New Orleans Saints
|By Shawn Childs, Saturday, December 12, 2015|
The Saints have finished 7-9 in two of the past three seasons due to terrible play by their defense. New Orleans allowed the fifth-most points per game (25.6) and the second-most yards per game (384.0) last year. Sean Payton returns for his ninth season as head coach. He has 80-48 record with five playoff appearances and the franchise's only Super Bowl title. Pete Carmichael is entering his seventh year as the offensive coordinator. Pete has been with New Orleans since 2006. Rob Ryan will battle the defensive side of the ball for the third season. His defense ranked fourth in 2013 and then 31st in 2014. Ryan has 10 years of NFL experience as a defensive coordinator. For the fifth time in nine years, the Saints led the NFL in total yards (411.4 per game). They tallied the ninth-most points. (401). Over 49 seasons, New Orleans has made the playoffs only 10 times.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and a first-round pick. Jimmy is one of the best TEs in the league. Unger has been an elite player once (2012) in his five-year career. Last year, Max missed 10 games with a high ankle sprain. When on the field, Unger played well as a run blocker and pass protector. New Orleans released running back Pierre Thomas, who has been a plus pass catcher in his career. RB Travaris Cadet left to play for the New England Patriots. Cadet is also a solid receiver and has a short resume of success. He is a non-factor in the run game. C.J. Spiller was brought in to take over as the team's top receiving back. The Buffalo Bills struggled to find creative ways to get Spiller in space. C.J. should be an excellent fit to this offense. Josh Morgan was brought in for depth at wide receiver. WR Kenny Stills was dealt to the Miami Dolphins for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick. Ellerbe was an utter failure in two seasons with Miami. Stills is a young player with great speed and developing pass-catching talent.
The Saints also traded starting guard Ben Grubbs, who is coming off his worst season since 2008. Still, Grubbs is a solid run blocker and allowed just one sack last season. Mike McGlynn was signed for depth at left guard. McGlynn is coming off a brutal season in which he was one of the worst players in the league in run blocking and wasn't any better in pass protection (six sacks, four QB hits, and 18 QB hurries). Mike has been a poor player for the last three years.
Cornerback Corey White moved on to the Dallas Cowboys after being cut by New Orleans. White struggled in pass coverage last season (58 catches on 85 attempts for 703 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions). Patrick Robinson signed with the San Diego Chargers. He never developed into a top CB after being selected in the first round in 2010. The Saints signed Brandon Browner, a big, physical corner with some risk when matched up against elite WRs with speed. Linebacker Curtis Lofton will earn his next check from the Oakland Raiders. Lofton struggled as a run defender in 2014 with no upside as a pass rusher (no sacks, four QB hits and eight hurries). LB Anthony Spencer was added for pass-rushing depth.
The Saints had two picks in the first round thanks to the Graham trade. They added youth to their offensive line by selecting tackle Andrus Peat at No. 13 overall. He has high upside as a run blocker and will be very good in pass protection once he improves his technique.
Linebacker Stephone Anthony was taken at No. 31. He's a playmaker who has all the right physical gifts -- size, speed, strength, quickness. His aggressiveness can lead to mistakes in run defense. Stephone needs to improve his vision and patience.
In the second round, the Saints drafted LB Hau'oli Kikaha. He recorded 19 sacks last year, but he ran just a 4.90 40-yard dash and a 4.33 20-yard shuttle at his pro day. Hau'oli doesn't have a high enough skill set to be an asset against the run. Kikaha will work hard and possesses plus power. He projects to be a situational play.
With Drew Brees getting older, New Orleans took a flier on QB Garrett Grayson in the third round. Grayson has a big arm and can make all of the necessary throws. Plus, he stands tall in the pocket when under duress. His ability to read defenses and make-pre snaps decisions will improve as he learns from one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Garrett's release needs to be retooled so he can get the ball out quicker.
