The Saints could get through the season with what they have on the offensive line.
Andrus Peat, Terron Armstead and Zach Strief provide enough depth at tackle, and New Orleans has Tim Lelito, Max Unger and Senio Kelemete on the interior. The Saints could field a passable offensive line with some combination of those players.
But outside of Armstead and Unger, there aren’t many sure things among that group. Strief will look to prove that last year’s struggles were a fluke, Peat is looking to take the next step after a shaky rookie season, and Lelito and Kelemete need to prove that they’re capable starters.
None of those things is a certainty. And the biggest issues reside on the interior, particularly at guard.
The Saints tried to use Lelito, Peat and Kelemete at guard at various points last season but never appeared satisfied with any of the options. If Strief locks down one of the jobs at tackle, until another body is added at this spot, it appears those three could battle it out for the two openings at guard.
This isn’t the best position to be in. Things could be pieced together. It’s even possible a decent offensive line emerges from that group. But New Orleans shouldn’t be willing to settle for that outcome. It needs to enter this draft with guard as a top priority, because there are no sure things at the position.
Even if the Saints get through this season whole, Strief is nearing the end of his career, and Peat will eventually need to slide back outside. New Orleans shouldn’t settle on his long-term position being guard.
At some point, he needs to get a shot at playing tackle. If he proves to be a better guard, then so be it, but all options need to be explored after investing a first-round pick in Peat to play tackle.
There’s also no guarantee he emerges as a viable option at guard. He played a few games there last season and had some positive moments, but ultimately his struggles outweighed the positives. He ended up losing the job later in the season.
And even if Lelito and Kelemete both emerge as viable starters, neither player should be gifted the job. They should go into camp having to win those positions. If the rookie doesn’t win a starting spot, it would be beneficial to have a young player to groom behind the scenes, so the team doesn’t end up in this position again next year.
So the question isn’t if the Saints should draft a guard. It’s when they should do it.
With the various other needs on this team, and given the nature of the guard position, drafting someone earlier than the third round would seem to be a bit early.
New Orleans has had a lot of success finding guards in the later rounds of the draft. Jahri Evans, released this offseason, was a fourth-round pick, and Carl Nicks was taken in the fifth round. Both of those picks worked out well for this organization.
In fact, the Saints have only twice selected an offensive lineman higher than the third round since Sean Payton became the coach in 2006. It would be hard to see that happening again this year unless there is someone special available in the first two rounds.
It seems more likely the team focuses in on other spots in the first two rounds and looks to land someone like Stanford’s Joshua Garnett, Missouri’s Connor McGovern or Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair in the third or fourth round.
It’s not that the position isn’t a priority. It is. It’s just that the New Orleans has greater needs, and it would be hard to justify spending such a high pick on this year’s crop of guards.