New Orleans Saints - 2014 Preseason #FF Preview
Last year nine teams had three or more fantasy starters in the top 60 and it is likely that it’ll continue to be that way in 2014. This series: Dressed for Success, will look at NFL teams going into 2014 that have assembled the right players to be a treasure trove of fantasy studs.
New Orleans narrowly missed having three players in the top 60 of fantasy scoring. That sounds pretty mystifying considering that the Saints ranked 10th in scoring. Leading the way for New Orleans was Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham, who finished 2nd and 1st at their respective positions and 2nd and 25th in overall scoring. For all of Brees’ 5,162 passing yards, only Jimmy Graham eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving. Runner-ups include Marques Colston (943), Kenny Stills (641), Darren Sproles (604 & not on the team anymore) and Lance Moore (457 & not on the team anymore).
Going into 2014, the Saints on offense look like a whole new team with Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Jimmy Graham being the only returning starters from 2013. The other fantasy relevant players on the roster for 2014 are Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Khiry Robinson, and Pierre Thomas. Sorry Mark Ingram.
Let’s get this out of the way and just say Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham are going to be drafted highly and they should be for every reason imaginable.
Drew Brees’ has always been a perennial contender for number one scorer in fantasy and just had his passing record eclipsed by Peyton Manning in 2014.
Flashback to 2011 when Drew Brees’ set the record on a Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons for most passing yards in a season. I was out at a chicken wing joint with my fiancée and when Brees’ closed out the game, I told my fiancée, “this is a moment in history, you’re going to have to remember where you were when Drew Brees set the record for most passing yards in a NFL season.” She most unenthusiastically responded, “I’m sure someone will set a new record.” Was she right? Yes.
Records are made to be broken and if anyone is going to 1 up Peyton Manning, it’ll be Brees. While Brees’ has the potential, I don’t expect Brees to set the new record this year, just because the talent around him hasn’t fully matured. But the cast around him right now is extremely exciting. He has veteran Marques Colston, who’s had 6 1000+ yard seasons, two young receivers in Stills and Cooks who both run the 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds, and the best TE in the game today in Jimmy Graham. He doesn’t have the flashy running skills of the younger running QBs, but that also means he’s less prone to injury, but has consistently shown he can get it done through the air.
One caveat fantasy owners should know is the inexplicable good Drew Brees when he plays at home and the not as good Drew Brees when he plays away. 33.2 at home, 21.6 away.
Despite these scoring differences, Brees is still a top tier QB. The talent around Brees makes him a stellar option for QB if you are willing to give up the 2nd round pick to get him. If you can get him in the third, go bananas.
Dunking is contagious in New Orleans
The other no-brainer on the Saints is Jimmy Graham, who was the number one tight end in 2013. Graham is the target leader on this offense, being targeted 144 times in 2013 and hauling in 11 TDs. It’s scary to imagine that he played much of the season with a foot injury and still produced absurd numbers.
There’s the great debate of whether Jimmy Graham is worth a first round pick; there’s no dispute that he’s worth a second round pick. Part of the argument for picking Jimmy in the first is the huge disparity between him and the second best tight end. Graham scored 217 points on the season compared to 163 by Vernon Davis. That’s 54 points. Even compared to WRs, his score would be good for 4th, behind just Josh Gordon (227.4), Demaryius Thomas (227), and Calvin Johnson (220.9).
Now, consider for a moment Peyton Manning’s record setting season culminated in 496.8 fantasy points, 59.3 points more than Brees’ second place point total of 437.5. So Manning’s 59.3 point lead over the QB competition was only five points more than Graham’s 54-point lead over the TE competition. No other position in 2013 had nearly as significant of a disparity between first and second as QB and TE.
Then consider that Graham was battling a foot injury for most of the season and arguably could have put up more points. Is it likely that Graham could repeat not just his high flying production, but also his domination over the rest of the TEs? probably.
Looking at the wide receivers, the three to talk about are Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, and Brandin Cooks. Given the talent of the trio of wide receivers, it’s hard to see any of the three leap frogging the others in receiving yards. All three of the can easily be a 1000 yard receiver, but not by much.
Marques Colston is not particularly exciting like Andre Johnson who broke out for 1400 yards a season. Colston has always averaged about 1100 yards a season for eight seasons. His highest yardage total was 1154 yards in 2012. Entering into his 9th season, it’s predictable for him to see a drop off in yardage because of his age. In 2013, he finished with 943 yards, a drop off from two consecutive 1100 yard seasons beforehand. But Marques has proven that he can get it done, being only a 7th round pick in 2006. In many ways he epitomizes “Power in Numbers;” in the 7th round or such I would rather be picking Colston than Steve Smith or some receiver stranded on a bad team.
The other receivers, Stills and Cooks, however have tremendous upside compared to Colston. Stills, as a rookie, led the league with the highest average yard per catch, at 20 YPC and was the clear cut number two on the Saints, out producing veteran Lance Moore, who is not on the team anymore.
Your dancing will be missed Lance
One of the downsides with Stills is that he produced some duds on the season, a problem that is inherent with the big play wide receiver. The foreseeable problem for Stills is that he won’t be given the opportunity to mix up his routes with Graham and Cooks perhaps taking up the middle of the field. The best way to view him is as a boom or bust, feast or famine kind of player that I would be comfortable getting past in the mid rounds.
Compared to Cooks, a rookie in 2014, who’s known for his speed as well as for having an absurd 110 receptions in one college season, Stills has never reached that kind of targeting. In addition to being a catching machine, Cooks also has the same roadrunner speed as Stills. The only caveat is that Cooks is still only a rookie, and rookies that can produce 1,000 yard seasons in the first year are few and far between. I would say there’s a 50/50 chance that Cooks can clear 1,000 yards as a rookie, after all Drew Brees is his QB, and it’s not like he will be receiving the best opposing corners. If I have to draft a rookie WR this season, it’ll most likely be Cooks.
Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson now lead the backfield with Darren Sproles being a Philadelphia Eagle. This backfield is still likely to remain a backfield committee, which it has been for a while.
Who is Khiry Robinson? A legitimate question since Robinson only started seeing significant touches towards the end of the season and the post season. In his two post-season games he rushed for 45 yards on 8 attempts against the Eagles, and 57 yards on 13 attempts against the Seahawks. In his last two games, he’s proven to be able to be a phenomenal runner and at least as good Mark Ingram. Going into next season, there is speculation that he can be the lead back in New Orleans. The best thing to do is to keep track of him throughout the offseason. He could end up becoming a late round steal similar to Pierre Thomas in 2013.
Pierre Thomas finished the season with 136.2 points in standard scoring, finishing around the 20s in fantasy RB scoring. But Thomas was a PPR revelation, catching 77 passes on the season, a high for him. One reason we aren’t talking about Mark Ingram is because he had only one more rushing attempt than Pierre Thomas had catches. Thomas’ value rises significantly in a PPR league, otherwise he could be a midround pick in standard scoring.
Okay we’ll talk about Mark Ingram. His best game in 2013 was against the abysmal Cowboys defense, where he did breakout for a 145 yard game. That was the first time he ever ran for 100 yards. He has never made more than 11 catches in one season. Given his lack of breakout potential and his lack of pass catching potential, I find it hard to see him produce value in a backfield committee. Save your draft pick.
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