Also in the third round, New Orleans chose P.J. Williams, a cornerback with solid athletic ability and upside in press coverage. His lack of strength (12 reps on the bench press at the combine) will hurt him against elite wideouts. His speed and quickness are below average for a starting corner in the NFL, so he may have to move to safety. His talent offers high upside if he can keep his head in the game.
The Saints focused on building their depth on defense with their three picks in the fifth round: LB Davis Tull, DT Tyeler Davison and CB Damian Swann. Tull comes into the league with a solid resume from a small-school college where he was a good run stopper. His hands, quickness and motor will help his upside in the pass rush. Davis needs to prove he can handle the step up in competition over the long haul. The powerful Tyeler will instantly upgrade New Orleans' run defense. Davison will even offer some value attacking the QB. However, he needs to show more fight and fire off at the point of attack while maintaining his lane against the run. Swann does enough correctly to earn a backup role, but poor instincts and change-of-direction speed make him a liability in coverage.
With the last pick in its draft, New Orleans added RB Marcus Murphy. He can be a dual threat, contributing as a special teams returner and a pass-catching back. His speed and quickness project him to be an outside runner. His size (5 feet 8, 193 pounds) will hold him back from making a winning impact.
New Orleans Saints OT Andrus Peat
New Orleans finished 13th in rushing yards (1,818) while gaining 4.5 yard per rush with 16 rushing TDs. The Saints allowed 30 sacks while finishing third in passing yards (4,764) with 33 TDs and 17 INTs.
Left tackle Terron Armstead was productive in his first season with full-time snaps after being drafted in the third round in 2013. Terron added value as a run blocker while allowing three sacks, four QB hits and 18 QB hurries. His season was cut short by two games due to a neck injury.
Zach Strief could end at at left guard but right now, 2013 undrafted free agent Tom Lelito is seen as the favorite. He spent much of the past two years at center and graded out positively in run blocking in 2014.
Center Max Unger will provide a nice upgrade in both the run game and in pass protection. but he has some injury risk. Last year, he didn't allow a sack in his nine starts.
Right guard Jahri Evans struggled in pass protection in 2014 (six sacks, seven QB hits and 34 QB hurries) while playing well in run blocking.
Strief will look to hold off Peat at right tackle. Zach has been only a league-average run blocker over the last three years after playing well earlier in his career in that area. Strief allowed three sacks, six QB hits and 31 QB hurries last season.
This line has three top players and a fourth player with talent in Peat. The biggest weakness is at left guard. This group's success is driven by the quick release of Brees.
The above chart shows the Saints' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
New Orleans' ground game has two favorable matchups: The New York Giants and Tennessee Titans. On the other hand, they will also have to face the Detroit Lions, but they won't be nearly as strong against the run without Ndamukong Suh. The Saints' passing attack has the second-easiest schedule based on last year's data with no real tough games. They have three strong matchups -- the Philadelphia Eagles and two against the Atlanta Falcons -- that look great on paper.
The Saints' running backs caught a league-high 133 passes for 938 yards and four TDs last season. Tight ends accounted for 25.7 percent of Brees' completions, but the loss of Graham will lower that distribution. Wide receivers caught 210 passes for 2,885 yards with 11 touchdowns.
QB Drew Brees - Stud (low risk)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Brees was the 13th-ranked QB in Week 13 after throwing for 282 yards and three TDs, which is completely insane in this new era of the NFL. Over the last three games at home Drew has 1,174 passing yards and 13 TDs. In his five road starts, Brees only has six passing TDs, while averaging 276.4 passing yards per game. In Week 2, he threw for 255 yards and one TD at home vs. the Bucs. Tampa is just below league average in QB Fantasy defense, with two teams scoring over 30 Fantasy points (24 passing TDs and five 300+ yard passing games). Over the last five games, only one team has over 20 Fantasy points at QB against the Bucs. He is a much weaker play on the road and Tampa's defense is improving. I do sense this game could get wide open a la Tennessee/Jacksonville in Week 13.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/3): Brees has struggled in his last two games on the road (437 combined yards and two TDs), which is disappointing after his two electric games at home (892 yards and 11 TDs). He missed the earlier game vs. the Panthers on the road when backup QB Luke McCown threw for 310 yards and no TDs. Carolina ranks second in the NFL in QB Fantasy defense, with nine teams scoring fewer than 20 Fantasy points. Tough matchup, but Brees tends to play much better at home. I don't think this game offers impact upside.
