Preseason - 2021 New Orleans Saints Outlook
New Orleans Saints Outlook
Over the last 15 seasons with Sean Payton as the head coach (suspended in 2012) and Drew Brees at quarterback, the Saints finished first or second in the NFL in offense yards nine times. Payton has a 143-81 record with one Super Bowl title (2009) and nine playoff appearances (8-7). They've won 11 or more games in each of the past four years. Payton enters 2021 without Drew Brees, who retired after an excellent career.
New Orleans scored 482 points (5th), 24 points more than 2019 (458). The Saints regressed to 12th in offensive yards gained, which was their fourth season of decline. From 2006 to 2017, they finished in the top five in offensive yards every year except in 2010 (6th).
Pete Carmichael returns for his 12th season as the offensive coordinator. New Orleans added him to their system in 2006 when Payton took over running the team.
The Saints' defense climbed to fourth in yards allowed while giving up 337 points (5th). The last time New Orleans had a top-five defense came in 2013.
Dennis Allen gets a seventh season to the Saints' defense. He held the same position for the Broncos in 2011, leading to a head coaching job for the Raiders from 2012 to 2014, where he struggled to have success (8-28). Allen has 18 years of NFL coaching experience.
The Saints lost TE Jared cook to the Chargers. His catch total in 2019 (43) and 2020 (37) for the Saints didn't make an impact, but Cook scored 16 touchdowns over 29 games while gaining 15.1 yards per catch. He'll start the year at age 34.
New Orleans lost DE Trey Hendrickson, DT Sheldon Rankins, and LB Alex Anzalone to free agency.
In 2019, Hendrickson started to show more value in the pass rush while handling himself well in run support. The Saints gave him the most snaps of his career last year, leading to an explosive sack total (13.5), but he lost his way against the run. His success last year was helped by New Orleans have a top defensive line.
Rankins battled injuries over the past two seasons, leading to no impact value for the Saints (3.5 sack and struggles against the run). He is a former first-round draft pick (2016) who flashed pass-rushing upside in 2018 (eight sacks).
In his two seasons with play in 16 games in New Orleans, Anzalone had 100 combined tackles, two sacks, one interception, and two defended passes. His run defense has been a liability for the past three years.
With their first three selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, New Orleans focused on improving their defense – DE Payton Turner, LB Pete Werner, and CB Paulson Adebo.
Turner gives the Saints another player with strength and range defending the run on the outside. His game isn't where it needs to when attacking the quarterback with power, but he'll create havoc when flipping to the inside. Turner gets off the ball quickly while not fully developed.
Werner brings an excellent fit to a team with strength on the defensive line. His vision grades well with a foundation to fill holes in a hurry against the run and attacking the quarterback position. He gets in trouble when facing big bodies in traffic. Werner needs to get stronger while adding more pop to his tackles.
Adebo opted out of 2020, leaving him as a wild card in their year's draft class. He projects as a lockdown press cover who gains value as the field shortens. His playmaking style can leave him at risk when playing off the ball and facing a speedy receiver with double moves. His technique in mirroring pass patterns needs work, but his feel for the ball creates an edge, especially against teams with a short passing window. Adebo has questions about his value in run support, which may be helped by patient decision-making.
New Orleans's future swing at quarterback came in the fourth round with Ian Book. His dual-threat ability falls in line with the recent success of Taysom Hill. He lacks an elite arm with questions with his size (6.0" and 210 Lbs.). Book offers a good feel for the pocket with a chain mover feel when asked to run on RPOs. His accuracy diminishes with the length of throws while needing improvement taking care of the ball under duress.
The Saints added T Landon Young and WR Kawaan Baker in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Young gets off the ball well after the span while relying on his strength to create wins. His forward lean creates imbalance and missed timed blocks. He battles speed in the pass rush, and jumpers crossing his face can lead to pressure on the quarterback.
Baker has the tools to reach a high ceiling once he shows he can win against NFL talent at cornerback. His early quickness and acceleration set the tone for wins with the wheels to turn a short pass into long touchdowns. Baker gets off the line well against press coverage. However, his success falls on the development of his hands.
The Saints climbed to 6th rushing yards (2,265). New Orleans scored 30 touchdowns while gaining (4.6 yards per rush with 14 runs over 20 yards. New Orleans averaged 30.9 rushes compared to 25.3 in 2019.
