Understandably, the front office is "losing sleep" over the situation, where understudy second-round pick Charles Brown has so far been unready for the leading role in the stage production of the Saints high-powered offense.
But tough luck for the Saints, where the 2013 NFL Draft appears to be positioning top offensive tackles is not near 15. The top three are Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson; all unlikely to make it out of the top 11 picks.
The next echelon of offensive tackles are either bad scheme fits or incredibly raw - with a remarkable number of big bodies with raw potential and limited experience. Will the Saints reach for an offensive tackle, their dire need?
We feel they probably won't - Mickey Loomis has always approached the draft with his major depth chart holes filled by free agent veterans. But Loomis has never faced such severe salary cap strife as he has in this 2013 offseason, and has rarely found such a massive vacancy in his depth chart.
Other news since version 4.0: Star Lotulelei has been given a clean bill of health and had a great pro day. Various prospect quarterback pro days have been middling, and trades around the league have set the Cardinals, Bills and Chiefs up with quarterbacks, reducing the likelihood they'll reach desperately for a quarterback in the top 10. The Saints added depth at 3-4 OLB and DE with Victor Butler and Kenyon Coleman, reducing the need at those positions. Butler and Coleman have Rob Ryan's pedigree and near-guaranteed roster spots.
Don't look now though - offensive and defensive tackles are rising, as big boys always do, and checkered edge pass rushing freaks are slipping towards the Saints at #15...
2. Jacksonville Jaguars - Florida DT Sharrif Floyd* - Eugene Monroe is probably the best player on the Jaguars' roster, no need to replace him at left tackle with Fisher. Floyd is a great addition to the team on and off the field, especially with Terrance Knighton departing via free agency. Floyd is a better pass rusher than Lotulelei at this point, and would pair nicely next to Tyson Alualu.
3. Oakland Raiders - Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson* - No Desmond Bryant, no Phillip Wheeler, no Richard Seymour, and they pass on a defensive lineman? Shyeah. But instead of Lotulelei, here's to the Raiders taking Richardson, who is drawing too many comparisons to Warren Sapp and has a perfect Raider mentality.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan - The Eagles spent at cornerback in free agency to replace DRC and Asomugha, have Jason Peters returning healthy at left tackle, and a homer pick waiting to be made. Chip Kelly reaches for Jordan here, but the positional need is hard to argue with.
5. Detroit Lions - Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher* - The loss of Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus makes this a perfect pick. Riley Reiff can stay at right tackle with super-athletic Michigander Fisher stepping in at left tackle. Lions win big in this scenario.
6. Cleveland Browns - Alabama CB Dee Milliner* - Pairing Joe Haden with Dee Milliner probably completes the defense for Cleveland, which is pretty scary right now.
7. Arizona Cardinals - Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson* - Does Johnson's skyrocketing draft value know no bounds? The former juco quarterback is a phenomenal athlete who started two seasons at a top-tier football program and has great potential at offensive tackle.
8. Buffalo Bills - Alabama OG Chance Warmack - A universally loved blocker should lock down the position for years to come, an old-school pick to help replace Andy Levitre and Chad Rinehart.
9. New York Jets - Utah DT Star Lotulelei - Jets benefit from Lotulelei's dip and put Lotulelei between Coples and Wilkerson for a very solid front three.
10. Tennessee Titans - Tennessee WR Justin Hunter* - Between Kenny Britt's negative 2012 season, losing passing target Jared Cook and a young quarterback to develop, taking the draft's best wide receiver is a possibility. Guard is a popular pick here, but don't overlook the need for the Titans to add offensive weapons to an offense reliant on a young quarterback.
11. San Diego Chargers - North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper - The addition of Chad Rinehart and King Dunlap helps widen the Chargers' draft scope here, but not long term, especially with the release of Jared Gaither. Rinehart's one-year deal is hardly a sign they would pass on a top offensive lineman. Cooper may be more versatile and agile than Warmack, and is a steal at 11.