UPDATE (9/30): A slow start coupled with a shoulder injury should have Fantasy owners very concerned about Drew Brees. Age may be a factor, but the Saints' offense isn't doing him any favors. The Saints need more out of their receiving corps, but there just aren't many great options not named Brandin Cooks. Brees should be downgraded until the Saints' offense shows some signs of life. He is a very risky Fantasy play until he proves he can perform like the Brees of old.
For the fourth time in his nine seasons with the Saints, Brees led the NFL in completions (456). In eight of those years, Drew has completed 413 or more passes. In addition, Brees led the league in passing yards (4,952) for the fifth time in his career. He's thrown 33 TDs or more in each of his last seven seasons, but he has declined slightly each year since throwing a league-high 46 touchdowns in 2011. His resume is one of the best in the game, but his upside is limited by his receiving options. Marques Colston isn't the same player he once was, and Brees no longer has stud tight end Jimmy Graham. I like the upside of C.J. Spiller as part of the passing game, and Brandin Cooks has the talent to be a high-upside wideout. There's no doubt Brees is going to air the ball out as he's averaged 657 pass attempts over his last five seasons. His value in 2015 will rely on his ability to simply score touchdowns. His surrounding receiving talent suggests that total will be closer to 30 than 40. The bar will be at about 4,800 yards and 30 TDs. Although he remains a top-five QB, Drew is closer to No. 5 than No. 1.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
WR Brandin Cooks - Stud (low risk)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Cooks has pushed his way to 12th in WR scoring, which still gives him a chance at being a top 10 option in 2015 with continued success. He has six TDs in his last five games, with one 100-yard receiving game (two on the year). On the year he has seven TDs, with 8.2 targets per game. In Week 2 he had five catches for 62 yards on seven targets against Tampa. The Bucs are 23rd in the league in WR Fantasy defense, with two teams scoring over 50 Fantasy points. WRs have 16 TDs with a 65.6 percent catch rate against them. The Bucs have weakness in two of their best three CB options so Cooks may have upside. He really needs this game to be wide open. Update: Cooks suffered a concussion in practice on Thursday, which puts him at risk to play this week. EDITORS NOTE: Cooks suffered a concussion in practice this week and may not play.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Brees failed to make any big plays in Week 12 vs. the improving Texans' defense. This led to Cooks catching five of his eight targets for 35 yards. He has one 100-yard receiving game and six TDs. He is on pace for 80 catches, 1,071 yards and nine TDs, with eight targets per game. In Week 3 Cooks had seven catches for 79 yards against the Panthers. Carolina ranks 7th in WR Fantasy defense (seven TDs and a 54.2 percent catch rate). Low upside player with a tough matchup.
UPDATE (9/30): An injury to Drew Brees and a poor start to the season have Brandin Cooks falling short of the high expectations placed upon him by Fantasy owners. While he is the clear leader of the receiving corps, Cooks' size limits his touchdown potential. Until his reception totals increase, he will struggle to keep pace with the top 25 Fantasy WRs. Downgrade Cooks moving forward until Brees proves he can return to his old form.
Cooks makes sense as the best receiving option on the team, but his lack of size (5 feet 10, 189 pounds) makes it tough to believe Brandin has stud upside. In his 10 games in 2014, Cooks caught 53 passes for 550 yards and scored five total touchdowns (one rushing). He registered at least five catches in eight of his 10 games. His yards per catch (10.4) are well below the top WRs in the game as Cooks runs most of his routes close to the line of scrimmage. Brandin missed the last six game of the year with a broken thumb. Cooks had an electric 2013 senior season at Oregon State as he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 TDs. He even rushed the ball 32 times for 217 yards with two scores. In the previous year, Brandin was used more as a big-play wide receiver (67 catches, 1,151 yards and five touchdowns) as Markus Wheaton acted as the Beavers' No. 1 receiver. Cooks has elite speed (4.33 40) and exceptional quickness, which will help him as a slot receiver. He possesses 100-catch upside with 1,000-plus yards well within reach. He won't make much of an impact in the red zone, but he's still getting a ton of respect in the early draft season (ADP of 32, 16th WR selected). Cooks will offer solid, steady value in PPR leagues while playing a key role in this offense.
