2018 Team Preview: New Orleans Saints
(Photo by Javier Rojas/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
I heard a good piece of advice the other day. Do not hate players, hate their ADP (or trade price). Every player in the fantasy football world is great—at the right price. For the Saints Drew Brees and Mark Ingram’s overall fantasy talent might pale in comparison to their younger teammates of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, but both Ingram and Brees will be available MUCH later than the studs. This is a natural progression of any fantasy draft, but it is always something to keep in mind. Kamara and Thomas are literally my two favorite players in the league, but I am not picking them at 3rd overall! The price has to be right. I have disliked Ingram since he was on Alabama, but I have found myself drafting him over and over again this year because of his value. You do not need to divorce your feelings from the draft because that is no fun, but keep them in check and pay attention to value. This Saints team has fantasy talent overflowing and should be on your radar throughout the season. Below is a bit of a deeper dive on each of the relevant players.
Drew Brees, QB
Every team preview should start with their most important player, and for the Saints that is Drew Brees. The 39 year old signal caller is the foundation for the rest of the team and is one of the best quarterbacks to ever step on a football field. Although he might fall slightly below the top tier of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady he is still one of the best quarterbacks that you could draft this year and provides a relatively safe floor. That being said, last year was strange for Brees as his fantasy production faltered from its lofty heights of years prior. So lets determine if this may be part of a trend.
The main narrative has been that the stellar running game has stolen a lot of volume that used to be filled by Brees and therefore hurt his production. Brees attempted nearly 100 less passes last year when compared to his average over the last 10 seasons, however the Saints were only 13th in rushing attempts in the league. It was not like they abused their running backs for 50 carries a game, so where did the touches go? For one the Saints were extremely efficient (Brees lead the league in Yards per Attempt last year) while Alvin Kamara (6.1 YPC) and Mark Ingram (4.9 YPC) were both top five in the league. Both areas of their offense needed less opportunity to do damage. I expect this efficiency to continue this year, but this will actually be a positive for Brees. The high efficiency and talent around him should mitigate any age related decline, and make him extremely productive when throwing the ball. Although the game plan of last year might continue, I am betting on the talent around Brees propping up his raw numbers more than the run game will take them away. But the attempts and yardage going to the running backs were not the most debilitating to his overall production. The large number of rushing touchdowns was the culprit. This redzone game plan was unlike the past years for the Saints, when Brees dominated all offensive production. Without a crystal ball we cannot be sure how the Saints will operate this year, but we do know it worked well for them last year and could very well continue. However, touchdowns are often one of the most unstable stats in football. Essentially, because there are only so many touchdown producing plays in a given season, the totals for all players fluctuate from year to year. His skill level did not change and it is very conceivable that the Saints throw more in the redzone just to keep opposing defenses off balance. It is very conceivable that Brees throws upwards of 7 more touchdowns this year, drawing him closer to his career average. That would be a huge boost to his fantasy bottom line putting him right back in the elite conversation.
Overall Brees has shown he is still one of the most talented QB’s out there and would make many owners happy if they so choose to draft him. Importantly the skill players around him (Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram) are very impressive. Not to mention they have the 6th best o-line in football according to Pro Football Focus. Ryan Ramczyk and the rest of the line should be incredible in pass protection this year. Game planning, particularly in the redzone lead to a drop in overall fantasy production, but if you gamble on even a slight change in strategy Brees could be a huge value pick.
Alvin Kamara, RB
I have talked up the Drew Brees’s supporting cast already and Alvin Kamara is a big part of that. He was so dynamic both running and receiving last year, which undoubtedly kept opposing defenses off balance all year. Even in non-ppr, Kamara’s production in both facets of the offense will ensure consistent performance regardless of the game script for any given game. This can be one of the most underrated aspects of every fantasy draft, but you can win a lot of weeks by having elite consistent players. Part of Kamara’s dominance last year (as with many fantasy players) coincided with a bucket load of touchdowns. Having watched many Saints games last year it was obvious that Kamara was a go to weapon in all areas of the field, and even when he was not in the redzone or near the goaline, he was elusive enough to score. Like my argument with Brees above, touchdowns tend to be volatile (See Mike Evans and his career) and Kamara could see some regression in this area. For reference Kamara scored 3 touchdowns of 30+ yards. While this is definitely indicative of skill, it is also possible that he scores no touchdowns of 30+ this season, just because they are rare. That is not to say that all of his touchdowns will disappear, I still believe Kamara will be a huge part of the game plan and will absolutely produce RB1 numbers, it is just something to keep in mind. The biggest decision with Kamara is where to draft him (and whether to acquire him). There have been reports that even without Mark Ingram for the first four games, they will still feature a running back committee. That shouldn’t hamper Kamara’s production, as he did fine in this situation last year, but it caps his upside lower than the likes of other guaranteed bell cow backs. If Kamara falls to you late in the first round, snatch him up!
Mark Ingram, RB
Mark Ingram is an interesting case. The 4 game suspension definitely decreases his value, but it has also greatly decreased his draft stock. And as unsavory as it might be to say, the performance enhancing drugs have been in his body, and with four weeks without getting battered, he might be as strong and productive as ever….if he gets touches. All indications seem that the Saints enjoyed the two running back setup, but Ingram is often dependent on game script and if they fall behind it would be Ingram losing touches, not Kamara. Ingram could be a huge value grab if he falls in your drafts, but you have to plan accordingly and have a running back to fill in for those first four weeks. In deeper leagues this can be difficult, but if you can find decent replacements you could be in good shape. As the season starts and injuries begin to pile up, Ingram might be a solid trade target, especially if the team that owns him loses a few starters. This particular owner could be desperate to fill a lineup, and that could create some good value on the trade market. In general, Ingram has shown the skill to be a fantasy commodity and this most likely should continue—even with the emergence of Alvin Kamara.
