New Orleans Saints: 2015 Outlook

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New Orleans Saints

By Kimra Schleicher, Friday, September 12, 2014

Drew Brees finished as a top two fantasy quarterback in five out of the last six seasons. He has never finished lower than third in fantasy points since he joined the Saints in 2006. He is an elite QB and unquestionably durable and consistent. Sure, he is 35 years old, but he has not missed a game due to injury since he joined the Saints. Brees has passed for more than 5,000 yards in four out of the last six seasons and averaged 42 touchdowns in the past three years. The Saints are not devoid of any playmakers at any positions. The key for New Orleans will be their offensive line. Brees was sacked 37 times last season, but the team is focused on improving their offensive line in the offseason. Many will draft Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers ahead of Drew Brees in 2014. If you are looking for potential value and one of the best bets as a fantasy player, don't look any further than Brees.

Editor's note: To Stud QB or Not Stud QB. That is the question. There's a good chance if you wait on QB, you'll sacrifice 100 points with the gamble. You'll miss on value at another position if you take Brees -- such as passing on WR Andre Johnson as your WR2 and instead grabbing a Cordarrelle Patterson. Smaller roster requirements (8 or 9 starting positions) should go with the better QB, while deeper starting lineup requirements (10-11) should take the skill position player and grab QB later.

Mark Ingram is a former first rounder that has been riddled with injuries, evidence by his 11 missed games over his first three seasons. His play has been disappointing to say the least. The Saints have not extended his contract, so this is a make-or-break year. In 2013, Ingram had only seven receptions and a bulk of his rushing yardage came against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. He was held to under 10 carries in all but two games last season. With the emergence of Khiry Robinson (and Pierre Thomas' role being already defined), Ingram is a risky player to draft even as a flex. The backfield appears to be a full RBBC, but it is unlikely to see Ingram carving out a significant role due to his injury history and lack of receiving skills.

Travaris Cadet is locked into the RBBC in the backfield. With the departure of Darren Sproles, Cadet will see more opportunities as a pass-catching back. His value lies as a handcuff to Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson. I would not draft Cadet in a 20-round redraft league, but I would draft him in a draft masters format if I had already taken Thomas or Robinson for my team. He is a late round flier and could emerge as a deep sleeper with an injury to Thomas or Robinson. He is fourth on the depth chart, so draft accordingly.

Robinson went undrafted last year, but an impressive workout landed him a roster spot in New Orleans. Former head coach Bill Parcells believes Robinson's running style is comparable to the former great RB Curtis Martin. If that comparison is only half true, the Saints have a diamond in the rough. Robinson possesses a power running style and he made the most of his opportunities last season. He did not fumble the ball in 75 carries and he averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry. Many believe the Saints will attempt a more balanced offensive approach this season. Although their offenses implements a RBBC approach, Robinson is intriguing because he only has to beat out the underachieving Mark Ingram for carries. Consider Robinson a high end flex option and draft him well ahead of Mark Ingram.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE: The Saints moved up in the first round to select Brandin Cooks. He turned heads at the combine as he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. His selection was preceded by the departures of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles. They plan to use Cooks across all formations and especially in the screen and deep-passing game. Cooks landed in a perfect spot in New Orleans as Drew Brees stated he expects Cooks to be a major contributor right away. The Saints didn't move up seven spots on draft day for Cooks not to see the field. He is a versatile playmaker and has been known to battle defenders for yards after the catch. Head coach Sean Payton will love his toughness. Rookie receivers are never a sure bet in fantasy football, so exercise a cautious optimism that Cooks can see significant touches. He will have a good chance to be the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2014 thanks to his high upside. In dynasty leagues, he is one of the top players being drafted in the first round.

Editor's Note: Cooks has the 12th-most receptions in a season (128) and 15th-most receiving yards (1770) in a season in NCAA history. At 5-10 and 189 lbs., he reminds many of a younger Steve Smith. Luckily though, New Orleans provides a much more potent passing offense. Brees will throw for 5,000-plus yards once again. Do the math, the yards have to go somewhere. Either you believe Colston re-emerges, Stills breaks out or Cooks is a stud out of the gate. I'm betting the latter.