New Orleans slipped to 20th in the NFL in passing yards (3.945) with 28 touchdowns and eight touchdowns. They only had 44 completions over 20 yards while gaining yards per pass attempt (7.6). Their offensive line allowed 29 sacks.
LT Terron Armstead
Armstead was one of the best players at his position since 2015 while playing at an elite level again last year in pass protection. His run blocking rebounded while also being an edge in each year in the NFL since getting drafted in the third round in 2013. Armstead has never had over 1,000 snaps in a season in his career.
LG Andrus Peat
Peat improved to closer to the league average in the run game after two disappointing seasons. His pass protection has been a problem over the past three years despite getting drafted in the first round in 2015.
C Erik McCoy
Over two seasons after getting drafted in the second round, McCoy made 32 starts with success in both run and pass blocking. His game is built on power and strength, allowing McCoy to handle bull rushers. His range is limited, but he does protect his space quickly after the snap. His challenge will come when asked to defend a more significant piece of the field in pass protection.
RG Cesar Ruiz
The Saints expect Ruiz to upgrade their run game thanks to plus strength and the ability to win quickly after the snap. Ruiz uses his hands well, but his range may be limited. His challenge will come vs. power in the pass rush. New Orleans drafted him in the first round in 2020. He didn't allow a sack last year, but defenders did apply plenty of pressure on the quarterback while showing weakness against the run.
RT Ryan Ramczyk
Ramczyk played well in all four seasons in the NFL after the Saints drafted him in the first round in 2017. Ramczyk is very skilled in the techniques needed to have success at his position while adding athletic ability. He has been an asset in all years in run and pass blocking.
New Orleans has a top offensive line, but a change at the quarterback position changes game flow and the passing window. The Saints will run the ball well again while continuing to have the same coaching staff who wants to put the ball in the air.
The Saints ran the ball 48.6 percent of the time in 2020, helped by Taysom Hill (87/457/8) making four starts. Their passing attempts (32.6) fell below the league average for the fourth season.
QB Jameis Winston, NO - Gamble (high risk)
Over 70 career starts, Wintson went 28-42, with his only winning record coming in 2016 (9-7). In 2019, Winston led the NFL in passing yards (5,109) with plenty of touchdowns (33) and attempts (626), but his incredibly high number of interceptions (30 – seventh-highest all-time) keeps his opponents in games too often.
His career completion rate (61.3) is well below the top quarterbacks in the game, but his stats in this area aren't padded by an active receiver in the passing game at running back.
Fantasy Outlook: In his first season with the Saints, Winston went 7-for-11 with 75 yards and no touchdowns. Winston would be on a path for 5,000 combined yards with over 30 touchdowns if given the keys to run New Orleans' offense for an entire season. On the downside, he could hold a clipboard for a significant portion of the year.
UPDATE: Winston continues to look impressive in the preseason. At this point, it looks like Winston may have wrapped up the starting gig, which puts him as an intriguing QB2. However, keep in mind that Winston's long history of carelessness with the ball makes for a volatile mix with Sean Payton's scheme. Also, even if Winston is named the starter, he is going to cede valuable goal-line snaps to Taysom Hill, who can be a factor as a runner, receiver, or passer. That keeps Winston as a bit or a risky bet, but one with pretty solid upside.
QB Taysom Hill, NO - Sleeper (undervalued)
In his four starts in 2020, Hill passed for 834 yards and four touchdowns while adding a high floor on the ground (39/209/4). His success led to 102.7 fantasy points (25.68 per game) in four-point passing touchdown leagues, which would have ranked seventh if Hill repeated his success over another 12 contests.
He finished with a high completion rate (72.7) while gaining 7.7 yards per pass attempt. In addition, Hill was active in the run game (87/457/8) even when not playing quarterback.
Fantasy Outlook: New Orleans will rotate in two quarterbacks in 2021. Hill played well with Drew Brees out last year, giving him a window to prove he belongs as their number one quarterback. His game management skills added to his value in the run game should play well with the lead, but the Saints should hook him when a game gets out of hand and New Orleans has to throw. For a fantasy owner looking to play matchups, Hill is a value as a QB2, mainly due to his premiere rushing potential.
QB Ian Book, NO - Not Draft Worthy
Book gained 10,466 combined yards over four seasons at Notre Dame with 89 combined touchdowns and 20 interceptions. His best success came in 2019 (3,580 combined yards with 38 touchdowns and six interceptions. Book has a winning resume, but he does need time to develop as a passer.