Boston Scott, RB
Boston Scott. The next Darren Sproles! Okay he plays on the Saints and he is approximately 3 foot five but he is not Darren Sproles. What Boston Scott does bring to the table is a solid all around skillset. More than anything, the first four weeks are wide open for Boston to make a possible impact. The most important thing for rookies and fringe players is opportunity. This is extremely hard to predict (like with Alvin Kamara last year) but we know there will be some touches in the first four weeks. If you are looking for that late round flyer Scott might be worth a look. When Ingram does come back, Scott will likely slide back into the shadows, but provides a great handcuff in deeper and best ball leagues. Check out some highlights here.
Michael Thomas, WR
We are entering the third year of the Michael Thomas era. He has quietly put together an amazing start to a career, perhaps overshadowed by Odell Beckham Jr. and his early career dominance. Regardless, Michael Thomas, from a talent perspective, is right up there with the elite players and has been remarkably solid on the field. Pro Football Focus had Thomas as the third highest graded wideout, only behind Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. From a fantasy perspective Thomas has not produced the top flight dominant season yet in his career, and that is okay! For one, that makes him cheaper on draft day, even though that upside is clearly high. Part of the problem with Thomas is ironically what makes him so good, and that is Drew Brees. Besides Jimmy Graham, Brees has never launched any of his surrounding cast into the upper echelon at their positions. Being the amazing QB that Brees is, he often spreads the ball around. Combined with Sean Payton’s creativity, it is often hard to predict how exactly the Saints will attack from week to week. As I have mentioned before, TOUCHDOWNS ARE VOLATILE. This cannot be said enough with this Saints team. Michael Thomas did not find the endzone as much as many owners wanted last year, but a few different play calls could boost his total. As I mentioned with Drew Brees, touchdowns through the air could easily increase and Michael Thomas would be the most likely to benefit. It can be frustrating to own players when they will not always be the #1 option, but with Thomas, I am betting on the skill and amazing route running to keep him productive.
Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Cameron Meredith (WR)
My exact comments from above should make anyone intrigued by these two players. As this article started with a plead to believe in Drew Brees, it follows that you would believe in his receivers. Brees routinely targets a multitude of players, which can provide a good floor for most of the players on this team. The real decision comes between the two players behind Michael Thomas. Tedd Ginn Jr., forever the deep threat that drops too many passes, was surprisingly sure handed with the Saints and was consequently productive. He has been a forgotten man in many drafts and is a solid backup that could provide you with a few huge weeks because of his deep play ability. Cameron Meredith, however, is much different. A breakout season with the Bears two years ago has landed him a gig on a much better team. Depending on how the game planning shakes out, Meredith could be the teams second most targeted player. That is exciting in PPR leagues as any time you can get a 2nd WR with an elite QB throwing too him, you should. But if you have done that math throughout this entire article, the team is starting to get very crowded and it is possible that Meredith is the one that falls behind. This is definitely baked into his price on draft day, and I think a middle to late round selection seems to fit his upside and relative risk well.
Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill (TE)
Everyone says Watson is in the best shape of his life. That is hard to believe at age 37. If you have read this entire article, it would seem that I am high on nearly every Saint. That is true, for most of them—except for the tight ends. As I went down the list of possible fantasy assets and started to envision the targets, I found myself pushing the tight ends lower and lower. Not because I hate them as people, but because I believe there are more talented players scattered across the field. Not to mention, these players are similar to each other and will likely cap the upside of the other. Like I have rationalized with the receivers, many people will take flyers here betting on Drew Brees, but I think you can find better options at the position. If Watson is sitting there at the end of one of your drafts and you are feeling lucky, go for it, but trying to rely on either of these players as a starter would probably be bad decision.
Without spending more time than necessary on their defense, I will get to the simple point with the Saints. They are strong in the right places, Corner, Safety and Edge Rusher. Cameron Jordan was absolutely dominant last year and there’s no indication that he will be slowing down. The Saints also drafted an edge rusher in the first round, Marcus Davenport. This duo could be terrorizing opposing QB’s on regular basis. Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley and Marcus Williams form a strong secondary foundation that is young—and should be improving. They also added the leagues best slot corner last year, Patrick Robinson. Robinson was a secret weapon for the Super Bowl Champion Eagles last year, and could be the same for the Saints. I generally prefer to wait on defenses and the Saints are usually prime target if you do choose to wait. If possible, erase that final play of the season from your mind, it does not represent how strong this team was all year when they had their key players on the field. Staying true to my word, I drafted the Saints D in the second to last round of the QB list Prodigy Fantasy league, which should be a great value.
This is possibly the most exciting team in the NFL this year. A bunch of young talent anchored by a hall of fame QB is always a great foundation. At nearly every position there is an intriguing player all the way down to their kicker Will Lutz. If you have stuck with me this long and still have drafts before the season starts, look for the value in this relatively safe team, with plenty high floor options. If you already have a team full of Saints players, you are looking good for this upcoming season.