2014 Fantasy Football Team Preview: The New Orleans Saints
Note: This piece was originally written on July 15th by Adam Pfiefer and is one of many unique pieces that can be found in our 2014 fantasy football draft guide. None of this information has been updated since it was originally published.
After finishing 7-9 two seasons ago, the Saints quickly returned to favorites of the NFC. They were happy to have their leader, Sean Payton, return to the sidelines and aid the offense, while the defense was much improved after being historically bad in 2012. One of the deadliest passing offenses in football, there is plenty of fantasy goodness to be had in the Superdome this year. Meanwhile, adding All-Pro pieces like Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey to their defense will help them compete with the likes of Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC.
Hidden behind Peyton Manning’s historic 2013 campaign, Drew Brees was still pretty darn good himself. Brees joined Manning as the only two quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards, and added 39 passing and three rushing scores, as well. He also posted the second-highest consistency rating among passers, finishing as a top-12 fantasy option 68.8 percent of the time. Brees has been arguably the best fantasy quarterback of the last decade, finishing as a top-five fantasy signal caller seven times. When he and Sean Payton are together, they make magic, and considering Brees has one of the most favorable schedules among quarterbacks in 2014, expect quite the show this season, per the usual.
The most underrated player in all of fantasy football is Pierre Thomas. And I don’t think it is close.
Let me get this straight. A guy in an explosive offense, Thomas led all running backs in receptions last season with 77. That was more than teammate Darren Sproles, who was right behind him with 71, who is now in Philadelphia. Thomas, meanwhile, is going to be the number one back, and while it may be a bit of a committee approach, who cares? The guy finished as a top-24 running back in standard leagues last year and will be one of the most targeted players in this Saints offense. Consider this—last season, Brees targeted running backs and tight ends 63 percent of the time, and over the past three seasons, no team has targeted running backs more than the Saints (571). That’s 73 more targets than the next-highest team. Now, Sproles is gone, so why can’t Thomas catch 80 balls? Brees is the best intermediate/screen passer in all of football and has full trust in his veteran back. Thomas should also see solid red zone work, as he led the Saints backs with 15 carries inside the 10-yard line last year. Thomas is currently being drafted as the 31st running back.
There’s also some sleeper potential with a guy like Khiry Robinson who runs hard and could see some goal line work for a Saints offense that averaged 3.5 red zone scoring attempts per game last year, the 8th-most in football.
Marques Colston just isn’t what he used to be.
Back in 2011, when Colston finished as the number 11 receiver in fantasy, he had four touchdowns of 20 yards or more, good for fourth-most in the league. However, as he continued to age and deal with bumps and bruises, Colston has recorded just one such score since that year. Because the big play ability appears to be gone, Colston needs to make the most of his red zone chances, but he only had three scores from inside the 20 last year. Jimmy Graham is still the main red zone option, and Colston isn’t that low-end WR1, high-end WR2 anymore.
Meanwhile, guys like Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks do have that big play potential, and are intriguing guys to monitor this season. Stills isn’t going to be consistent, but among the 32 catches he had last year, five went for touchdowns, while he averaged 20 yards per grab. Drew Brees, for as elite of a short-passer he is, loves to take shots down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Brees has posted the 4th, 6th and 6th-most stretch vertical pass attempts over the last three seasons. With Sproles and Lance Moore gone, look for Stills to play a bigger role in the offense. Keep an eye on Brandin Cooks, too, who has blazing 4.33 speed, and, while his target totals may be inconsistent, the big play ability is there, and the fit in New Orleans is nice.
Yes, I can, in fact, place Jimmy Graham in the tight end section. You’re a tight end, Jimmy. Just accept it.
Still, while his description says tight end, Graham is still one of the best overall pass-catchers in all of football. His 16 touchdowns led the league last year and were also the second-most ever by a tight end. It’s not every day you suggest taking a tight end in the first round of a fantasy draft, but Graham warrants the selection. A true matchup nightmare, Graham operated out of the slot about 70 percent of the time last season. No linebacker in the world can cover this guy, folks.
The switch to the aggressive 3-4 worked well for the Saints defense, as they, well, didn’t suck like the year before. They can get to the quarterback, as Cameron Jordan’s 12 sacks ranked 5th in the NFL, and their secondary is strong with the acquisitions of Byrd and Bailey. A safety tandem of Byrd and second year Kenny Vaccaro is going to be scary good. This unit allowed the fourth-fewest yards per game last year, and as long as they can improve their run defense, New Orleans should have an even better season in 2014.
Player To Watch
Not to continue praising him, but I do believe Pierre Thomas is the player to watch in this offense. With 71 receptions needing to be replaced, Thomas could have a monster season as a pass-catcher once again, and he’ll still get his fair share of carries, too.
There were 26 times last season where Jimmy Graham was targeted in the red zone. Not only did that number lead all tight ends, but it would also lead all wide receivers, as well. Meanwhile, his 17 targets from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line also led the league. Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns.