2015 Team Outlook: New Orleans Saints
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
QB Luke McCown, --- - Low Potential
UPDATE (9/30): If Drew Brees' shoulder injury persists, Luke McCown has limited potential in very deep leagues and two-QB formats. This offense was struggling to get off the ground with Brees on the field, so expectations should be very low. To his credit, McCown has been in the league as a backup for over a decade; however, that doesn't mean you should consider rostering him unless Brees suffers a setback and you are truly desperate for help at the position.
RB Mark Ingram, HOU - Solid/Safe Pick
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): The Saints have placed Ingram on season-ending IR. He has no value in any format.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Ingram has seen short rushing attempts (14) in his last two games due an in game injury and game score. His last TD came in Week 7. He has one 100-yard rushing game and five TDs. He averages 18.2 touches per game, while setting career highs in the passing game (46/382). In Week 3. Ingram had 99 combined yards with a TD and five catches vs. the Panthers. Carolina ranks just below the league average defending RBs (11 TDs), while showing some risk defending backs in the passing game (71/571/2). Over the last four games, backs have gained 180 yards rushing (2.4 YPC) with one rushing TD allowed. Ingram will get his touches with upside in the passing game, but his TD production may fall short of daily game winning value.
For the first time in his career, Ingram became Fantasy relevant. He set career highs in carries (226), rushing yards (964), touchdowns (9), catches (29), receiving yards (145) and overall touches (255). Mark did all of this in 13 games with nine starts. He missed three games early in the year due to a fractured thumb. Over his last 10 games, Ingram took 215 touches for 915 yards and six TDs. His finished 15th among running backs in PPR scoring and could have had a chance at a top-10 ranking had he played a full season. In his four-year career, Mark has missed 14 games with only 21 starts in his 50 chances. Late in 2014, he played through a shoulder injury, and he was bothered by a foot injury this June. Ingram is a former first-round draft pick with an improving skill set as the Saints actually threw the ball to him last year. Still, he averaged only 5 yards per catch. I'm torn between his upside and his injury risk. His success last season was created by volume, something he won't have this year if C.J. Spiller stays healthy. In the early draft season, Mark has an ADP of 44 as the 16th RB off the board. I sense about 225 touches for about 1,000 yards and a chance at double-digit TDs. However, his price point and risk tell me to stay away.
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): With Mark Ingram going down for the season with a shoulder injury, a high upside opportunity has been created in New Orleans. In Week 10 the Saints gave Tim Hightower 16 plays, compared to 18 by C.J. Spiller, which was a surprise. This bit of information could be a "tell" of his future value. Hightower had to be showing something in practice plus he flashed some upside earlier in his career with Arizona. Tampa has been playing well vs. RBs so he isn't in play in the daily games.
RB Khiry Robinson, --- - Fantasy Handcuff
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Headed into 2014, Robinson was an attractive late-round sleeper. Once Ingram hit the sidelines due to injury, Robinson awoke, racking up 245 yards and a score on 47 carries during a three-game stretch starting in Week 3. he averaged 4.8 yards per carry for the year, a half yard more than Ingram. However, the Saints like to give their pass-catching backs increased playing time, and Robinson has 53 catches in 50 career games. In 2012 at West Texas A&M, Khiry rushed for 1,741 yards on 273 carries with 15 TDs. He also caught 39 passes for 430 yards and four more touchdowns. Robinson is a power back with good size (6 feet, 220 pounds). He runs hard, can break tackles, and his resume gives him a chance in the passing game. Khiry should be drafted as the handcuff to Ingram.
RB C.J. Spiller, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): This season Spiller has been on the field for 160 plays, compared to 535 by Ingram. Over the last four games he's been on the field for only 41 plays. If you subtract his 80-yard TD in Week 4 in overtime, he has gained only 4.5 YPR. In addition, he only gains 3.5 YPC. Spiller runs like Fred Flinstone with short chopping steps. He has value if he gets into open space, but this has only happened once in 2015 on 60 chances. His resume would lead me to believe Marcus Murphy may emerge as the player of value over the last couple weeks of the year.
UPDATE (9/30): C.J. Spiller is finally back to 100-percent healthy according to head coach Sean Payton. That said, he's been a non-factor in limited action to start the season. It should go without saying that the preseason expectations surrounding Spiller will probably go unfulfilled. Mark Ingram is the clear-cut leader out of the backfield and Spiller appears to be a glorified scat back. He retains the most value in PPR formats as a possible flex play if his touches increase.
After his breakthrough season in 2012 (1,703 combined yards with eight scores and 43 catches), C.J. has been a bust in back-to-back seasons. Last year, Spiller missed seven games due to broken collarbone. Prior his injury, he had taken 83 touches for just 394 yards with one touchdown. His resume is far from elite and his poor play will lead to him being a value pick in drafts. His high upside was showcased by his 6.0 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per catch in 2012. The Saints completed 133 passes to the RB position last year for 938 yards and four TDs. At a minimum, C.J. should be able to catch 50 percent of that action. He could mirror what Darren Sproles did for the Saints in 2011 and 2012 (161 catches in 29 games for 1,377 yards and 14 scores). Spiller will also be more active in the running game with a chance at 125 carries. Between the rushes and the catches, I expect him to average 7.0 yards per touch. He could total 1,400 yards on 200-plus touches and tally eight touchdowns. That could make him a low-end RB1. His price point is fair in the early draft season (ADP of 56, 22nd RB selected). Spiller has risk for sure, but his impact upside makes it worth taking him as your RB2 in PPR leagues.
New Orleans Saints RB. C.J. Spiller