New Orleans Saints – 2019 A Look Inside

Contributions from Joshua Hudson, Chris Tyler, & Joe Zollo

With the Saints trying to maximize their rapidly closing window in Drew Brees’ twilight, draft picks are expendable if there’s a player the team values immensely. Center Erik McCoy fit that description. The offseason retirement of Max Unger (the key piece in the Jimmy Graham trade some years ago) left a gaping hole in the middle of their offensive line. McCoy, on some draft boards, was the top center available this year. They gave up some capital to move up to get him, but it’s all worth it to keep Drew Brees upright. After selecting a couple of safeties in the middle rounds, the only skill position player drafted was Alize Mack. Tight End became a need for the team after Benjamin Watson retired (and then unretired to sign with the Patriots). The team signed Jared Cook, fresh off a strong season in Oakland, but he’s 32. The Saints are all in, and McCoy better learn fast. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

The Saints have been on the precipice of the Super Bowl the last couple of years. They nailed the 2016 and 2017 drafts, and it has helped extend Brees’ career. Brees may be 40, but he hasn’t looked it, continuing to finish in the top 10 among fantasy quarterbacks. Alvin Kamara set a career high in carries last year with Mark Ingram missing the first four games, and is primed to continue carrying the load. He’s also had two straight years with 80+ catches, showcasing his dual-threat ability and importance to fantasy owners. To replace Ingram, the Saints brought in former Raider and Viking Latavius Murray. He should see 120 or so carries, and since he’s second in the league in rushing touchdowns since 2015, he’ll be a valuable fantasy asset. Michael Thomas has the most receptions in NFL History through the first three seasons of his career and three straight top 12 finishes in fantasy. Expecting him to do the same this year is called logic. The signing of Jared Cook adds yet another weapon to Brees’ arsenal, but don’t expect another top five finish. There are lots of mouths to feed in New Orleans, and while Cook will have a good season, it’ll be more opportunistic production than consistent. Draft wisely. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

350. That is how many snaps Mark Ingram took for the New Orleans Saints last season while also missing the first four games due to suspension. Those snaps have to be filled up by somebody, and that somebody happens to be Latavius Murray. Now, he won’t get all of them as Alvin Kamara will most likely steal some of them away, but let’s just do some quick math- Kamara had 657 offensive snaps and Ingram had 350 throughout the 2018 season. All together that is 1,007 offensive snaps. Let’s say Kamara handles 75% of the snaps — which is honestly very high considering only five players at the running back position eclipsed more than 65% of their team’s offensive snaps — that leaves the other roughly 25% to Murray, which equates to about 250 snaps. That is still a solid amount of snaps that Murray is getting behind one of the best running backs in the league. Let’s look on the bright side of things and say Kamara does only receive 65% of the snaps- that means Murray gets roughly the same amount that Mark Ingram did in 2018. I would take that deal all the way.

Murray is obviously not going to be used in passing situations — that is where Kamara shines — but he will be used in short-yardage situations due to his stature. Standing at 6’3 and 230 pounds, Murray is a beast of a running back and will be utilized on the goal line to vulture some touchdowns away from Kamara, and should garnish some solid points in the run game. – Joe Zollo

Remember when Tom Brady won the 2017 MVP and passed for 505 yards and three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, at the age of 41? Then he proceeded to be the second QB off the board during fantasy football drafts in 2018, at 42? Then remember he had a solid, yet underwhelming season, finishing as QB13 in Club Fantasy scoring (QB14 in 4 point/TD leagues)? The thing to gather from this is that Father Time is undefeated. Brady may say he wants to play until he’s 45, and you know what? He might. It also doesn’t guarantee he’ll be effective or productive in fantasy as a result. I bring this up because another all-time great is entering his age-40 season in 2019- Drew Brees. Brees is currently going as the seventh QB off the board. As a fantasy owner of Drew Brees, would you rather sink with the ship or cut loose before you sink?

Since arriving in New Orleans, Drew Brees has been a revelation. He’s thrown for over 62,000 yards in 13 seasons there. Read that again: 62,000 yards in 13 seasons! That’s an average of over 4,700 yards per season. That’s just nuts. And he’s done so with no real all-time greats at wide receiver. Guys like Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachum, and Kenny Stills are names we know because of Brees. The only real quality targets he had were Brandin Cooks (2014-2016), Jimmy Graham (2010-2014), and Michael Thomas (2016-present). It really helps accentuate Brees’ greatness. But if you look at what he, and a few other additions to the team, have done over his last three seasons, you’ll see why I’d rather bail on Brees now than wait for Father Time to claim another great.

