Notre Dame Pro Day Football

Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt runs a drill during NFL pro day football workouts in South Bend, Ind., Thursday, March 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Caterina)

With the NFL draft this week, the Times-Picayune reached out to a series of draft experts to get their takes on the New Orleans Saints and how the upcoming event might play out for them. First up: The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who thinks the Saints shouldn’t bother trading up this year as they tend to do.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

Times-Picayune: Let's start with the offensive line. Penn State’s Olu Fashanu has been a popular choice for the Saints, but what's the likelihood you actually think he'll be there? And is that the best option for the Saints? Assuming Joe Alt is probably gone.

Brugler: Yeah, I really do like that fit. I think it makes sense for a lot of reasons. The other player is obviously worthy of the pick. And you look at all these offensive tackles that are going to go in the first round. A lot of right tackles. J.C. Latham, right tackle at Alabama. Taliese Fuaga, right tackle at Oregon State. Amarius Mims, right tackle at Georgia. Tyler Guyton, right tackle at Oklahoma. So one thing that stands out with Olu is he was a left tackle. He has those snaps on film where it's not a projection. You don't have to worry about your offensive line coach going to work these guys out to see what they look like in a left tackle stance and how do they move and all these things. Olu can just throw on the tape and you can see it. I think that's certainly going to help him for teams specifically looking for that left tackle spot. (He's) 6-6, 315 pounds. The body control is outstanding with him. His ability to sink his weight and re-establish his anchor really helps him. He can hold power. He's a really good athlete, and he's young, too. That's the thing with him.

He just turned 21 years old in December. He just finished his fourth year in college. So he's a younger player, still growing, still developing. But the base foundation of what he offers, that's what you want to bet on. And so if you're the Saints and you're picking (No.) 14. I mean, you're just crossing your fingers that he makes it to you at that point.

T-P: Let's say he's somehow gone. Of those right tackles you mentioned, is there someone you think can play left the best out of that group, or do you think they should pivot to another position if he's gone?

Brugler: To me, Troy Fautanu is the interesting one because he was a left tackle at Washington, so you know he can do it. You've seen it on tape. He has the feet for it, he has the length for it. But just aesthetically, he just looks like a guard, a guy that you kick inside and could be a better guard. But I think it's almost like a Zack Martin situation or Peter Skoronski last year, where they can play left tackle in the NFL, but we just think he's a better guard. I think that's how a lot of teams view Fautanu. But if Olu is off the board, if Alt is off the board, Fautanu might be their next best option. Playing him at left tackle, I think he can do it, like I said, but also has versatility to possibly play inside if that's how it fits to get the best five out there.

Fuaga from Oregon State is interesting because I think he could do it. I project him as a right tackle because that's what we see on film. That's where he's most comfortable. It's going to be... Teams are all going to look at it a little bit differently in terms of how easy can he make that transition.

I'm not sure how the Saints feel, but that's something that I know there's plenty of debate from team to team about how each one of these guys, if they can make that transition over the left side. And that's why you have these offensive line coaches going around to pro days and during these private workouts, just to see (them) put them through these drills, see how comfortable they are. And the offensive line coaches play a big part in those decisions.

Times-Picayune: There's also some uncertainty here with Ryan Ramczyk as well. I mean, teams don't really do this that often, but should the Saints consider drafting another tackle in round two? Is that a good use of resources?

Brugler: No doubt. Offensive tackles, everybody needs them. All 32 teams need more offensive tackle depth. And so if it works out with your board that you end up doubling up with offensive tackles in the first two rounds. Now, it's a little bit tougher for the Saints because obviously they don't pick again until what, the fifth round? So in your first four rounds, only come away with two tackles, that's a tough pill to swallow. But at the same time, you need to do — you should be drafting what impacts your roster the most. If you really do have those major concerns with the right tackle spot, then by all means, and you're not reaching on a player in the second round, if the player is worthy of that pick. I can understand the fan base not loving it. Offensive linemen (are) not the sexiest picks, but at the same time, it might be the smart pick depending on their situation. This is an offensive tackle class that we're going to see these guys fly off the board in the first round. But then I do think there's a little bit of a drop off. And so if you don't get your offensive tackles early, you're not going to like the options that are left for you, probably outside the top 75 picks.?

T-P: I'm looking at The Beast (Dane’s extremely helpful draft guide) and there's five maybe with second-round grades. What's the range at 45? Is there anyone that you think is a good right tackle in that range? What do you think of those second round tackles?

Brugler: Yeah, there's a lot of different opinions on these guys. Kingsley Suamataia from BYU. Former five-star, he's got a ton of talent. It's just he needs development time. And what's, realistically, how early do we see him getting on the field? The answer to that is going to be different from team to team. He's been one of the more... He's been racking up the frequent flyer miles as teams try to figure him out. He's been on a lot of these 30 visits. Patrick Paul from Houston. A man of human being, 6-7 and a half, 330 pounds, super-long arms. Sometimes that length works against him because it takes him a little bit longer to get those arms back to reset and stay in front of the rusher. Brandon Coleman, I have him rated higher than most people do. I think the injury factor would be with him. As long as he's cleared, injury-wise, he's going to go on Day 2. But the injury stuff could play a part in whether or not he goes or how early he goes.

