The Saints could benefit from a loaded tackle draft — if they pick the right one this time

The Saints benched Trevor Penning, but now they may have to count on him again
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INDIANAPOLIS — Two years ago, the scouting reports for Trevor Penning sounded much different from the tackle the New Orleans Saints ended up drafting.

One write up from NFL.com cited an anonymous NFC Executive who said Penning had everything “you’d look for in a starting tackle.” Bleacher Report projected the Northern Iowa product to be a “quality starter right away.” The Athletic, albeit more skeptical, said Penning was still talented enough to be a rookie starter while he “worked out the kinks” in his game.

The Saints aren’t giving up on Penning by any means, but with another draft cycle in full swing, the collective misread on the 24-year-old still holds plenty of relevance for New Orleans as they explore the market for an upgrade.

The 2024 draft, by all accounts, is loaded with elite-level tackle prospects. But if the Saints go that route with the 14th overall pick, they can’t afford to miss on the selection as they did with Penning. This time around, New Orleans needs to find someone who can be an actual Day 1 starter — just as Penning was once projected to be.

That’s easier said than done.

“They’re all different flavors,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of the tackle class, later adding, “There’s 10, 11 guys that are really interesting. I think we’ll see a bunch of starters, a bunch of Day 1 starters out of that tackle group.”

Even now, those are hard to come by. Last year alone, there were 43 offensive linemen drafted and of those, just three — Arizona’s Paris Johnson, Chicago’s Darnell Wright, Jacksonville’s Anton Harrison — were Week 1 starting tackles. Johnson, Wright and Harrison were the sixth, 10th and 22nd picks, respectively.

In this year’s class, Jeremiah said there are four tackle prospects who have emerged as the best of the bunch: Notre Dame’s Joe Alt, Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Oregon State’s Taliese Fuaga and Alabama’s J.C. Latham. Alt and Fashanu, Jeremiah said, will likely be selected in the top 10, and in his latest mock draft, Latham was the only one of the four still available for the Saints at No. 14.

Latham, like Penning, has an enormous frame — he’s 6-foot-6, 335 pounds — that should appeal to the Saints. But the similarities end there. Jeremiah said Penning, in retrospect, was overaggressive in college and when he began to go against pros, that aggression “can get you in trouble.” Latham, by contrast, is known for having a quick set in pass protection and can drive defenders in the run.

Latham is not without concerns. Several analysts, including Jeremiah, have noted the Alabama product’s average recognition on twists and stunts. And as it relates to the Saints, Latham also played primarily right tackle in college — creating a question of how he would hold up on the left side.

“I have the ability to be dominant regardless (which side),” Latham said.

When searching for tackles who can start right away, Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland said he and his staff typically look at how linemen can balance their feet and maintain body control, as well as how they’re able to move defenders. Other factors weighed include how many games they’ve played in college, what scheme the player is coming from and their overall football intelligence.

But no aspect may be more important than being able to hold up in pass protection. Teams, Ireland said, are blocking the pass between 65 to 70% of the time these days.

“That has to be a skillset that is pretty polished in our league,” Ireland said.

Jeremiah rattled off similar attributes when asked what makes up a Day 1 starting tackle. A lineman’s footwork is particularly crucial because they need to be able to recover quickly whenever they’re beat, Jeremiah said.

A former scout for the Baltimore Ravens, Jeremiah worked in a front office where former general manager Ozzie Newsome used to say that his staff should focus on hitting doubles in the first round rather than striking out by reaching for upside.

That’s sage advice for the Saints, who have arguably struck out too often in recent drafts because they’ve been enamored with prospects with a higher ceiling than necessarily a sound floor. Penning’s floor, in retrospect, was harder to gauge because of the inferior level of competition he was facing in Division II.

Doubles, triples and home runs exist among the linemen in this year’s class. But they might not last long— the Saints are far from the only team in need of offensive line help.

“I feel a lot better about the third round wideouts than I do about the third round tackles,” Jeremiah said.

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About Marc Lemoine 1916 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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