In 2016, Brees led the NFL in completions (471), pass attempts (673), and passing yards (5,208). He also had a 70% completion percentage on the season. In 2017, those numbers regressed heavily after the team drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round and created a two-headed monster at running back. Brees may have led the league in completions and completion percentage, but he threw for almost 1,000 fewer yards and tossed only 23 touchdowns. In 2018, his passing yards dipped yet again (3,992) and he attempted only 489 passes, almost 200 fewer than in 2016. Over these three seasons, Brees went from QB2 to QB12 to QB6 in Club Fantasy scoring. Brees’ rise back into the top six was simply because of his efficiency — a 74.4 completion percentage and 32 touchdowns to five interceptions. His 6.5% TD percentage was the highest he’s had since his 7.0% in 2011.

The Saints have transitioned to more of a running team over the last few years, relying less and less on Brees to bail them out by throwing for over 5,000 yards a season. They ran the ball 46.6% of the time in 2018, up from 2017’s 44.4% and 2016’s 36.6%. Brees can still throw for 4,000 yards — he’s completed over 70% of his passes each of the last three seasons — but do you buy that he can remain that efficient with his TD passes? Let’s say Brees throws for 4,000 yards on the dot. His career TD percentage is 5.3%. I’ll say Brees attempts 500 passes- higher than last year, but not quite as high as 2017. That’d be 26 TDs. 4,000 yards and 26 TDs is only 316 fantasy points in Club Fantasy scoring. The QB12 last year scored 332.6. I get not wanting to be the guy to doubt Brees and his efforts, but don’t spend an eighth round pick on a guy who likely won’t live up to the billing. Just remember Brady last year as a situation you don’t want to find yourself in. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

As I mentioned above, the Saints have increased how much they’ve run the ball exactly 10% over the last three seasons. Much of that credit goes to Alvin Kamara, the dynamic back they drafted from Tennessee in the third round in 2017. He touched the ball on 20% of the team’s offensive plays in 2017, and that increased to 27.2% last year. Over those same two seasons, Kamara ranks third behind Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in total yards from scrimmage. When you’re looking at players to trust in fantasy, look no further than Kamara.

After splitting time with Mark Ingram his first two seasons, Kamara now gets to share a backfield with Latavius Murray. While Murray has a nose for the end zone, he’s no Ingram. Kamara set a career high in rushes last year (194) and still saw over 100 targets as a receiver (81 catches each of his first two seasons). Of players with at least 200 carries the last two seasons, Kamara ranks second in yards per attempt (5.13). He’s also second in targets (205) and receptions (162) among running backs, and third in yards per reception among backs with at least 80 receptions (9.48). His 32 total touchdowns since 2017 are second only to Todd Gurley (40).

There are plenty of reasons to trust Michael Thomas and his ability to dominate in the passing game, but when it comes to fantasy, I’d much rather have a bonafide top five running back than a top five wide receiver. That’s why the ultimate trust fall for the Saints is Kamara and not Thomas. Sorry, not sorry. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

During Alize Mack’s college career, he didn’t but up impressive numbers. He totaled 68 catches for 716 yards and scored only four touchdowns. But how is he gonna be productive in Fantasy Football? First, Mack is on one of the top offenses in the league, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Second, even though he wasn’t that productive in college (he had three different quarterbacks), what I saw was the potential to be an elite receiving tight end. Mack has strong hands and is known for muscling contested catches this past season. Shown to have a high football IQ, Mack understands how to find the holes in defensive coverage, making him an easy target for Brees to find. Lastly, with Jared Cook being the clear number one, Mack won’t get a lot of exposure this season, but it gives him the opportunity to grow. Alize Mack is in a position were he can become a great tight end with a little more fine tuning. Trust me, he’s a special kid that can develop into more. – Chris Tyler

The second-year speedster out of the University of Central Florida, Tre’Quan Smith, currently sits as the WR3 in the New Orleans offense behind Michael Thomas and veteran Ted Ginn. He could arguably see more time than Ginn with the skill he has, but he will have to fight for his targets. Smith had two games of over 30 points last season and showed flashes of being a solid second option in the offense. He should see more targets and more time, and his ADP of WR63 allows him to be drafted late in your draft. Having Smith as a WR5 or WR6 for your team gives you a guy with high upside to possibly fill in for your starters if one becomes injured. – Joe Zollo

The only viable fantasy option on the defense for the Saints is Cam Jordan. Jordan is one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL and has consistently found himself atop the linemen in fantasy football. He finished DL12 last season with 122 points and finished DL3 in 2017 with 158 points. The amount Cam Jordan scores does tend to go up and down year-over-year, but he always finds a way to be around a DL1 ranking in fantasy football every season. Outside of Cam Jordan, there is not too much to look at. Marcus Lattimore is an incredible talent and Vonn Bell can put up points, but it is nowhere near the top of the secondary players in fantasy football. New Orleans doesn’t have great Linebackers so all there is to know about is Cam Jordan. Keep him in the back of your minds when drafting. – Joe Zollo