2016 Record: 7-9 (2-4 NFC South)
Key additions: RB Adrian Peterson (FA), WR Ted Ginn (FA), RB Alvin Kamara (Draft)
Key losses: WR Brandin Cooks (traded to New England), RB Tim Hightower (signed with 49ers)
The Saints entered 2016 with a team they thought could compete for a championship. Instead, they sat back and watched for the second year in a row as an NFC South rival played for the Super Bowl. The Saints seemed to have ditched their tried and untrue method of doubling down on adding offensive weapons in the offseason and shifted philosophies to improving their offensive line play and defense. After going 7-9 for the third year in a row, the Saints made one of the more shocking moves of the offseason in trading 23 year old star WR Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft (with whom they selected OT Ryan Ramczyk, although they were infamously on the phone with Reuben Foster just moments away from selecting him before the 49ers moved back into the first round to snag him away from the Saints’ grasp). This move was preceded by weeks of speculation and the signing of WR Ted Ginn, yet it was still surprising to see the deal actually get completed. But trading Cooks was far from the only big move the Saints made this offseason.
For reasons that don’t entirely make sense to the fantasy community, Sean Payton does not seem to think Mark Ingram is worthy of holding onto the number one running back role. Despite Ingram putting up career numbers in 2016 (205 rushes for 1,043 yards [5.1 ypc] and 46 receptions for 319 yards with 10 total TDs), Payton opted to stockpile the Saints with RBs. In another huge news story for the Saints this offseason, they signed future Hall of Fame RB Adrian Peterson to presumably fill a ramped up Tim Hightower role in the offense. Last year, Ingram accounted for 50.7% of the team’s rushing attempts (41.9% of the team’s red zone rushing attempts) compared to Hightower’s 32.9% of the team’s rushing attempts (30.2% of the team’s red zone rushing attempts. I fully expect that Peterson will cut into Ingram’s lead back role even further, given he’s a superior talent to Hightower, even at 32 years old. Unless some sort of injury occurs or one player somehow gets anointed as the bell cow of the team, neither Peterson or Ingram will be comfortable redraft or DFS options week to week.
The second big move the Saints made to their running back group was the addition of Alvin Kamara in the NFL draft. The Saints traded their 2018 2nd round pick and a 2017 7th round pick to the 49ers to select Kamara in the 3rd round (67th overall), so the Saints likely have big plans for him in this offense. Sean Payton’s offense is known for receiving specialist running backs, and Kamara looks to be the next in that long line. I expect Kamara to fill that Pierre Thomas / Reggie Bush / Darren Sproles role, a role that has been devoid of a real talent for several years and seems to be one of the linchpins of the success of Sean Payton’s offense. Kamara is someone I would not be targeting in non-PPR leagues or in daily fantasy to start the season.
New Orleans has been one of the more prolific passing offenses for the better part of the last decade, and 2016 was no different for the Saints. Drew Brees had another stellar season (471/673 [70.0%], 5,208 yards and 37 TD / 15 INTs), leading the NFL in completions, attempts, and passing yards while finishing as the QB3 in standard leagues. His home-road splits continued to be staggering, he averaged a line of 29.9 / 40.3, 345.9 yards 2.5 TDs / 0.88 INTs (8.7 yards per attempt) at home compared to a line of 23.8 / 43.8, 305 yards, 2.1 TDs / 1 INT (6.9 yards per attempt) on the road. In short, Brees should be someone you target at home in DFS regardless of opponent and has shown to be incredibly consistent in redraft settings where he has finished as a top 5 QB in each of the last 9 seasons.
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Drew Brees has typically spread the ball around to many different receivers in his time in New Orleans, but that trend could change somewhat in 2017. Brandin Cooks and his 117 targets from a year ago have vacated from the offense without the Saints adding much of a replacement in Ted Ginn. Michael Thomas and Willie Snead look to be the main beneficiaries of those vacated targets. Michael Thomas broke out in a big way in 2016, becoming a league winning (and in DFS week winning) type player for those who were paying close attention to him. He posted a 92/1,137/9 line as a rookie, quickly becoming Drew Brees’ #1 target in the passing game. I expect Michael Thomas to have another big season as a sophomore, but one cause for concern is that Thomas will now be matched up weekly with the opposing team’s top CB and as the known focal point of the offense.
The second benefactor to the target vacancy in the offense is WR Willie Snead. The 2015 Undrafted Free Agent out of Ball State doesn’t have the size or measurables of a stud WR but the guy can flat out play. Snead quietly has put up two productive seasons (2015: 69/984/3 and 2016: 72/895/4) in New Orleans, despite the relatively limited opportunities. Since 2006 only 8 WRs have totaled over 1800 receiving yards and over 9 yards per target in their first two seasons combined: Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Josh Gordon, Mike Wallace, Hakeem Nicks and… you guessed it, Willie Snead. I expect a breakout season from Snead at only 24 years old.
Elsewhere in the receiving group, Ted Ginn should be a situational GPP play when at home. He has 5/150/2 type potential in a single week. Coby Fleener could be a decent sleeper if he can correct some concentration issues that seemed to plague him last year as Brees has turned many TEs into fantasy gems (Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson, etc).