12. Miami Dolphins - Florida State CB Xavier Rhodes* - Glaring need at cornerback is addressed with Rhodes, a native of Miami.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson* - Playmaker gives Bucs a unique weapon on offense and a big-time weapon to pair across from Vincent Jackson. A nice consolation prize for missing out on the top cornerbacks.
14. Carolina Panthers - North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams - Unless the Panthers want a wide receiver here, we think it will be a defensive tackle. Williams carries a very high rating in some publications and should be ready to contribute on the inside of the defensive line.
15. New Orleans Saints -
The Saints are in a bind at offensive tackle. No player here is a good value fit, and Loomis is not one to reach. Would the Saints have appropriate draft grades to justify drafting for their most dire need?
Next up is bulldozing, four-year starter, 355-pound DJ Fluker from Alabama, a bad fit in the Saints' pass-heavy scheme and really suited for right tackle. Not that the Saints couldn't use some stability at right tackle, but Fluker doesn't address needs to justify a reach. Brit Menelik Watson is a possibility, who has one year of junior college and one year at Florida State as his only American football experience. Watson has high upside as a pass blocker, but wouldn't be ready to contribute any time soon.
But the best fit for the Saints to reach for in the first round may be Arkansas-Pine Bluff star Terron Armstead, who dominated SWAC play and set the combine record with a 4.71 40, a shocking athlete with significant experience but at a small-school. Would the Saints entrust Drew Brees' blind side to Armstead?
Armstead may be available in the late first round or into the second day, one of the top reasons that the Saints should try their best to trade down out of 15, add more rookies to the cap-strapped 2013 roster and add youth to critical positions.
Our 4.0 version pick of Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones still makes a lot of sense despite a bad Combine performance and a worse Pro Day performance - a 4.92 40 cloaked by a hamstring injury. Nevermind the workouts - Jones has all the tape to prove that he has pass rush power at the top level of college football, enough to lead the nation in sacks and set the Georgia school record with 14.5 sacks. Jones is a tad short at 6'2", 245, but is supremely talented despite a terrible offseason. It's that terrible pre-draft process and durability concerns that will make him available in the mid-teens here, instead of a lock top five pick.
We won't repeat a first-round projection until potentially our final mock draft, so we'll exclude Jones, Barkevious Mingo, Jonathan Jenkins and Sam Montgomery from consideration here in version 5.0.
Instead of former Bulldog Jones, what about Bulldog Alec Ogletree, an incredible athlete who has great football IQ with a penchant for bad off-field decisions, like a recent DUI, a drug suspension and an arrest for on-campus theft. A hard-worker off the field, Ogletree will need to knock the interviews out of the park and show a good support group. If Ogletree did that for the Saints, there's no doubt they'd consider this safety-turned-linebacker in the first round. Ogletree had a private visit with the Saints this offseason, so they'll know.
Two elite pass rushers have dropped to the Saints as well - BYU's raw but hyper-athletic Ezekiel Ansah and Florida State workman Bjoern Werner. Ansah is a better pick for one-dimensional pass rushing 3-4 OLB here, as Werner is better suited for a 4-3 DE. But Ansah is so terribly raw, would the Saints have the patience to develop him?
Texas S Kenny Vaccaro or LSU S Eric Reid would be a luxury pick here, but with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins entrenched - don't forget they were 2012 defensive co-captains and Harper's contract is near-intractable - there's no place for either of them to play right away.
Even less of a need would be Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert, perhaps the safest pick in the draft. The Saints have Jimmy Graham - but he's in a contract year and is heading towards a massive new payday. Would the Saints pre-empt Graham's contract talks with Eifert?
We'll project Georgia LB Alec Ogletree here to the Saints in this cushy scenario with Jarvis Jones, Ansah, and Mingo still on the board. We're guessing Ogletree impressed the heck out of Rob Ryan to justify the pick, but we wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints pull the trigger on their critical need, fast-rising Arkansas-Pine Bluff OT Terron Armstead.
16. St. Louis Rams - West Virginia WR Tavon Austin - To: Quick, Pettis and Givens - watch out. One of the Rams' picks will be a wide receiver.
