Is left tackle or right tackle a bigger need for Saints in 2024 draft?

The 2024 NFL draft is less than a month away, and the New Orleans Saints have more problems to address than draft picks to spend on them. And their top priority has to be getting the tackle spots right. Which leads us to the big question: which tackle spot is in worse shape?

Conventional wisdom would suggest the left tackle spot is a top priority; every team wants to protect their quarterback’s blind side, and the right-handed Derek Carr needs to know he can step up in the pocket with confidence. Last year, the Saints struggled to get rely on Trevor Penning before benching him after six games. Andrus Peat moved back to his college position after nearly a decade at left guard, and he did well enough, but the team hasn’t expressed much interest in re-signing him now that he’s a free agent.

So they’re effectively jumping out of the plane without a parachute if Penning is the only option. What about the right side? When he signed a contract extension a few years ago, Ryan Ramczyk was as reliable as any right tackle in the NFL could to be. He rarely missed games and was at fault for sacks or penalties even less frequently. But a degenerative knee condition has proven tough to manage, and now everything is on the table. He could miss the entire 2023 season or be pushed into a medical retirement altogether. It’s a serious situation.

The saving grace: the Saints got serviceable play out of Ramczyk’s backups. Landon Young wasn’t a liability in a couple of starts before going down with his own injury. Cameron Erving closed out the season in relief duty, but like Peat he hasn’t been a priority to re-sign after hitting free agency. The Saints clearly have plans for addressing both positions, left and right, but we aren’t privy to them.

Which sets up the 2024 draft as, maybe, their big hope. Or their big gamble. By all accounts, it’s a very deep draft class along the offensive line. There are players with starting-quality grades projected to be picked in the second round. If the Saints are planning to draft an offensive tackle in the first frame at No. 14 overall, they’ll have plenty of options.

Left tackles like Olu Fashanu (Penn State) and Troy Fautanu (Washington) have been popular picks in mock drafts for New Orleans. So are right tackles including Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State) and JC Latham (Alabama), or inexperienced options like Amarius Mims (Georgia) and Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma). We shouldn’t overlook sleepers like left tackle Graham Barton (Duke), who also played center in college. Any of them, and likely several of them, might be in play in the first round when the Saints go on the clock.

Before news of Ramczyk’s too-slow recovery came out, a left tackle seemed most likely. The Saints could either kick off a training camp competition with Penning for that job or move one of the two inside to guard (pushing James Hurst down into the sixth man role, where he’s probably at his best). But now that there’s a real possibility Ramczyk will be unavailable this year, if not longer, the void at right tackle becomes too big to ignore.

There’s still a chance that things click for Penning with a new coaching staff and he makes the necessary growth and adjustments to develop into a starting-quality left tackle. Where you’d put those chances is on you. The Saints might view it as a bad right tackle being easier to work around than a bad left tackle — Carr can see the pressure coming his way and adjust to it accordingly, at least in theory.

The Saints could pick offensive tackles with each of their first two picks and few fans would have much right to complain; sure, there are other fires to put out, but none so dire as this. If the Saints can get a surefire starter in the first round (say, one of those pro-ready right tackles) and add a player who can at least push Penning in the second round (someone like BYU swing tackle Kingsley Suamataia, Houston left tackle Patrick Paul, or Arizona left tackle Jordan Morgan) then it just might work.

At the end of the day, the offense will go as far as the big men up front can lead them. It’s no understatement to say the season hinges on nailing these draft picks, keeping Carr upright, and paving the way for a better running game than the Saints have fielded in recent years.

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Title: Is left tackle or right tackle a bigger need for Saints in 2024 draft?
Author: John Sigler

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