2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton Drew Brees
Derick E Hingle USA TODAY Sports

The Saints’ offense has been a fantasy trip to the candy store since Sean Payton arrived and last season was no different. Retooled and healthy this season, New Orleans looks to be one of the front runners to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2014.

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Indianapolis Colts

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: St. Louis Rams

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Atlanta Falcons

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: San Diego Chargers

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Minnesota Vikings

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Dallas Cowboys

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Denver Broncos

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Green Bay Packers

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Arizona Cardinals 

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Detroit Lions 

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Washington Redskins

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Cincinnati Bengals

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Buffalo Bills

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Seattle Seahawks

2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Chicago Bears

 

2014 Saints Schedule

Week   Opp
1 @ Atlanta Falcons
2 @ Cleveland Browns
3 Minnesota Vikings
4 @ Dallas Cowboys
5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6 Bye Week
7 @ Detroit Lions
8 Green Bay Packers
9 @ Carolina Panthers
10 San Francisco 49ers
11 Cincinnati Bengals
12 Baltimore Ravens
13 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
14 Carolina Panthers
15 @ Chicago Bears
16 Atlanta Falcons
17 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Do what you must in terms of grains of salt taken when looking at the schedule this early, but New Orleans does see some pretty strong defensive units coming out of their bye week. You’re not fading this offense against anyone, however, and it’s nice to see them playing six of their nine (excluding week 17) games to wrap up the fantasy season in the confines of their home sweet dome.

As mentioned, the Saints have been one of the most consistent offenses since Payton took over in 2006. Even though they may not have been the juggernaut that we’ve known them as in the past, New Orleans was in the top third in nearly offensive category in 2013.

Category Total Rank
Pts/Game 25.3 11
Avg. Scoring Margin 5.8 8
Points Per Drive 2.22 3
RZ Att. Per Game 3.5 8
RZ TD% 55.6% 12
Plays/Game 67.6 9
Yards Per Play 5.9 4

 

Before we jump into some of the individual spokes in this wheel, let’s do a quick run through on some of the play calling splits that offenses had under the watchful eye of Payton.

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*Suspended for 2012 Season

His teams consistently run a lot of plays per game and when you have a quarterback like Drew Brees at the helm, that volume is coupled with incredible efficiency, which is sweet music to our ears as fantasy players.

Enjoy the Brees

Brees has thrown at least 33 touchdown passes for six consecutive seasons and 128 scores over the past three seasons, the most ever in a three-year window in NFL history. In 2013, he showed a few chinks in his mighty armor, but still finished seventh in fantasy points per aimed throw (FPAT) and eighth in adjusted yards per aimed attempt (AY/AA). However, he finished with the same number of usable starts as the team of Chicago quarterbacks last season, mainly because he had really polarizing splits on the road compared to his performances at home.

[table id=144 /]

Home and road are generally noise, but the Saints are clearly a different team at home. When you have a home field advantage to that degree, it shows, similar to Seattle. Looking back in 2013, he really struggled in games outdoors. Looking at his 2014 schedule, you have to like that he’ll be at home for two thirds of the season after their bye week.

Brees remains in the safe group of the big three quarterbacks for me with Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, but I’m firmly in the camp of not selecting anyone from that trio based on the opportunity cost it takes to acquire them. If you play in a six point per passing touchdown league, he does get a boost. Brees has the fourth most games with three touchdown passes or more ever, but he’s far too rich for my taste when it comes to fantasy football. As with Manning and Rodgers, I believe the correct path to take is by attaching yourself to their targets so in a way you’re still making the early round quarterbacks work for you.

Most Games In NFL History With 3+ TD Passing

[table id=145 /]

Graham and Then?

Like Brees, Jimmy Graham is locked into a spot amongst the top tier at his position, leading all tight ends in total receptions (270), yardage (3,507) and touchdowns (36) over the past three seasons. He’s been an absolute monster in divisional play since 2011, averaging almost 30 more yards per game when facing rivals from the NFC South. As with Brees, the issue comes with where should you select him in drafts?

Scott Smith sees him as the queen piece on the fantasy chess board, and from a value based approach, it’s hard to argue what Graham brings to the table. I’ve never been one to prescribe to value based drafting because I generally don’t subscribe to big picture outlooks when drafting and find the baselines for the positions flawed since they usually don’t incorporate ADP.  On average, the number of requisite starters in your league at running back and receiver come off the boards much earlier in fantasy drafts, meaning there’s a supply and demand to meet at those positions rather than the solo spot of tight end.  The 24th back is coming off the board at the start of round five while the 36th receiver is selected on average at the start of round eight. The number twelve tight end is drafted near the start of round eleven and that’s not even factoring the surplus of back and receivers you need to cover bye weeks and bust rates.

This is why C.D. Carter sees too much opportunity cost in investing a first round selection in Graham.  One of the best fantasy articles I’ve ever read was penned on this topic a year ago by JJ Zachariason. I suggest you check that out for the full scope of the Grahamscape. It’s a polarizing topic and one I side with the latter philosophy on when it comes to structuring teams, but if you have to take a tight end early on, I won’t push back. As league size increases and multiple flexes are added, his viability grows. Graham is a virtual lock to be amongst the top two at his position if healthy when the sun sets on 2014.

One player I’m having a hard time climbing into bed with this season is Marques Colston and his current ADP feels like a trap. Not only has he been oft injured recently, his level of play has declined the past two seasons. Using the Career Graphs App available at RotoViz, look at his per game output since 2011.

colston

Over the past two seasons, Colston has posted only nine top 24 weeks in PPR leagues, the same amount as Brian Hartline. His market share of team targets has dropped three years running and we may finally be getting close to saying farewell on his sturdy career.  He did close 2013 on a high note, catching four or more passes in all eight games to close the season, so I don’t want to completely throw dirt on him. With the Saints retooling their receiver position around youth and explosive playmakers, Colston should still post solid overall numbers. But I expect those to disguise his weekly viability like they have the past two seasons. I would prefer him as my WR4 if possible, because there are more red flags around him than positive ones.

The other factor in passing on Colston at his current cost is I prefer to buy into top flight passing games at their cheapest costs. New Orleans traded up in the first round to select Brandin Cooks this spring, looking to make him a hybrid of slot receiver and offensive weapon while replacing some the offensive functionality lost when they traded away Darren Sproles to the Eagles. He and Sproles aren’t far apart in terms of physical measurements, either.

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Cooks was the youngest receiver in this draft and registers an outstanding score in Jon Moore’s Phenom Index and passes his Eric Decker test. He’s not usually the type of receiver I pursue, but the New Orleans offense was a perfect marriage for what he brings to table.  With his quarterback, head coach, surrounding skill players and playing on the rug all season, it’s not hard to notice why he’s one of the must know rookies in 2014. While the expected touchdown totals may push him down, it’s easy to forget that Sproles had nine receiving scores inside the 10-yard line in 2011 and 2012 combined, which was tied for the fourth most in the NFL.

The Saints also have another young receiver who played well as a rookie in Kenny Stills. Mostly discounted because folks believe he’s just the next Devery Henderson or Robert Meachem, Stills is still being undervalued this year. For as much love as some of the other sophomore receivers have been getting, he played nearly on par or better than all of them as a rookie despite seeing the fewest targets per game.

stills

All of his touchdowns were from 34 yards out of greater, so he’s hard to trust week to week unless you see him carve into the role Lance Moore had as well as his vertical usage. If that happens, he can be a real steal for his price tag. As of right now, I would rather own Stills at his cost than Terrance Williams, but would still likely pass for him for a bigger upside play like Justin Hunter later on. He’s being selected after Colston and Cooks, so he’s your target to buy in to a piece of Brees on the cheap.

Treme-ing  the Fat Off of This Backfield

Backfields under Payton are highly effective but almost as frustrating for fantasy purposes in a Belichekian fashion week to week. New Orleans is a little different because their backs weren’t as impacted by game script as you’d expect, but there’s still a lot to sort here as Mr. Fantasy Douche has already detailed here.

