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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints used their top draft choice on a player whose blocking ability might help extend the career of 36-year-old Drew Brees, selecting Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat at 13th overall Thursday night.
New Orleans then used its second of two first-round picks to take Clemson inside linebacker Stephone Anthony, who'll join a Saints defense that could use some help after ranking second-to-last in the NFL with 384 yards allowed last season.
Payton said the 6-foot-7, 316-pound Peat will work strictly as an offensive tackle, where the Saints currently have two incumbent starters, two-year veteran Terron Armstead on the left side and nine-year veteran Zach Strief on the right side.
While Payton said he didn't want to label Peat as a potential starter next season, he added, "We feel like he certainly has a ceiling that's extremely high. ... I love the way this guy plays. I absolutely love it."
Payton also stressed that offensive tackle is a hard position to fill in free agency, so the Saints saw it was a wise move to draft a top-tier prospect at that spot when they had the chance.
He said offensive tackle "is certainly a position we'd call a need position — maybe not a must, but a need."
Payton said the Saints also saw inside linebacker as a position they needed to address in the draft, and liked Anthony's combination of physical and leadership ability enough to take him with 31st pick they acquired, along with center Max Unger, in a trade that sent start tight end Jimmy Graham to Seattle.
"We love the makeup. He's sharp. He's the leader of their defense," Payton said of Anthony, who was a co-captain and led Clemson with 90 tackles last season, including 10½ tackles for losses and 2½ sacks. "Then the production on film was real good."
Anthony said he met before the draft with Payton, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and linebackers coach Joe Vitt, adding, "There was just something about those guys, we clicked."
And while Anthony played inside in college, he said he's equally comfortable on the outside.
"I have no preference. I can play all three positions and I'm willing to play whatever they need me to play," he said.
Peat, meanwhile, said he could also play guard, although his body type, particularly his height, would make him an atypical interior lineman — even more so when considering Brees is a relatively short quarterback at 6 feet tall.
"I'm ready to come in and contribute wherever they need me on the line," said Peat, who visited Saints headquarters before the draft. "I just want to come in and compete. I've always played tackle, so I feel comfortable playing both sides."
The Saints are coming off a 7-9 season in which they missed the playoffs despite playing in the NFL's weakest division, the NFC South.
Peat, a native of Chandler, Arizona, comes from a football family.
His father, Todd, was an NFL offensive lineman for the Cardinals, both in St. Louis and after the franchise moved to Arizona. Payton said he played high school football in Illinois at the same time as the elder Peat and met him when they were both being recruited by Northern Illinois.
Andrus Peat's brother, Todd Jr., is a defensive tackle at Nebraska. His younger brother, Cassius, was highly recruited as a high school linebacker in Arizona and was part of Michigan State's 2015 signing class.
"I've always had high expectations with my dad playing," Andrus Peat said. "I tried to learn as much as I can from him and take his advice because he's been there."
Peat has been a two-year starter at left tackle for Stanford, which plays a "West Coast," pro-style offense that Peat said should help his transition to Payton's offense. The Cardinal uses a zone-blocking scheme in the run, which the Saints have used since 2013.
As a junior in 2014, Peat was named All-Pac-12 and second-team AP All-America.
He majored in psychology at Stanford, saying he'd be interested in a career as a sports psychologist after pro football.
He could play right away in New Orleans, even if he doesn't start. Payton has been known to use three-tackle alignments, with one of them reporting as an eligible receiver. That was a role Strief routinely played before stepping in as starter in 2011 following Jon Stinchcomb's retirement.
In any event, New Orleans' decision to draft a top-tier offensive lineman will likely be welcome news to Brees, who tied for the NFL lead in yards passing last season with 4,952 yards, but was also sacked 29 times.
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