A Look Inside: 2021 New Orleans Saints

Last season was a roller-coaster year for the New Orleans Saints. Michael Thomas played ineffectively through a severe ankle injury in hopes of getting Drew Brees one last Super Bowl. It did not work. Brees also missed time and, once again, the Saints were unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs. But, at least this time, it was not a fluke play or a bad call.

After a 12-4 record and a division title, we will need to find out what New Orleans can do post-Brees and with Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay now leading the division. It is an unusual place for the Saints to be after being the class of the NFC South for a decade.

Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode on Youtube below with special guest Jake Trowbridge, cohost from BallBlast and the Drinking and Talking Fantasy Football podcasts.

Quarterbacks

Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill? This is the question of the year in New Orleans. We know Winston has the arm, and we know Hill has the legs. What we do not know is which is better for the team surrounding them.

Jameis Winston is only one season removed from 32 touchdown passes and 5,000 pass yards. Unfortunately, he also combined these numbers with 30 interceptions for Tampa Bay. If he learned anything from sitting behind and studying with Brees last season, hopefully, it was to not be such a risky thrower. If he absorbs that, he could be great this year in a stellar Saints offense with a top offensive line.

Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas will cure a lot of ills in his game. Leaning on them, Winston could bounce back to be a top-five fantasy quarterback as the starter. Best of all, though, he is not being drafted this way. Winston is being drafted as more of a QB2 for fantasy, with people still scared off by his accuracy issues and turnover tendencies. If he does beat out Hill to become the starter, there is no way he is not a top-10 player at the position. Hill is an entirely different beast.

Last season, in the games Drew Brees missed due to injury, Hill went 3-1. After throwing 24 and 16 times in the first two games, he averaged 37 in the final two. A win against Atlanta and a loss against a bad Eagles team. New Orleans will not want to rely on the arm of Hill if he is named the starter. Like Winston, he has a top-five fantasy upside at the position. But, unlike Winston, it will come in the run game and not due to his passing ability. Therefore, if you have Hill or Winston on your roster, it will not matter either way. They could both finish as top-five to 10 quarterbacks for fantasy. Where the difference will lie for fantasy is with the supporting cast.

With a running quarterback like Hill, the running backs tend to average about one to two fewer targets per game. This could reduce a lot of points for Kamara. His fantasy managers need points due to his limited rush attempts in a given season. Reducing his targets by about 30 could reduce his receptions by 15 to 20 or more. With his limited rush yards, having only 60 to 65 receptions is not the recipe for a top-three running back.

Michael Thomas would also take a hit should Hill start at the quarterback position. Although Thomas is the king of the slant route, the accuracy of Hill, even on a large target share, would cause the yardage and touchdowns of Thomas to take a dip. Something we do not want to see in what is supposed to be a bounce-back year for him.

Both of these quarterbacks are going late in drafts. This is great because, at this point, you do not want to use a draft pick on one or the other, not knowing. You are also likely to see the same upside from both of them as a fantasy quarterback. As for me, I want the entire team to be good. Not just the quarterback position. So please, Sean Payton, start Jameis Winston. I never thought I would be saying those words.

Running Backs

Alvin Kamara. This is the only player you need to know in the backfield. Latavius Murray is a good backup and could be worth a fantasy pick at the very end of your draft, but the run game revolves around Kamara. A true three-down back, Kamara has had no less than 81 receptions in any of his four NFL seasons. His 89 last season was not only a career-high, but it also led all NFL running backs for 2020.

Since 1970, Alvin Kamara leads all NFL running backs in yards per touch in the first four seasons of their career. This means he has more yards per touch than some of the best players of all time. Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Adrian Peterson are among them. It also shows his skills since being picked in the third round of the draft out of Tennessee. These skills are why he is widely considered a top-three running back for fantasy, even despite the uncertainty at quarterback for the Saints in 2021.

Whether it is Winston or Hill, they will need to rely on Kamara for this team to do anything on offense. Although the Saints are a pass-first team, the run game has always been an essential part of their scheme. With Drew Brees retired, it will play an even more important role this season. Kamara is great and will remain great this season. To get him, you will be forced to use a first-round draft pick in your fantasy league. However, he is well worth the cost. He should fall in right behind Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook in the pecking order of running backs you would want to have on your roster.

Wide Receivers

Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris. One of these players is not like the others. The Saints roster is as talented as any in the NFL. Unfortunately, this does not apply to the receivers’ room. With Michael Thomas now out for six to eight weeks to start the season, this will be even more apparent. Other than Thomas, there is no other player currently on the roster who is worth a draft selection for fantasy.

Of course, with the injury to Thomas, someone will need to step up. But who? If you are going to make a bet on any of them, it should be Smith. Although he has not been great in his three seasons, he is the most accomplished. After being the WR2 in his first two seasons, he spent last season in the shadow of Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who is now in Buffalo. He has never broken the 50-reception mark in a year. He may not do it this season. But with Thomas out, he is the most likely to have some fantasy value. A flier on him in the double-digit rounds would not be too outlandish.

Some rumors are floating around that the Saints might be in the market to trade for Jamison Crowder or Sterling Shephard. If this happens, it would be a wonderful thing for New Orleans and the fantasy outlook for the team. Especially now, with Thomas missing, the team could use a solid player like Crowder or Shephard to hold down the fort. Either of these players would be great additions. If they are added, they will replace Tre’Quan Smith as the receiver to the roster at the start of the season. I would even be willing to go a bit higher for them than I would be for Smith. Taking either of these players in the eighth or ninth round of fantasy drafts.

Last season, Thomas was being taken as the WR1 in many drafts in the middle of the first round. So far this season, he is being taken as the WR9 in the mid to late third-round. Had he been healthy, I loved this value for him. He was destined to return to a top-five position in the fantasy wide receiver ranks. But now, with the injury being considered, I cannot draft him.  Yes, he may come back as strong as ever. But we do not know when this will be. It could be after Week 6, or it may not happen at all. In this case, the juice is not worth the squeeze. If he does come back, grab him up off waivers. But until we know how much time he will miss, do not waste a draft pick on him.

Tight Ends

Adam Trautman is going to have to prove himself this season. Coming into the league from Dayton in 2020, he did not do much in the passing game as a rookie. Despite this, the Saints and Sean Payton are showing a lot of faith in him. Coming into the season, they released Jared Cook and allowed him to sign with the Chargers. They also released Josh Hill, who decided to retire. This leaves Trautman as the last man standing.

One thing Trautman can do well is block. According to PFF, he was the number one run-blocking tight end last season. This means he will help open up even more holes for Kamara and Murray in the run game. On the other hand, whether it be Winston or Hill, he will be a trusted dump-off target as the offense gets going early in the season.

Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller he is not. He is in the next massive grouping of tight ends. The players you can wait on and take near the end of drafts and hope they work out for you. I do not see a chance for him to take a top-three slot at the position for fantasy. With his run blocking ability allowing him to remain on the field, even on run downs, he could easily finish in the top-six to eight tight ends. And this makes him a valuable selection late in your fantasy draft—one which will not cost you a lot but could give you a ton.