New Orleans Saints WR Brandin Cooks
WR Marques Colston - Over the Hill (decreased production)
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WR Brandon Coleman - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Coleman may be an interesting play in Week 13 with Cooks listed as questionable with a concussion issue and Snead still not 100 percent. Last week Coleman had his best game in 2015 (4/73/1). He finished with WR3 snaps (45), behind Cooks (56) and Colston (57). In his only other game with solid playing time (58 plays in Week 1), Coleman also had a TD while catching four of his seven targets for 41 yards. The Bucs have weakness at CB and he has the clear edge in size (6'6"). Possible flier if he earns starter snaps.
Coleman went undrafted in 2014, which allowed the Saints to sign him. In three seasons at Rutgers, Brandon caught 94 passes for 1808 yards with 20 TDs. His best season came in 2012 when he caught 43 passes for 718 yards with 10 TDs. Coleman has elite size (6'6" and 225 lbs.). He ran a 4.56 forty yard dash in the 2014 NFL Combine while leading all WRs in the bench press (21 reps.). His route running ability is limited with questions about his ability to separate from top CBs plus Brandon needs to prove he can win a high percentage of 50/50 passes. With New Orleans lacking talent at the WR position, Coleman may have an opportunity to fill some the lost value created when Jimmy Graham headed out West. His game may mirror the path of Chargers WR Malcom Floyd with more upside in TDs. All signs point to him starting the year for the Saints as the WR3.
TE Josh Hill - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
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New Orleans Saints TE Josh Hill
TE Ben Watson - Bye Week Fill-in
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Watson has 16 catches, 170 yards and a TD on 27 targets in his last four games. He scored his fourth TD (third at home) of the year last week against the Panthers. He has two 100-yard receiving games. Over his last seven games he has averaged 7.7 targets per game. In Week 2 with starter snaps against Tampa, he had two catches for 12 yards on four targets. The Bucs are league average in TE Fantasy defense, with two teams scoring over 25 Fantasy points (four TDs allowed to TEs - none in the last five games). Excellent catch rate (72.0), but his volume of chances (6.3) tends to fall below the top TEs in the game.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Watson ranks 8th in TE scoring in PPR leagues despite delivering three straight short games (5/60, 3/19, and 4/53). His best two games (10/127/1 and 9/147/1) came at home. On the year he is averaging 6.1 targets per game, with three TDs and two 100-yard receiving games. In Week 3 Watson had four catches for 42 yards on four targets against the Panthers. Carolina is about league average in TE Fantasy defense (four TDs allowed). Watson plays better at home and the Saints may chase on the scoreboard.
Update (11/17): Watson has been better than Jimmy Graham this season. Let that sink in for a minute. It's unbelievable how well he's played. Despite a slow start, he has emerged as one of the best Fantasy TEs in the entire NFL. The other Big Ben has caught 46 passes for 551 yards and three touchdowns. He's seen 58 targets from Drew Brees. Currently, Watson ranks as the Fantasy TE7.
Ben will enter the 2015 season at age 34. Through his two seasons with the Saints, Watson has caught 39 passes for 462 yards and four TDs on 61 targets. Last year, Ben averaged only 6.8 yards per catch after blocking on 35.3 percent of his plays. By comparison, Hill blocked 32.1 percent of the time, and Graham was a blocker for just 4.9 percent of his snaps. Watson's role could expand slightly, but his days of having any Fantasy value have faded away.
