone like Garnett, there are some intriguing later round prospects such as Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Missouri’s Connor McGovern, or Boise State’s Rees Odhiambo.

Personally I think Drango will go somewhere in the middle of the third to fourth round of the draft; with McGovern not too far behind them.

I’ll say this: if McGovern makes it to the Saints fifth round pick I’ll be amazed as well as ecstatic, considering he and Drango have what evaluators like to call a “nasty streak” about them, and are extremely physical.

Another plus for McGovern is that he has played left offensive tackle as well in college, but is projected to be better suited at guard in the NFL — so the Saints would be gaining some versatility there.

Odhiambo is a team that the Saints have their eye on and have a meeting in place to get a better look at him, according to KVTB Boise sports director Jay Trust.

Dec 31, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright III (33) defends Boise State Broncos offensive lineman Rees Odhiambo (71) during the third quarter in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl at Phoenix Stadium. The Broncos won 38-30. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

While he is considered to be a really good player, Odhiambo has battled injuries in college; with the latest being a broken ankle that ended his final season with the Broncos.

Next: Saints 2016 Mock Draft 10.0

This could mean he slides a bit to somewhere in the sixth round area which the Saints don’t have a pick in so they may have to strike with their fifth round pick to grab a guard or hope someone like Odhiambo makes a drastic fall.

And while going heavy on the guard position in the draft may feel drastic, going light on that spot will only make someone like Brees take a fall — into the dirt…..