18. Dallas Cowboys - BYU DE Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah - Cowboys have the time to let Ansah develop, and in 2014, will have the leverage to let twice-franchised Anthony Spencer walk.
19. NY Giants - Florida State DE Bjoern Werner - It's all about the pass rush here, and Werner was built to play in Osi Umenyiora's 4-3 DE spot.
20. Chicago Bears - LSU DE Barkevious Mingo* - Bears pick up speedster Mingo to give bite to the pass rush in rotation with Wootton and Peppers.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - Texas S Kenny Vaccaro - Clements and Crocker are free agents, Vaccaro is the new starter at free safety.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Redskins) - Alabama RT D.J. Fluker - Jake Long and Fluker would make a great long-term pair of bookends for the Rams offensive line.
23. Minnesota Vikings - LSU S Eric Reid - Field-covering safety and sledgehammer hitter, Reid would provide some stability at strong safety.
24. Indianapolis Colts - Cal WR Keenan Allen* - If there is a younger version of Reggie Wayne in this draft, it may be Allen.
25. Minnesota Vikings - (from Seattle Seahawks) - Washington CB Desmond Trufant - Vikings add youth to the cornerback position where Antoine Winfield will be missed. Two defensive backs in the first round, and steal Greg Jennings away? Is there any other logical response to Aaron Rodgers?
26. Green Bay Packers - Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert - Safest pick in the draft is a steal for the Packers offense.
27. Houston Texans - Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins - Watch Hopkins' bowl game footage vs LSU. He is pro ready and a steal at #27.
28. Denver Broncos - Purdue DT Kawann Short - Rotation snaps with Terrance Knighton will be critical to maximizing that free agent addition, and Short is an impact inside pass rusher.
29. New England Patriots - Georgia DT Johnathan Jenkins - Restocking at defensive tackle with widebody Jenkins is a steal this late in the first round.
30. Atlanta Falcons - Mississippi State CB Darius Slay - Less experienced but probably with a better upside than overshadowing teammate Johnthan Banks, Falcons need to add speed in the secondary to replace Grimes.
31. San Francisco 49ers - Florida S Matt Elam* - Replacing Dashon Goldson with hard-hitting Elam is a probably an slight upgrade for the 49ers defense.
32. Baltimore Ravens - LSU LB Kevin Minter* - A 4.67 40 at LSU's Pro Day helped secure him into the Ravens' replacement plans for Ray Lewis and the rest of the defensive exodus.
2nd round (14th pick) - forfeited as punishment for the bounty scandal and coverup
3rd round (13th pick, 75th overall) - Ohio State LB John Simon - A powerful fireplug, Simon is a musclebound terror made for Rob Ryan's defense. At only 6'1.5" and over 250 pounds, Simon has remarkable linebacker skills and quickness, including a 4.62 40, and could be used all over Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme. Certainly unlike any weapon currently in the Saints' arsenal.
4th round (12th pick, 109th overall) - Virginia Tech OT Vinston Painter - A remarkable athlete, Vince Painter is cut out of marble, and made a great impression at the Combine. Only a one-year starter for the Hokies, Painter converted from defensive tackle to offensive right tackle. Nick Becton played left tackle instead of Painter because he was more experienced on the offensive line, and played well as a senior, but Painter has a much higher upside. Softer Becton should be available here as well, and may be more ready to compete if Saints have a bare cupboard at left tackle come draft day.
5th round (11th pick, 144th overall) - Oklahoma QB Landry Jones - Don't be surprised to see the Saints move on a developmental quarterback on the third day of the draft. A pure pocket passer, 6'4 Jones not dissimilar Drew Brees in college - a student of the game, a tough, intense competitor, smallish hands, and passed over in the draft because of a gimmicky offense. Jones is going to drop like a rock in April, but could be a great steal for the Saints, if only they can hold off on taking him sooner than they should.
6th round (15th pick, 183rd overall) - Louisiana Tech G/T Oscar Johnson - College left tackle will move to right side or inside to guard. Great power and in-box quickness, Johnson has titanic size and is the kind of late-round athletic mauler the Saints have developed in the past. Should be able to fill in at right tackle if/when that need arises mid-season.