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A Look at the Saints' Need at Guard: Can Drew Brees Survive the 2016 Season?

But what are we going to do to protect Drew Brees? With guard believed to be a priority in the 2016 draft, the Saints totally ignored it. Or did they? Many of the top prospects projected by myself and others were already taken when the Saints were on the clock. Choosing to draft largely defense with one exception, the Saints appeared to neglect this important need.

I Got This!
I Got This!
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Stop the panic seems to have been a oft quoted topic of mine this offseason. I think it also applies here. Yes the guard position is and was a concern going into the 2016 season. I've since had time to reevaluate the Saints moves this offseason. Let's take a long look at what the team has done by, signing our own, and in the UDFA market.

First let's look at returning players looking to prove themselves in camp. We resigned Senio Kelemete and Tim Lelito, both restricted free agents. Senio was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 5th round of the 2012 draft.

Source Wiki:

2012 NFL Draft

Projected as a fourth round selection by Sports Illustrated, he was ranked as the No. 9 offensive guard prospect. Kelemete was praised for his "great use of body positioning and blocking angles," but criticized for his lack of "top footwork in pass protection."

Pre-draft measurables
Ht Wt Arm length Hand size 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP
6 ft3 12 in 307 lb 33 12 in 58 in 5.39 s 1.88 s 3.06 s 4.58 s 7.77 s 25 in 8 ft 5 in 21 reps
All values from NFL Combine

Strengths appear to be in the run blocking game and weak in pass protection. A somewhat common theme in The Saints apparent philosophy towards the position. The team resigned Kelemete to a 2 year, 4 mil deal in March.

Via Rotoworld:

Saints re-signed OL Senio Kelemete to a two-year, $4 million contract.He was scheduled for restricted free agency. Kelemete struggled mightily in four starts last season, but he is only 26 years old and can play multiple positions on the offensive line. He figures to win a reserve role on the 2016 club. Mar 6 - 6:20 PMSource: ESPN.com

Strictly a backup depth position candidate, the Saints appear to have some faith in him. This also plays into their claims of more commitment to the running game. If they would truly depend more heavily on the run game it would go far in keeping Drew upright.

Next they signed Tim Lelito. Tim was offered a better deal by the Dallas Cowboys, and turned down the offer to remain with the Saints.

Via Rotoworld:

Saints re-signed OG Tim Lelito to a one-year, $1.67 million contract. Lelito made 13 starts in 2015, primarily at left guard. He held his own across 969 total snaps, and will have the inside track on a starting job in training camp. Apr 21 - 10:44 AM

Tim ranked as one of the best guards in the run blocking game during the 2015 season but often struggled with pass protection. By his own admission, this is his personal area of weakness and one he has claimed to work to improve on during the offseason. You can listen to his interview on the Interview with Tim Lelito [podcast].

Barring any camp standouts from our UDFA signings Lelito appears to be the prime candidate at starting guard and Kelemete is our backup. The fact that they signed Senio to a 2 year deal and tendered Leito brings some questions here. We already know what we have here and your confidence level probably remains low so let's look those UDFAs.

There are a few rookies who will be interesting to watch in the months ahead.

Jack Allen: Center from Michigan State

But wait, Allen is a center. What does that have to do with guard. Yes Jack was the starting center for Michigan barring 2 games he missed in 2015, with an ankle injury. He started 47 games. 42 at center and 5 at left guard. He also filled in at LT for two games due to in-game injuries. An undersized lineman, his strengths are his power and wrestling background. 3 time Allstate wrestler in high school.

At the combine Jack benched 225 23 times, ran a 5.29 40, a 7.9 3 cone drill and a 4.73 20 yard shuffle. At 6'1", 294 lbs, his 32 1/4 arm length and his smaller size was his biggest question going into the draft. Also he tends to hold (grabby) which he got away with more in college than he will in the NFL. While I view him primarily as a backup to the center spot, (and our possible future at the position), he does have some experience and can fill in.

