By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
Missed any of our other Previews? Find them here!
CLE, NYG, IND, HOU, DEN, NYJ, TB, CHI, OAK, SF, MIA, CIN, WAS, GB, ARI, BAL, LAC, DAL, SEA, DET, BUF, TEN, KC, ATL, JAX, CAR, LAR, PIT, MIN, NE, PHI.
The 2017 New Orleans Saints enjoyed some luxuries they hadn’t tasted in a while. First, their defense set the world on fire. Second, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram powered their offense, finishing as fantasy’s RB4 and RB5. WR Michael Thomas was consistently reliable as fantasy’s WR7. The only disappointment was QB Drew Brees. Typically a lock for top 3 numbers, Brees finished as QB12 as his team improved around him.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Tom Savage (w/ HOU)||60.68||QB39|
|RB4||(R) Boston Scott||N/A||N/A|
|WR2||Cameron Meredith (w/ CHI)||N/A||N/A|
|WR3||Ted Ginn Jr.||155.10||WR34|
|WR5||(R) Tre’Quan Smith||N/A||N/A|
|TE1||Benjamin Watson (w/ BAL)||124.10||TE14|
To say Drew Brees hit peak efficiency levels last season would be an understatement. The 17-year veteran and future first ballot Hall of Famer owns four of the ten best completion percentages in a single season in NFL history. Last year, his 72% completion percentage was not only a career high but it set an NFL record. He also set a career best mark in interceptions, only turning it over through the air eight times, just the second time he’s had single digit interceptions in his career and his first since 2004 with the Chargers. That efficiency translated once again to success in New Orleans, which was one tackle away from an appearance in the NFC championship game.
But none of that really matters from a fantasy perspective. Because the 2017 Saints had two things they’ve lacked for a long while: a stout defense and a top-notch running game. Just like in Jacksonville, where the Jags no longer needed Blake Bortles to sling it all day to have a chance, the Saints didn’t need Brees to air it out. Consequently, Brees produced his lowest yardage (4,334) and touchdown (23) totals since joining New Orleans, putting the Saints’ signal caller in rare territory: outside the top 10 in fantasy (he finished as QB12).
So what are we looking at for Brees in 2018? Probably more of the same. The Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara one-two punch hurts worse than an Ivan Drago combo to the face. And that Saints defense is not a fluke. It’s comforting for Saints fans to know that if necessary, Brees can carry the team via his arm. But it’s disheartening for fantasy owners to know that it likely won’t be needed. Brees is still a QB1 because he’s not going to make many mistakes – but he’s at the bottom of that ladder at this point in his career. He’s certainly worth a late round pick, but the days of drafting him in the 5th round to carry your team are long gone.
Three things you need to know about Alvin Kamara: First, he was on the field for less than half (44%) of the Saints’ plays last year and he finished as fantasy’s fourth-best RB. Second, his running mate Mark Ingram finished as fantasy’s fifth-best RB. Third, and probably most importantly, he’ll be the unquestioned workhorse for the Saints from Weeks 1-4 as Mark Ingram serves his suspension. Doubters will point to his absurd efficiency, Ingram’s presence, and his touchdown total in 2017 (13) as reason to be cautious, but don’t pay them any mind. This kid is flat out special. Kamara will catch at least 75 passes and hit double digit scores. He’s a first rounder without question. Draft away.
Kamara’s running mate Mark Ingram starts the season in the doghouse, serving a four game suspension for a PED violation. This, combined with Kamara’s ridiculous talent and success, makes Ingram even more underrated than he normally is. I’d argue that over the last 15 years, Frank Gore is the only player to be more underrated than him. Ingram’s a lock for 1,000 yards rushing and is likely to catch another 35 passes coming off a career-best 58 catches in 2017. The four-game suspension will prevent him from hitting top 20 numbers, but he’s top 25 no doubt. Once he returns from his absence, Ingram will provide you an RB2 you can rely on without question. Let others pass on him, but don’t wait too long on him on draft day.
The big rap against Saints wide receivers has always been that Drew Brees rarely has a favorite wide receiver. When Michael Thomas finished as fantasy’s 12th best WR in 2016, lots of people, myself included, didn’t think it would happen again. Brees simply doesn’t have favorites out wide.
