Draft analyst after draft analyst mock an offensive tackle to the New Orleans Saints with pick number 27 of the first round in the 2014 NFL Draft.
I have one simple question: Why?
I understand most of said analysts are not Saints fans, and because the team maintains a relatively low profile outside of the Gulf South most fans and analysts are limited in their understanding of what the Saints really need.
But any good draft analyst—and especially one who aims to be accurate in mock drafts—is wise to check trends, especially those of a particular regime. Doing such would show that since Sean Payton arrived on the scene in 2006, the highest the Saints have taken a tackle—or any offensive lineman—was the second round when they took Charles Brown with pick number 64 (that’s last) in the 2010 draft.
In fact, the last first round tackle the Saints took was Jammal Brown when they selected him 13th overall in the 2005 draft—which in fairness was a draft held under the discretion of current General Manager Mickey Loomis.
A closer look at drafts under Payton shows the team prefers to take expected playmakers—two running backs (Bush, Ingram), three defensive backs (Jenkins, Robinson, Vaccaro) and a wide receiver (Meachem). The other two first round picks to be ushered into Saints camp were defensive linemen (Sed Ellis, Cam Jordan).
Would you look at that? No offensive tackles!
Even more to the point, it is well known in Who Dat Nation that the Saints prefer to take offensive lineman in day two or day three (and they do so quite well). Developing that talent was a specialty of Doug Marrone (now the Buffalo Bills Head Coach) and Aaron Kromer (now the Bears’ OL Coach and default Offensive Coordinator).
Some of the immense talents acquired in round three or later include Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod. One could include Zach Strief, though unlike the other three he’s never made a Pro Bowl.
Of course the jury is still largely out on the third round offensive tackle the Saints took in the 2013 draft, Terron Armstead. Armstead struggled to stay healthy throughout last year’s camp and was never really given adequate development time throughout most of the season. But then boom, after an embarrassing Week 15 loss at St. Louis in which Charles Brown was benched, Armstead got the call at left tackle the next week against Carolina.
In that game, Armstead struggled against a really good duo of Carolina pass-rushers, but showed a fire and competitiveness never really seen from Brown. In Week 17—a must-win game at home versus Tampa Bay—Armstead was one of the better players on the field. In the two road playoff games, Armstead continued to show improvement.
The point, simply, is that Armstead in limited snaps has earned the opportunity to start at left tackle in Week 1 next season. Put another way, the sky is the limit for Armstead—who most draft analysts considered one of the best talents in the draft a year ago, though also one of its most raw players. Because the Saints did not possess a second round pick a year ago, Armstead was really the team’s second overall pick.
The team values him and appears willing to develop him into the Pro Bowl-caliber tackle he could become. The team also values the veteran presence of Zach Strief on the right side. Some of the advanced metrics—which in football are rather inexact—label Strief a great player. In fact, Strief was considered PFF’s No. 1 right tackle in 2013.
At just 30 years of age, and with a relatively low salary figure in 2013 ($2.575 million cap hit), Strief is a tremendously valuable player. Did Strief get beaten on occasion? Sure. But any serious film review will show that the majority of the pressure that bothered Drew Brees in 2013 came from the middle or from whoever lined up opposite the statue standing at left tackle for the majority of the year, who by the way also loved to pick up holding penalties.
Strief may command a healthy salary increase, but that should not exceed the $3.5 million range. A reasonable argument could be made that the Saints could find a player in this draft to take that spot and save the team at least half that amount. One would be right in the sense that even if that player were chosen at pick No. 27 overall, he would not make beyond $1.5 million in 2014.
But let’s be a bit pragmatic for a second. Do you really want to start essentially two rookies at your tackle spots in Week 1, when Brees is 35 years old? Yeah, me neither. He remains one of the best pocket quarterbacks, but some of that escapability is going to leave him, eventually. It would surprise few if that degeneration begins in 2014.
Hence, having a player at BOTH tackle spots that the team trusts is essential. Even a first round talent cannot be trusted in Week 1 of his first NFL season.
But that leads me to my final point.
After Greg Robinson (Junior, Auburn) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) the first round tackle list is rather uninspiring. It is actually a weird year in that respect. Generally there are five or six players who earn a legitimate first round grade. This year, experts are mocking Morgan Moses (Virginia) to the Saints at No. 27. Yet few (if any) actually would give him a first round grade.
Because so many have mocked Moses to New Orleans (most notably ESPN’s Todd McShay), I wanted to make sure I wasn’t providing a misguided opinion here. Thus, I watched four games of Moses against his four toughest opponents in 2013.
The result: Moses is a nice prospect. He very well may be the third best offensive tackle prospect. When he is able to anchor against a bull-rush, he excels using his strength. And he is more refined than many tackles, as he is often able to get his hands on a pass-rusher and then release.
But, Moses lacks the change of direction skills that are so essential in the NFL today. He can easily be beaten if a pass-rusher takes a quick outside step then dips back inside. And even if a pass-rusher just tries a speed rush outside without any kind of move he can beat Moses with his quickness.
Moses is a decent athlete in space, but no better than Strief, or any other tackle the Saints could elect to man the right tackle spot next season. He is a decent run blocker, but the strength he shows in his ability to anchor against a bull rush does not appear when he tries to move an opposing lineman off the ball.
In other words, Moses is not a first round tackle, in my opinion. And considering the Saints have good options at the position already, drafting him or another prospect with pick number 27 makes little sense.
Add to that the more pressing needs in the defensive secondary, and possibly at wide receiver, drafting an offensive tackle seems highly unlikely.
Sorry, draft analysts, the Saints like who they have at the tackle spots. And even if they didn’t, they’d probably draft a replacement later on in the process.
Contract information taken from spotrac.com.