NFL.com

OVERVIEW

When an NFL offensive line coach sees that a young lineman was a high school wrestler, a smile comes across his face. Grappling in the trenches is what a lineman does -- and is something at which Allen excels. The former Illinois state title holder at 285 pounds is not the largest center in the country, but no other "man in the middle" matches this four-year starter's toughness, anchor, and aggressive nature. The two-time USA Today All-American missed a couple of games with an ankle injury in 2015, but came back to help his team to a Big Ten title.

NFL COMPARISON

Olin Kreutz

DRAFT PROJECTION

Round 5

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Has a compact build with above average core strength. Was a standout wrestler in high school and uses that background to generate quick torques and turns on defenders. Understands his strengths and physical limitations. Possesses great strength in his hands and can snatch and ride defenders until the whistle sounds. Rarely has his hands outside defender's framework. Combines arm extension and running feet to redirect gap shooters away from his quarterback. Card­-carrying tough guy willing to put some extra spice on it when he finishes a block. On the move, can adjust tempo and angle to land a squared block. Climbs up to middle linebackers with choppy steps and balanced base. Despite a lack of athleticism, still has plus body control. Hits where he aims. Flat­-footed puncher in pass pro.

WEAKNESSES

Average athleticism and very moderate flexibility. Is a little bit stiff in space. Inconsistent in his attempts to climb up to second level off of combo blocks. Will struggle to get cut­off blocks against instinctive, inside linebackers who will beat him to the spot. Able to get away with holding more often in college than he will be able to in the pros. At times, will rely on brute force over physical ability. When he has to anchor up against bull ­rushers, his balance diminishes. Doesn't have the mass or length that some teams would like in a starting center.

Our best hope is probably with Landon Turner. A true guard from North Carolina

The 6' 4", 330lb Landon had an impressive 30 reps on the bench press and ran a 5.58 40 at the combine. At his pro day he ran a 4.95 20 yard shuffle and a 8.2 3 cone drill.  Projected to go as high as the 4th round, grabbing this UDFA was a team plus. He could well compete for the starting spot as well as provide quality at depth.

Via Rotoworld:

NFL Media draft analyst Chad Reuter ranked New Orleans' UDFA class the best in the NFL. The prospect disbursement process does not end when the Draft does. This year's deep class offered us an assortment of undrafted prospects who would have been picked in past years. The Saints, who had only five picks, dominated in the post-Draft hours. "The Saints found two potential starters in guards Landon Turner and Avery Young (who could end up at tackle eventually)," Reuter wrote. "Offensive tackle Ryker Mathews and centers Jack Allen and Marcus Henry also have NFL futures." The analyst also liked the signing of DBs De'Vante Harris, Ken Crawley, Trae Elston and Michael Caputo and WRs Jordan Williams (tough possession receiver) or Jared Dangerfield (taller downfield threat). May 4 - 5:47 PMSource: NFL.com

NFL.com

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Thickly built with a bulldozer for a lower body. Grown man strength with jolting power in his hands. Blows the doors off of defensive tackles that don't have meat on their bones and power to match up. Explodes with full force into his target, bench presses his victim and runs feet after contact to finish the job. Seals down blocks and can redirect gap shooters as long as he gets his hands on them. Not overly flexible, but has enough bend at the point of attack for small space, phone booth ball. Pass sets with good arm extension and adequate posture to give him his best shot at changing direction when needed. Ability to mirror shows promise for a man his size. Plays with aggression and looks to impose his will. Pass protection and overall play showed noticeable improvement from where he was in 2014.