All Marques Colston has done since he was a seventh-round draft pick out of Hofstra is post an amazing 650 receptions for 8,300-plus yards and 63 touchdowns in eight seasons. He has been one of the most consistent and reliable fantasy WRs while recording at least 70 or more receptions in all but one year. However, last year, Colston's production declined due to a foot injury. He posted 75 receptions for 945 yards and only five touchdowns. Unfortunately, he is still dealing with a foot injury and the Saints are continuing to monitor his offseason progress. Colston's injury (coupled with the emergence of other playmakers) reduces him to a risky WR3 selection on draft day. Proceed with caution.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Kenny Stills is an extremely efficient WR as he caught 32 passes on 46 targets and posted 641 yards and five touchdowns. His 20 yards per catch average ranked him No. 1 overall in the NFL among receivers. What is more interesting is that all five of his touchdowns were caught from 34 or more yards out and he only dropped one pass in that range. With the departure of Lance Moore and Marques Colston enduring a chronic foot injury, expect to see a considerable increase in targets for Stills. The Saints plan to use Stills as a deep threat on the outside. All of the key elements are in place for a breakout season. He is playing with a future Hall of Famer QB in Drew Brees and he has Jimmy Graham distracting defenses up the middle of the field. I expect Stills to have a breakout season. High upside.

Editor's note: In FFWC Drafts so far, players are drafting the rookie (Brandin Cooks WR38) before second-year player (Kenny Stills WR46).

Nick Toon is buried on the depth chart as the No. 4 receiver behind Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks. He is expected to have a bigger role in 2014. He only has four receptions for 68 yards in two seasons. It is unlikely Toon will see enough targets to draft him in a 20-round redraft league; however, his value could potentially explode if there were an injury to Colston, Stills or Cooks. He would be a prime candidate to handcuff any of the above receivers. His value is restricted to dynasty or draft masters format.

Everyone knows the value of Jimmy Graham. He is the top TE in the NFL. Sorry Gronk fans, but Graham is the overall better TE. He has missed only one game in the past three seasons. All he did in 2013 was catch 86 passes for 1,215 yards while scoring 16 touchdowns. The biggest distraction of the season is Graham's contract. The Saints franchise-tagged him as a TE; however, the NFLPA filed a grievance over whether he is a TE or a WR. Everyone expects a deal to get done before the beginning of camp though. Graham will be drafted by the end of round one. Your decision lies in which stud RB or WR you will give up to have Graham on your team. If you are willing to give up an elite, first-round stud, then by all means, draft Graham and don't look back.

Benjamin Watson is the backup to Jimmy Graham. Watson's value lies as a handcuff, but that probably isn't a very good strategy anyway. Watson doesn't have any value in a redraft or dynasty format.

NOT A LOCK TO START: If there is an area where the Saints have been unsettled in the last few years, it has been in the kicking game. The franchise was not pleased with Garrett Hartley and elected to pick up Shayne Graham for the last two regular season games and the playoffs. He kicked 6-for-8 and converted all ten of his extra points. His two missed FGs were against Seattle and both attempts were from 45 and 48 yards out. Graham sports an 85.5-percent conversion rate and has been very consistent in his 12-year career. He will have plenty of opportunities to score in this high-flying offense. If you love kickers who play in a great offense and in a dome, look no further than Graham.

Editor's note: Watch the camp battle between Graham and newcomer Derek Dimke. This job is up for grabs.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took a defense that ranked near the bottom in total defense, rushing yards allowed and second-worst in passing yards allowed last season and turned them into an excellent tiered defensive unit in 2013. The Saints were fourth in total defense and points allowed. So what did the Saints do for an encore this past spring? They added Jairus Byrd from Buffalo and he is considered one of the top safeties in the game. They also brought in cornerback Champ Bailey, retained safety Rafael Bush and outside linebacker Parys Haralson and will have safety Kenny Vaccaro healthy again for the upcoming season. Most experts have the Saints' defense ranked overall somewhere in the 10 to 12 range. If you are looking for an aggressive defense and prefer to wait until the later rounds, the Saints are an option. With Ryan calling the shots, it wouldn't surprise me if they finish well above their initial rankings.