Boy were we wrong. In 2017, Thomas had 28 more targets and 12 more receptions than his rookie year, catching 104 passes on 149 targets. Insane! The only area where Thomas suffered was in the touchdown department. He only hit paydirt five times. But even with the lackluster end zone numbers, Thomas still proved valuable as fantasy owners’ number one WR. Unlike fellow NFC South wide receiver Julio Jones, Thomas was a steady performer each week – he didn’t get his points in large chunks like Atlanta’s number one. From Weeks 7 – 16, he was within at least 5 points of his final average points per game (16.2) eight out of ten times. That’s the type of consistency you want from your number one wide receiver. You don’t want to have to rely on one 50+ point week to boost numbers at the end of the season. You want a realistic shot at getting 15+ points per week. As the unquestioned number one wide receiver in New Orleans, with the efficient Brees at the helm, Thomas gives you that. And he’s worthy of a first round pick in 2018.
One of the more under-the-radar moves this offseason was the Saints’ acquisition of former Bears WR Cameron Meredith. Expectations for Meredith were high in 2017 after he peeled off 60 catches for 836 yards and four touchdowns in just 12 games in 2016. Unfortunately Meredith tore his ACL last year and missed the entire season. For some, the jury seems to be out on Meredith. I’m in the camp that thinks he’s worth a late round pick. No one can deny his flashes of dominance in 2016 without Drew Brees as his QB. Imagine what he can do in New Orleans? He’s worthy of late round consideration as your WR4/FLEX with WR2/3 potential.
After what has seemed like years of inconsistency, Ted Ginn Jr. has finally found some success in New Orleans, finishing as WR34 in 2017 and WR48 in 2016. The problem with Ginn is one that he’s faced his entire career: he’s a boom-or-bust kinda guy. You can’t rely on him to be in your starting lineup every week, thus you shouldn’t really rely on him to be on your team. Don’t get me wrong – against exploitable secondaries, Ginn makes for a sneaky FLEX and DFS play. But as I’ve preached all offseason, you should be minimizing risk and maximizing value. Ginn doesn’t provide you with the opportunity to do either of those things. Avoid him on draft day.
Finally we’ve got the rookie Tre’Quan Smith. As Chris Tyler points out two sections below, Smith’s greatest accomplishment during his time at UCF was that 78 percent of his catches in 2017 resulted in first downs. With Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Benjamin Watson, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara in town, there are a lot of mouths to feed in the passing game. Smith likely won’t do much in season-long leagues, but he’s definitely worth grabbing in dynasty formats.
Benjamin Watson quietly put up TE14 numbers in 2017 as a Baltimore Raven. Let that sink in. On the league’s worst passing offense, with an unspectacular quarterback, Watson put up TE14 numbers. Now he returns to New Orleans, where the tight-end loving Drew Brees awaits. Watson’s old (37), but that shouldn’t dissuade you from taking him if you’re willing to wait on a tight end. Some people peak late. Watson appears to be one of those people.
Rookie to Watch
WR Tre’Quan Smith is a special type of talent. During his time at Central Florida, he accumulated 2,748 career receiving yards on 168 catches and 22 scores — admirable numbers over three seasons. What is most impressive is that 78% of his 2017 catches went for a first down. What that tells me is that he’s going to be a nice safety valve for Drew Brees this year. Besides that, Smith has a nice frame at 6’2 203 lbs that will help him body up secondaries for downfield action on 50/50 balls. This young man is a stud in the making. – Chris Tyler
So what if he is 37, has been on four different teams, and was the last pick in the 1st round in 2004. After one year in Baltimore, Ben Watson’s back in the Big Easy and looking to give Drew Brees his first resemblance of a serviceable tight end since Jimmy Graham left. In 2015 with the Saints, he had a career high in targets, receptions, and receiving yards, and tied a career high for touchdowns with six. With the emergence of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram as the best RB duo in the league, it will open up space for Watson to find gaps in the zone and create chaos in the NFC South. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The New Orleans Saints’ D/ST finished 29th in 2016. It finished 6th in 2017. That’s why you should stream defenses (besides the top 5, they are wildly inconsistent) and that’s also why you can’t expect top 10 numbers from Drew Brees in 2018 – and maybe for the rest of his career.
|New Orleans Saints|
|5||10/8 (Mon)||vs WAS|
|6||** BYE WEEK **|
|12||11/22 (Thurs)||vs ATL|
|13||11/29 (Thurs)||@ DAL|
|15||12/17 (Mon)||@ CAR|