Fool me once and so on, but I’m semi kicking the tires on Mark Ingram as an arbitrage play on Stevan Ridley this season. Sure, we’ve all been burned by this story before, but he ran well when afforded opportunities a season ago. For fantasy purposes, he averaged more rushing points per attempt than Ryan Mathews, Zac Stacy, Arian Foster and C.J. Spiller amongst others at .57 points per attempt. Despite playing in only 40 percent of team snaps in only two weeks, it seemed as if the lights were coming on for him as he averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Even removing the Dallas game, when he reached double digit rushing attempts he delivered. He’s unlikely to ever see consistent usage in this offense, but has a shot to be the plunger on a team that is expected to score a significant number of points.

Khiry Robinson has an opportunity to keep Ingram in the role we’ve seen during his first three seasons as he’s a Van Winkle for many in the community this season after his strong showing in the postseason.  Robinson is far more versatile than Ingram and was a strong receiver in college at West Texas A&M, something often overlooked. In his senior year, Robinson snagged 38 receptions for 430 yards and four scores, displaying why he may in fact bring much more to this offense than Ingram can. As a training camp battle watch, Dan Schneier likes Robinson to win the job due to the flexibility he provides for the offense.

Of course, the only constant that we can count on to remain involved is the underappreciated Pierre Thomas. The PT Cruiser has been a fantasy points per route run (FPRRR) superstar since being involved in this offense and is coming off of a career high 77 receptions. Since 2011, Thomas has 24 games played with four receptions or more which the fourth most over that stretch behind only Sproles, Ray Rice and Matt Forte.  Over the past three years, he’s been one the best receiving backs in the entire NFL.

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Thomas is a fantastic roster smoother in PPR leagues as an RB2 for those going receiver early and often and an ideal third back on your fantasy squad if you can pull it off. James Todd has seven reasons for you to add him to your roster this summer and the main one is that the target volume for backs in this offense isn’t going to dry up. While it’s hard to really envision him besting his 2013 totals receiving even with Sproles gone, there’s going to be plenty to go around for him to stake his claim to the major share. Even before New Orleans, Payton has always distributed the football to players coming out of the backfield.

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2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections

Passing

Player Att Comp % Yards TD INT FF PTs
Drew Brees 620.6 415.6 67.0% 4918.7 35.1 13.7 309.9

 

Rushing

Player Att Yds YPC TD FF PTs
Pierre Thomas 110.3 463.2 4.2 2.8 61.8
Mark Ingram 126.6 519.2 4.1 4.4 77.2
Khiry Robinson 94.0 413.4 4.4 2.8 57.3
Travaris Cadet 16.3 75.2 4.6 0.5 10.3
Brandin Cooks 12.3 105.4 8.6 0.4 12.6
Drew Brees 36.8 44.1 1.2 0.7 1.5

 

Receiving

Player TGT Rec Yards TD PTS PPR PTS
Marques Colston 108.8 69.6 912.0 7.0 133.0 202.6
Kenny Stills 83.2 53.2 803.8 6.9 121.9 175.1
Brandin Cooks 80.0 52.8 649.3 3.7 87.1 139.9
Jimmy Graham 140.8 90.1 1189.2 11.7 189.2 279.3
Pierre Thomas 89.6 71.7 566.1 2.9 73.8 145.5
Mark Ingram 16.0 11.8 92.3 0.4 11.4 23.2
Khiry Robinson 35.2 26.0 203.1 0.8 25.0 51.0

 

Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Robinson – He has the most complete skill set in the entire backfield and if he wrangles away the early down role from Ingram, will flirt with weekly RB2 relevance.

Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Colston – There’s a lot not to like here but is still attached to Brees. If he struggles with health once again, he may frequent your bench more often than not.

Best Waiver Wire Option: NO Defense – There’s not much of this offense that will go undrafted in your leagues, but the Saints defense has an offense that dictates opposing game script, an elite pass rusher in Cameron Jordan, a very good secondary, a blitz happy defensive coordinator and a legit home field advantage.

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