Other Option: Trevor Siemian
RB Alvin Kamara, NO - Stud (low risk)
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray combined for 2,520 yards with 20 touchdowns and 106 catches. The running back position gained 25 percent of the Saints' passing yards while catching over 30 percent of their completions.
Over his four seasons with the Saints, Kamara delivered a high floor in each year (81/826/5, 81/709/4, 81/533/1, and 83/756/5) in the passing game. He's still looking for his first season over 1,000 yards rushing (career-high in 2020 – 932 yards). Kamara has 43 rushing touchdowns over 60 games. He led the league in running back scoring (378.00) in 2020 in PPR leagues.
Last year, Kamara rushed for over 100 yards in one matchup (22/155) while scoring an incredible six touchdowns. His best success catching the ball came in Week 3 (13/139/2). He scored over 30.00 fantasy points in four contests (38.40, 44.70, 34.80, and 56.20). The Saints gave him 18 touches per game.
Fantasy Outlook: Other than 2019 (six touchdowns), Kamara has consistently delivered yards, touchdowns, and catches. He continues to compete with Latavius Murray for touches, and Taysom Hill could be more of a problem if he wins the starting quarterback job. On the flip side, Kamara has the tools to push even higher if given 325-plus touches, which would require an injury to Murray. He ranks third in the early draft season while offering a 300-point fantasy floor.
RB Latavius Murray, BAL - Fantasy Handcuff
The Saints gave Murray 349 touches over the past two seasons, which works out to 11.25 per game. Murray ranked 28th and 34th in running back scoring in PPR leagues in 2019 (157.20 fantasy points) and 2020 (136.80 fantasy points). Last year, a healthier Alvin Kamara led to Murray receiving 17 fewer targets and a step back in opportunity in the passing game (23/176/1). He missed Week 17 and most of the postseason with a quad injury.
Murray offered the best fantasy value in Week 4 (83 combined yards with two touchdowns and one catch) and Week 12 (19/124/2 with one catch for two yards). He scored under 10.00 fantasy points 10 times in PPR leagues, making him tough to time in the fantasy market.
Fantasy Outlook: Murray starts the year at age 31 with the resume to receive 150-plus touches off the bench for the Saints. He works as a bridge filler or bye week cover while also owning top 12 running back upside if given a full-time starting job. Murray looks to be easier to handcuff with Kamara based on his late June ADP (144). I won't fight for him on draft day unless I'm trying to roster both New Orleans' running backs.
Other Options: Dwayne Washington, Ty Montgomery, Tony Jones, Stevie Scott
WR Michael Thomas, NO - Quality Backup
Much of the wide receiver production for the Saints, with Drew Brees throwing the ball, came close to the line of scrimmage, leading to a higher catch rate (65.4) over the previous three seasons. Their downside comes from regression in their yards per catch (11.35). Injuries to Drew Brees and Michael Thomas led to a sharp decline in wide receiver touchdowns (13 – 20 in 2019) and fade in catches (195 – 219 in 2019) and receiving yards (2,213 – 2,617 in 2019).
In 2019, Thomas set the NFL record in catches (149) while scoring almost 100 more fantasy points (375.5) than the 2nd ranked wide receiver (Chris Godwin – 276.1) in PPR leagues.
At the end of Week 1, he suffered a doomed high ankle sprain with minimal time left in the game. His injury led to six missed weeks and two empty starts (5/51 and 2/27 on 13 combined targets). From Week 11 to Week 14, Thomas has posted three playable games (9/104, 9/105, and 8/84) before suffering a hamstring injury.
In the first week of the playoffs, he scored his only touchdown (5/73/1), followed by a zero on four targets against Tampa.
In mid-January, Thomas had shoulder and ankle surgeries.
When at his best from 2017 to 2019, Thomas caught 378 passes for 4,375 yards and 23 touchdowns on 481 targets. His catch rate (78.6) over this span was elite while gaining 11.6 yards per catch. He averaged 7.9 catches for 91 yards and 0.48 touchdowns per game or 20.03 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Outlook: In June, Thomas had surgery on his ankle which is likely to keep him out for several weeks into the regular season. Volume was already a concern without Drew Brees under center but this injury drops Thomas out of WR2 range.
Thomas has been a dependable source of PPR production but his 2021 fantasy role appears to be that of a WR3/4, but one who could put up excellent weekly production when he's fully healthy.