Roger Rosengarten has a lot of split opinion on him in terms of, should he go second round? Should he go third round? How early?' He was a natural left tackle who moved to the right side when Michael Penix transferred to Washington. Because Michael Penix, being a lefty, Rosengarten protected his blindside at the right tackle spot. I think you look at him and say, 'Okay, yeah, he only started a right tackle in college, but he was a left tackle when he got there.' The position is not completely foreign to him. He should have a little bit of versatility. In the first round, you draft the best player. You're not really thinking about that second round just yet. But if they did draft a right tackle in the first round, you could go with, let's say, a Roger Rosengarten in the second and even though he was a right tackle in college, you still feel comfortable that he could make that move to left tackle.

T-P: Because the Saints do have so many Day 3, later-round picks, is this a good draft for later round picks or does it fall off? I've been reading some split opinions on that. I just wanted to get your take.

Brugler: Yeah, it depends on the position. I think some positions are going to fall off quickly. Other positions will stretch. Wide receiver, corner, those two positions, I think you feel comfortable waiting and whoever we get in a fifth round, sixth round, we still feel like we're going to like those guys. But other positions, offensive line, especially offensive tackle. I think the interior offensive line does stretch a little bit, but offensive tackle falls off. I think I'm working on my seven-round mock that comes out actually tomorrow. But I was pretty surprised how quickly defensive linemen, both the tackles and the ends, how quickly they went off the board. And by the time I got to the sixth, seventh, round, I'm out of guys that I consider draft-able. Because a lot of teams need defensive line help. So that's a position you want to draft early if you're looking to upgrade on the defensive line. Because, again, those players do not last. This is a draft overall where I think the talent pool is not diluted — it seems too strong of a word — but it's not as strong as past years.

Look at the underclassmen that come out. It is the lowest number of underclassmen to enter a draft in a while. It's a ripple effect of what's happening in college football with the extra year for COVID. A lot of guys taking advantage of that. NIL, they're making some money in college so they don't feel as pressured to go to the NFL early. Then the transfer portal. Players just have more options in college as opposed to: Just stay put or go to the draft. Because of that, we are seeing a ripple effect where this draft, the guys that are going to be drafted sixth round, seventh round, in most years, those are (priority free agents). It is a class where you would rather have the earlier picks in the first four rounds, five rounds. But at the same time, you're looking at it from the lens of these are guys in the sixth or seventh round that we're not going to have to debate over or we're not going to have to battle and negotiate over it for agency because we can just drop those guys. But like I said, certain positions will stretch. If they're looking for a running back, then they can find a running back in the sixth or seventh round, no problem. It just won't be as easy as other positions.

T-P: Yeah, that's interesting because the Saints don't really ever trade back, but because they only have two picks in the top 100, is this the year you think they might finally do it or should? How do you feel about trading back, specifically in the range they're at with 14 or even 45?

Brugler: I mean, you always keep your options open. At least you should. I think this is also a good year to be picking in the first round because there's a lot of blue-chip talent at certain positions. Maybe I shouldn't say a lot of blue-chip talent, but it's a strong first round, especially the first 20 picks. You feel really good about the receivers, the tackles, the pass rushers, the corners, quarterbacks. These are premium positions. If you have a chance to draft that tackle that you think could be a cornerstone player or that edge rusher, it'd be tough to trade away from that. Even though I do think there's talent on day two, especially at certain positions, it would be tough to trade away from a top 20 pick. Now, maybe they'll feel more comfortable with pick 45. Maybe you trade and you get two third-round picks instead of pick 45. I think at the time, that's going to be a tough pill to swallow. But for a team that does not have a third-round pick, fourth-round pick, I think that might be the wise move to make, especially... Obviously, it depends on who's on the board and how the first 40 picks play out, but that is something that they should at least seriously consider.

T-P: Last one for you here. Thank you for your time. Because the Saints do like to trade up, what is the drop off from Alt to Fashanu? I mean, everyone just assumes Alt is going to be gone by then. But is he the type of prospect that might be worth trading up for?

Brugler: I think first and foremost, I think we need to throw the word consensus out. I know you didn't use it, but just a lot of people use the word consensus. It just should never be used in an NFL draft conversation because every team looks at these guys a little bit differently. And the tackles will be no exception this year. Joe Alt, to me, is the top tackle because he's just a third-year junior, has so much talent, so much to work with that you project him forward, and it's easy to get excited about him. But if another team has Taliese Fuaga as their top tackle, would it be totally shocking? No, I don't think so. In my opinion, I think when you look at Joe Alt, the fact that he's really only been playing offensive line for three, four years, and the year-over-year improvements that he has made. You factor all these things together, what he does in the run game, how he holds up in pass protection, the fact that he's ready right now. But he also has a very high ceiling at the position. So all these factors. I'm taking him in the top 10, and I think he's easily for me to top offensive lineman this year.

Should you at least consider a trade-up and what that would cost? Absolutely. But like I said before, this is a strong first round. So I think you're going to have a lot teams looking to maybe move up for a wide receiver or maybe one of these corners. There's a lot of talent that's jumbled together in the top 15 picks. I think it might be tough to move up without overpaying a little bit. Obviously, the Saints aren't in a position where they can overpay with draft picks to move up.

Email Matthew Paras at matt.paras@theadvocate.com

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