Countdown to Combine: New Orleans Saints guards

A closer look at the areas the New Orleans Saints could address in the draft. We’ll get started today with a look at the guard position, which is scheduled to work out Friday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Guard. The Saints have long valued the guard position more than most teams because of the way quarterback Drew Brees likes to step up in the pocket. But six-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans, 31, and two-time Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs, 30, are showing signs of decline while their salaries continue to climb (Evans is due $7.5 million in salary and bonuses this year, Grubbs $6.6 million). The Saints can’t really afford to cut either player since they don’t have any proven options waiting in the wings. So they need to replenish their interior line ASAP.

Three players the Saints could target in the draft:

Brandon Scherff OT/G, Iowa: Scherff was a first-team All-American left tackle in college, but most analysts think he could be an even better fit at guard in the NFL (ideally following the footsteps of Dallas Cowboys rookie Zack Martin, who made the same transition last year). Scherff (6-foot-4, 320 pounds) is widely projected as a top-10 pick in this year’s draft, which means the Saints, who pick 13th, might not get a crack at him if he performs well at the combine. Scherff projects as a standout run blocker, with many analysts using words like powerful, tough and nasty to describe him. But he also has enough athleticism to be an asset in pass protection.

La’el Collins OT/G, LSU: Just like Scherff, Collins played left tackle in college but projects as either a right tackle or guard in the NFL. His draft projections have been more spread out so far, from the 10-30 range. But he helped his stock at the Senior Bowl by most accounts and could continue to do the same. The 6-4, 308-pounder is a tad more athletic than Scherff but also excels mostly as a run blocker. ESPN/Scouts Inc. analyst Steve Muench described him as a “mean” run blocker. Collins played both tackle spots and guard during Senior Bowl practices, so teams should love his versatility.

Cameron Erving OT/C, Florida State: Erving took that versatility to another level for the Seminoles. He started as a defensive tackle. Then he was a second-team All-American as a left offensive tackle in 2013. Then late last season, he switched to center -- a position where he might be even more enticing to NFL teams. Erving (6-5, 308) is right on the edge of first-round consideration, so the combine will be important. I’m not sure if teams will consider him at guard. But the Saints could also use a center, since incumbent Jonathan Goodwin is 36 and a free agent, and his top backup Tim Lelito has played both center and guard.