WEAKNESSES

Smashes opposition with pure power but doesn't have the bend to snap hips into blocks and secure them longer. Needs to improve his sloppy hand placement. Labors with lateral movement. Straight-legged mover in space and will be very hit or miss when asked to pull and hit targets while on the move. Predictable change of direction concerns. Sees when power step against inside move is needed, but feet don’t always cooperate. Needs combo blocks to be right in front of him or he tends to whiff on second level. Marginal reactive athleticism limits sustained blocks against active, eager defenders. Could struggle quite a bit in pass protection against speedy, sub ­package pass rushers inside.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Rounds 4 or 5

NFL COMPARISON

A.J. Cann

BOTTOM LINE

Landon Turner is a very easy evaluation in my estimation because his strengths and weaknesses are so obvious. Turner is a road grader deluxe whose size and power will have teams who covet those traits licking their chops. However, he’s no dancing bear and they will have to be OK with his potential concerns against quickness in pass protection.

-Lance Zierlein

I've also heard him compared to Carl Nicks Jr.

Others to watch would be OTs Avery Young and Ryker Mathews.

Young:

NFL.com

OVERVIEW

When Young enters the NFL, he'll find some familiar faces waiting to greet him. He is the younger brother of NFL defensive end Willie Young, and the cousin of Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis. Not that he can't make his own way in the league, as the former top 10 offensive tackle national recruit earned his starting job at right tackle as a true freshman in 2012, although shoulder surgery put him on the shelf after three games, causing him to take a medical redshirt year. In 2013, Young began the season as a backup before starting the final nine games at right tackle when full healthy. Coaches moved him around quite a bit in his sophomore campaign, as he started at right guard the first four games due to injuries on the line, then moved to left guard for one game, then to right tackle for seven contests, before heading back to left guard for the Outback Bowl. In his final season on the plains, Young finished strong by starting all but one game (Jacksonville State, ankle) at right tackle.

PRO DAY RESULTS


40-yard dash: 5.39 and 5.35 seconds 
Vertical: 25 inches 
Broad jump: 8 feet, 1 inch 
Short shuttle: 4.9 seconds 
3-cone drill: 8.21 seconds 
Bench: 20 reps

-Lance Zierlein

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Big bubble rear that he can sink to help him anchor when being bull­ rushed. Has starting experience at both guard spots and right tackle. Shows some lightness of feet. Capable and effective in short-­pull situations as guard. Does a decent job of working feet into position to help secure his block. Athletic enough to operate at guard or tackle as zone blocker.

WEAKNESSES

Has habit of ducking head into blocks. Struggles with changing direction against inside moves. Opens post leg and leans into redirect block rather than stepping back inside to slam the door shut. Balance and body control are below average. Doesn't have agility to gain enough ground with kick slides against edge rushers as tackle. Punch is sluggish and hands too wide. Gives away chest too often.

DRAFT PROJECTION

Rounds 4 or 5

BOTTOM LINE

The temptation will be to try Young as a right tackle, but his lack of necessary lateral agility could end up getting the quarterback hit too often. Young's athleticism and length are appealing as a guard, but his inability to sustain blocks with body control and power at the point of attack could make him a backup to low­-end starter in the league.

Mathews: Via Fansided

Strengths

The first thing that jumps off when watching tape of Ryker Mathews is the tremendous amount of strength he has in his hands. They act almost like massive clamps and once he latches onto a defender it becomes very difficult for them to break away. As expected with senior lineman, Mathews possesses the awareness and technique that are necessary to succeed early in the NFL with the body control to thrive as a run-blocker.  Mathews is extremely versatile as he's blocked at every position on the offensive line and even some at tight end, understanding that angles and positioning are what allow him to be effective. Mathews shows his intelligence in the field and he proves to be a leader of this unit.

Weaknesses

While Mathews has played tight end in his past, he doesn't possess the athleticism that a lot of his counterparts in this draft class have thrived on which limit him in the NFL. His slow-feet prevent him from changing directions quickly when blocking down field. He tends to struggle against more powerful defensive lineman as he tries to generate power with his upper body and hips rather than his base, often getting himself pushed into the backfield. Will need to improve his technique when anchoring.

Those are our best hopes heading into camp. I hope this will alleviate some of your concerns. Our best hope in my opinion will be a stronger commitment to the running game, and Drew's capability to make the O-line look better than it may actually be.  I think we will be alright. What do the rest of you think. Vote and comment.