New Orleans Saints
|By Shawn Childs, Thursday, August 19, 2021|
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 Ian Book - 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
QB Jameis Winston - 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.
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 - 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.
UPDATE: Hill appears to have fallen behind Jameis Winston to start but is still quite relevant in Superflex leagues. Hill will likely have a weekly role and could still be a decent source of touchdowns. Also keep in mind that Winston has a long history of racking up turnovers, so Hill could still lead New Orleans in fantasy points when all is said and done.
RB Alvin Kamara - 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 - 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 Kawaan Baker - Dynasty Only
Over his final three seasons at South Alabama, Baker caught 119 passes for 1,727 yards and 15 touchdowns. He flashed big-play ability in 2018 and 2019 (15.0 and 16.4 yards per catch) while transitioning to a possession guy last season (51/659/8 – 12.9 yards per catch). Baker also has some experience running the ball (92/376/11), highlighted by his success in 2018 (59/251/9).Fantasy Outlook: I'm intrigued by his scouting report while also understanding Baker needs time to develop. If Drew Brees started in 2021, he might have moved quickly up the Saints' depth chart. But, for now, only a player to follow over the summer. In my head, my thought is a poor man's Jarvis Landry with a flavor of Golden Tate with the ball in his hands. New Orleans should try to get him the ball on jet sweeps similarly as the Rams do with Robert Woods.
Other Options: Juwan Johnson, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Jake Lampman
WR Marquez Callaway - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
In his rookie season over 11 games, Callaway caught 21 of his 27 passes for 213 yards with one contest of value (8/75). New Orleans signed him as an undrafted free agent last April. Callaway battled knee and ankle injuries over the second half of 2020. From 2017 to 2019 at Tennessee, he caught 91 of his 164 targets for 1,633 yards and 13 touchdowns while working as a deep threat (17.9 yards per catch).
UPDATE: Flashing well this preseason. He's looking like the #1 WR for the depleted Saints. Official Deep Sleeper status achieved!
WR Tre'Quan Smith - Sleeper (undervalued)
The ceiling of Smith remains a mystery. He has 80 catches for 1,109 yards and 14 touches over 40 career games. Last year, he set a career-high in catches (34), receiving yards (448), and targets (50) while missing three games (including the playoffs) with an ankle injury. Smith averaged under three targets in his three years in the league. His best value came in Week 2 (5/86), Week 13 (3/42/1), and Week 19 (3/85/3).Fantasy Outlook: Smith has the stats to support much more upside if he can find a way to stay healthy and push his targets to six per game. The fluid dynamics at the quarterback position pushes him into the deep sleeper category and Smith should open the season as the Saints' No. 1 wideout with Michael Thomas sidelined. At the very least, Smith has the potential to be a fourth-year breakout with a 60/900/6 type season. His higher ceiling/opportunity comes with Jameis Winston starting. Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Michael Thomas - 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.
WR Deonte Harris - Deep-league Only
New Orleans handed over their kick return job to Harris in 2019 and 2020 after signing him as an undrafted free agent. Over 23 games and 53 punt returns, he gained 545 yards with one score. Harris doesn't have a kickoff return for a touchdown yet, but he averaged 27.0 yards over his 40 chances.
The Saints used him more in the passing game (20/186/1) in his sophomore season. His top two showings came in Week 7 (4/46/1 and 7/83). Harris missed seven games last season due to hamstring and neck issues.Fantasy Outlook: New Orleans should give him some chances in the passing game, but his ceiling looks limited due to his size (5'6" and 170 lbs.). More of a gimmick player than a developing receiver.
TE Adam Trautman - Sleeper (undervalued)
The tight end catch opportunity in the Saints' passing game has been about the same over the past three seasons. They receive about 16.5 percent of the team's completions and close to 20 percent of their passing yards. New Orleans does look for the tight end position in the red zone (20 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020).
As the TE2 for the Saints last season, Trautman caught 15 of his 16 targets for 171 yards and one touchdown. His only playable game came in Week 9 (3/39/1). Over four seasons in Dayton, Trautman caught 178 passes for 2,295 yards and 31 touchdowns. His play improved in 2018 (41/604/9) and 2019 (70/916/14). Trautman comes to the NFL with a pass-catching skill set. He does some things well in his route running while also having questions with his release and blocking.
Fantasy Outlook: Based on ADP (169), not many fantasy owners fight for Trautman on draft day. He projects as a backend TE2 in PPR leagues with the talent to become a 50/50/5 player in his second year in the league. For someone looking to cheat the tight end position, Trautman is a must-follow this summer as he could very well emerge as the Saints' third option in the passing game.
Other Options: Nick Vannett, Ethan Wolf, Dylan Soehner
UPDATE: Trautman was carted off the field during the Saints' preseason win against Jacksonville. His status as a must-have TE2 sleeper is now looking very questionable.
