Kickoff: Sunday, September 11, 2022, 1:00 PM ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Betting Odds: ATL +5.5, 42.5o/u total via PFF.com
Writer: Dustin Ludke (@TheDunit13 on Twitter)
New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston (Sit QB2)
Has Lasik surgery fixed Jameis Winston? Looking at the limited games he played in 2021, it would seem so. After being a backup in 2020 and having his historic 33 TDs and 30 INTs in 2019, he came in the first 6 games of 2021 and threw 13 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. His season was derailed by injury, but the Saints saw enough in him to bring him back to be the man behind center for 2022. He faces a tough matchup in Week 1 against the Falcons. The Dirty Birds bring back both starting corners from 2021 in Casey Hayward Jr. and A.J. Terrell, who PFF graded 75.5 and 85.6 respectively in pass coverage (both top 15). Winston will have to rely on dump-off passes to his running backs and work the middle of the field with his tight ends and slot receivers who draw coverage from subpar coverage safeties. Winston is a very risky play given the tough defense from the corners. He has always been a widely inconsistent passer with games of 5 touchdowns like we saw in Week 1 against the Packers in 2021, but also games with more mistakes than touchdowns like Week 2 of 2021 against the Panthers. The Saints were one of three teams to run the ball more than pass in 2021 but that could be due to the revolving door at the quarterback position. I’m not starting Winston in 1QB leagues, but he should be okay for your second in 2QB and superflex leagues.
Alvin Kamara (Start, RB1), Mark Ingram (Start, Flex)
Alvin Kamara had his fifth consecutive top 10 running back season in 2021 despite only playing in 13 games. He gets a lot of his value from his pass-catching ability, as he saw 67 targets over his 13 games in 2021, which equates to just over 5 per game. With the corners from Atlanta locking down the main wideout options, Kamara could see a heavy dose of targets on top of his rushing attempts. Mark Ingram is still hanging around the league and is often forgotten about as he enters his twelfth season. Ingram often came in once the game was in hand for the Saints last season and will continue that role this year. Ingram can easily steal a touchdown from Kamara though and has enough usage to be startable as a low-end flex play. He saw Kamara-like usage in the weeks that Kamara missed in 2021. Tony Jones remains on the roster but will only see work if there is an injury.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Michael Thomas (Start, WR2), Chris Olave (Start, Flex), Jarvis Landry (Start, Flex), Taysom Hill (Sit), Adam Trautman (Sit, TE2)
We have to go back to 2019 to find any real meaningful stats for Michael Thomas. For those who forgot, he was the overall WR1 that year. Since then, he has been plagued with injuries, playing only 7 games in 2020 and none in 2021. He is now 29 years old trying to shake off 2 years of rust. As we mentioned above, he is drawing some of the best cover corners in the game so it might be a slow start for Thomas in 2022. Rookie Chris Olave has flashed in the preseason, and there is a lot of hype for what he can be in this Saints offense. His speed matches well with the type of thrower that Winston is. If Olave can get behind the secondary, Winston will not hesitate to throw the ball as far out there as he can. Olave still has to learn the game on the NFL level but should be a solid flex play in Week 1 as a boom or bust type player. Veteran Jarvis Landry came to New Orleans in the offseason after having spent the past 4 years in Cleveland. Landry is projected to be the 3rd wideout and play from the slot. It will benefit him greatly as he avoids the two top-end corners and would most likely draw Darren Hall or rookie Dee Alford. Hall is rated at 47.1 in coverage, while Alford was an undrafted rookie with more experience in the CFL. The veteran wide receiver could feast on the inexperience and openings over the middle of the field. The tight end group for the Saints is a puzzling one. They signed Taysom Hill to a big contract and then had him convert to tight end pretty much exclusively. The Saints still have Adam Trautman who is younger and more experienced. I wouldn’t rule out some packages for Hill getting bubble screens or even direct snaps in the backfield. It will be interesting to see what the usage is. I would not start Hill until we know what his role is on that offense. If you are somehow stuck, you could start Trautman as a low-end TE2.
Marcus Mariota (Sit, QB2)
Marcus Mariota has only played a full game at quarterback 7 times in the past 3 years. Throughout those games, he had some good and some bad ones. He had two games where he tossed three touchdowns and no interceptions but also has 3 games with no touchdowns. He gets a chance to reinvent his career in Atlanta after the Falcons traded away franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. He has a very tough matchup in Week 1 against a stout Saints defense. The Saints were 8th in sacks last season with 46 and boast one of the best and most complete secondaries in the NFL. On top of shaking off the rust and facing a very strong defense, Mariota will have to build chemistry with a very young receiving core. It’s not a matchup I like for Mariota this week. He does have a slight rushing upside which could provide some fantasy value, but we should wait until the matchup is better and we see it from the 28-year-old 7-year vet. He has to play well enough to keep rookie Desmond Ridder on the bench holding the clipboard.
Cordarrelle Patterson (Start, RB2), Damien Williams (Sit), Tyler Allgeier (Sit)
If he can do it in year 9, there’s no reason to believe that Cordarrelle Patterson can’t do it in year 10. The shocking year he had in 2021 started hot and faded towards the end of the year. Patterson will be looking to continue his late career dominance in Week 1, as he should lead the team in carries and also see plenty of passes out of the backfield. The Falcons drafted Tyler Allgeier and brought in Damien Williams to replace Mike Davis (who signed with the Ravens after being cut). Allgeier projects right now to be third on the depth chart, but he’s a good name to remember for later in the season if Patterson’s age catches up to him. Williams now finds himself on his third team in as many years so there isn’t much buzz around him taking over the backfield. Williams could see some goal-line work and spell Patterson when needed. Going against a middle-tier run defense in the Saints could provide plenty of opportunities. All the backs will probably have to catch passes to have real value and Patterson as a converted wideout has the best chance at doing that.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends
Drake London (Start, WR2), Bryan Edwards (Sit, Flex), Olamide Zaccheaus (Sit), Kyle Pitts (Start, TE1)
This is one of, if not the youngest and least experienced wide receiver group in the NFL. Olamide Zaccheaus and his 4 years of experience is the elder statesman on the field for the Falcons. Rookie Drake London comes in after being drafted eighth overall. London should slide into the role that was filled last year by Russell Gage who is now with the Buccaneers. Gage saw 94 targets in only 14 games. London is a big-bodied wide receiver who pairs well with a tight end who plays like a wideout in Kyle Pitts. The Falcons will have to gameplan to get one of those two away from Marshon Lattimore, a top 12 cover corner according to PFF. On the other side of the field is Paulson Adebo who is rated outside the top 50 in cover corners. If Pitts draws coverage from the Saints linebackers, it could be a hard day for him as the LBs all rate highly in pass coverage. The Saints also have a very solid safety in Tyrann Mathieu who comes over from the Chiefs. He will be roaming the field taking away routes for guys like Bryan Edwards and Zaccheaus. One of those guys will probably have a flex-worthy day but it’s so hard to predict who that will be, making neither an exciting start. I expect a lot more short passes and a game plan to get the ball to Pitts and London who are dynamic after the catch, and I expect those two to be fantasy starters. There is some injury concern for London which is trending towards playing, according to reports. If he is out, I don’t think it moves any of the pass catchers into a startable role. I also want to just give some love to Jared Bernhardt who made the roster. He won the award as the nation’s best lacrosse player in 2021. He is a tremendous athlete who chose lacrosse over football coming out of high school where he dominated both. Just a great feel-good story.