New Orleans - Deep-league Only
New Orleans' run defense has a favorable schedule. It contains nine games against teams with below-par rushing attacks. However, they will also have to stop the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers (twice). The Saints have three games against top-notch passing offenses -- the Indianapolis Colts and the Atlanta Falcons (twice) -- along with difficult matchups versus the Lions, Eagles, Giants and two against the Falcons. The Saints' pass defense will get a bit of a break against the Texans, Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice).
The Saints had the 29th ranked rushing defense in the league in 2014 (2125 yards). Ball carriers gained 4.8 yards per rush with a league high 19 runs of 20 yards or more. This led to 17 rushing TDs. New Orleans only managed only 34 sacks (25th) in 2014. They allowed 4019 passing yards (8th) with 26 TDs and 12 Ints.
DE Cameron Jordan was an above-average run defender last year and has racked up 20 sacks over the past two seasons. Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley has settled into being a one-dimensional run stopper. He missed the last five games last year with a torn quad. New Orleans added veteran nose tackle Kevin Williams to add depth. He will be 35 in August. He'll try to clog the running lanes and may record a couple of sacks. Defensive end Akiem Hicks didn't develop as the Saints had hoped in 2014. Hicks had only two sacks, five QB hits and 20 QB hurries with slightly above league average value as a run defender.
Junior Galette has split time between defensive end and linebacker over the last two years. Last year, he had an impressive season rushing the QB (10 sacks, 13 QB hits and 45 QB hurries), but he was a liability against the run. There could be some concern with his status for the 2015 due to a 2013 video that shows him assaulting a man and a woman, hitting them with a belt. He was also arrested and charged in January with domestic violence. The charges were dropped the following month. In June, Galette suffered a torn pectoral muscle. The early reports suggest he will avoid surgery.
LB David Hawthorne was a neutral run defender last year with low value attacking the QB (three sacks, two QB hits and three QB hurries). Plus, he tends to be a liability in pass coverage. Dannell Ellerbe only saw action in one game last year with the Dolphins due a hip injury. Ellerbe has only had one season of value in his career; in 2009, he recorded five sacks, seven QB hits and 13 QB hurries and was a positive force against the run. Dannell was a disaster in the run game in 2013 and had only one sack. LB Anthony Spencer played well in 2012 with the Cowboys when he recorded 11 sacks, two QB hits and 27 QB hurries while being a top player against the run. A knee injury in September 2013 led to microfracture surgery and cost him nearly the entire year. His game was a lot less impressive in 2014 (two sacks, seven QB hits and 18 QB hurries). Spencer did hold his own in run support, but his level of play was still a big step down from his 2012 success. Rookie Stephone Anthony has enough talent to earn starting snaps. He'll add value to the pass rush and can succeed in pass coverage. His risk as a run defender may lead to him seeing action on only second and third downs in 2015.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis went from being an asset in pass coverage in 2013 (42 catches on 77 attempts for 512 yards and three TDs with four INTs) to being a liability in 2014 (52 catches on 91 attempts for 693 yards, seven TDs and two INTs). He also allowed 139 more yards after the catch. Brandon Browner is expected to start at the other CB position. He has size (6 feet 3, 221 pounds), but Brandon can get beat by speedy receivers. In his 11 games with the Patriots in 2014, Browner allowed 38 catches on 63 attempts for 562 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Safety Kenny Vaccaro, after playing fairly well as a rookie in 2013, was a bust in run support and in pass coverage. He allowed 23 catches on 24 attempts. With New Orleans having so many defensive issues last year, Vaccaro may have had too many holes to plug. Safety Jairus Byrd missed the last 12 games of 2014 with a torn meniscus. Byrd also had back surgery in May 2014. Jarius should upgrade the pass D this year and pitch in against the run.
This defense has more than meets the eye if Galette remains in the starting lineup. The Saints would also be helped if Spencer regains his previous form and Jordan can get back to his 2013 total of 12.5 sacks. I expect the secondary to be improved and to make some plays as long as the defensive front can pressure the QB. This defense is a year removed from being the fourth-best defense in the NFL. In the Fantasy market, New Orleans will be a back-end defense with underlying upside. The Saints must solve their issues against the run.