PK Wil Lutz - Not Draft Worthy
Over his five seasons with the Saints, Lutz made 86.6 percent of his 164 field goals. His kicks started to fade over the past two years from 50 yards or more (4-for-9), lowering his career percentage to 56.5 percent (13-for-23). Lutz has seven missed extra points in his 260 chances.
In 2020, New Orleans had a five-year high in extra points (58) at the expense of their field-goal tries (28 – averaged 34 from 2016 to 2019). The Saints run the ball well in close, which hurts their scoring in the kicking game.
Fantasy Outlook: Lutz ranked 8th, 4th, 2nd, and 13th in kicker scoring over the last four years. I expect a bounce-back this year. He ranks 12th at the kicker position in the early draft positions, pointing to a value.
UPDATE: Lutz will have surgery on his injured groin and is expected to miss several weeks to open the 2021 NFL season. He should now be avoided on draft day.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
New Orleans - Low Potential
New Orleans remains 4th in rushing yards allowed (1,502) with 11 touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. They gave up 3.9 yards per rush, with opponents attempting 24.4 rushers per game.
The Saints jumped to fifth in passing yards allowed (3,472) with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Quarterbacks gained 6.7 yards per pass attempt with 49 completions over 20 yards and nine catches over 40 yards. Their defense finished with 45 sacks.
DE Cameron Jordan
Jordan has been a top player at his position for five straight seasons. His value vs. the run remains high, but he finished with a fade in his sack production (7.5 – 40 over his previous 48 starts). The Saints drafted Jordan in the first round in 2011.
DE Marcus Davenport
Davenport picked 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks over his first two years in the NFL with success defending the run while playing in 26 games. In 2020, he missed the first four games with an elbow injury, leading to a step back in his stats (21 tackles and 1.5 sacks). Nevertheless, Davenport remains a top player at his position.
His best skill should be rushing the quarterback, where he flashes upside in power, speed, and quickness. Davenport offers an edge in run support when attacking the line of scrimmage, but his change of direction speed and vision leads to mistakes and missed tackles. He needs to develop his hands in heavy traffic zones to create more space to make plays. New Orleans drafted him in the first round in 2018.
DT David Onyemata
In his fifth season in New Orleans, Onyemata posted career-highs in tackles (44) and sacks (6.5) while adding an interception and two defended passes. Most of his playing time comes on early downs against the run, where his game tends to shine. However, he does need to improve his tackling.
DE Payton Turner
New Orleans protected their pass rush on the outside by adding Turner in the first round of this year's draft. His game hasn't reached its ceiling, so playing behind Cameron Jordan should help his development.
The second defensive tackle position for the Saints is an area of weakness. As a result, they signed multiple undrafted players to add to their already below-bar options.
LB Demario Davis
Davis has over 100 tackles in six of his nine years in the NFL while never missing a game in his career. Over the previous three seasons, he had played at an elite level vs. the run while delivering 13 combined sacks. However, quarterbacks did pick on him in the red zone, leading to too many touchdowns allowed.
LB Pete Werner
The Saints expect Werner to move into the starting lineup after getting drafted in the second round in 2021. His style of play should reinforce the right side of the New Orleans defensive line.
The strongside linebacker position for the Saints needs an upgrade via a late signing. All current options have minimal resumes while lacking top-tier draft pedigree.
CB Marshon Lattimore
The theory of Lattimore being a top coverage cornerback left the building in his rookie season. He held receivers to a reasonable catch rate over the past two years, but Lattimore surrendered too many big plays, and touchdowns were a problem in 2020.
CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
New Orleans shifted Gardner-Johnson to slot cornerback in 2020 after seeing action at safety in his rookie season. He held receivers to short yards per catch with neutral value in his catch rate.
Gardner-Johnson has multiple tools that grade well, which gives him a chance to be a value in the 2019 NFL Draft. He brings size (5'11" and 210 lbs.), speed (4.48 forth), and strength to the NFL. Gardner-Johnson is athletic with upside vs. the run and in coverage. He'll struggle with quick wide receivers with strength in their route running. He lacks instincts on his first read while doing a decent job reading the quarterback in the deep zone. His quickness isn't ideal for his overall skill set.
S Marcus Williams
Over four seasons in the NFL, Williams has 246 tackles, 30 defended passes, and 13 defended passes. He's a beast in run support, but Williams did give up multiple long plays in coverage last year.
In his first year back with New Orleans, Jenkins played well against the run, which was the case over his six seasons in Philadelphia. He likes to keep receivers in front of him, leading to low yards per catch. Jenkins is a league-average player at this point in his career.
New Orleans had three glaring issues on defense – defensive tackle, left linebacker, and left cornerback. They might get away with the defensive lineman, but the other two positions will get exposed by good teams. Playing in the NFC South is less than advantageous but there is some reason for optimism after the club added some solid depth in the offseason.