From now till Thursday, September 1 — the day of the final preseason games — FantasyLabs is releasing our 2016 team previews: 32 previews in 32 days. Are you ready for some football?
New Orleans Saints Team Preview
To say that the Saints defense was bad in 2015 would be a massive understatement. The Saints weren’t just the worst-scoring defense in football last year. They broke the 52-year old record for most touchdown passes allowed in a single season with 45. Last year, Tom Brady led the league with 36 touchdown passes. Basically, whenever anyone played the Saints, they made him look better than Brady.
Drew Brees and the rest of the offense continued the yearly pattern of dominance on that side of the ball with the league’s eighth-ranked scoring offense, but with the offense unable to compensate for the defense the entire team suffered, finishing 7-9 for the second time in as many years.
Defensive additions Nick Fairley, Sheldon Rankins, and Vonn Bell should improve the unit a bit, but 2016 will likely continue to provide plenty of shootouts for the Saints. Vegas has set the team’s 2016 win total at 7.5, indicating that the Saints are basically expected to be this year the same team that they were the past two years. Still, a Brees-led offense is going to score a lot of points, so let’s try to figure out who exactly will be scoring these points.
Another year, another top-three fantasy finish for Brees. At some point the 37-year-old Brees will fall off, but after six straight seasons with at least 32 touchdowns and 4,600 yards passing Brees doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Everyone loves to talk about Brees’ struggles on the road, and it’s true that Brees has been worse on the road than at home, averaging 19.94 fantasy points per game over the past two seasons when away from New Orleans. This average would have ranked 15th among all quarterbacks in 2015 DraftKings points per game game. That’s not bad — but it pails in comparison to what Brees does at home:
A strong Plus/Minus of +6.03 over the past two seasons demonstrates Brees’ knack for scoring big at home, and his absurd average of 24.75 DraftKings points per game in New Orleans trails only Cam Newton‘s 2015 per-game average.
Brees is poised for another big year in 2016 with the help of new targets Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas. Also, he should need to throw a lot (again) because the Saints defense is likely to be ‘turrible.’ However, Brees will need to overcome a very tough stretch of games in the middle of the season. In Weeks 3-12, eight of Brees’ nine opponents last season ranked in the top 12 in fantasy points allowed quarterbacks.
The Saints backup quarterback now officially has more years played in the NFL than touchdown passes. Entering his 11th season, McCown has thrown for nine touchdowns in his career versus 15 interceptions. In truth, he’s probably not as bad as these stats make him out to be. In his lone 2015 start, McCown completed 31 of 38 pass attempts for 310 yards against the Panthers’ stingy defense.
Brees has missed just two games in 10 years, so McCown will likely not be needed in 2016. If he’s forced into action he’s probably capable enough to spread the ball around to his receivers to score some points.
2015’s 7th-best running back in DraftKings points per game, Ingram combined a smooth 4.6 yards-per-carry average with a career-high 4.2 receptions per game. Of course, he played in only 12 games, marking the fourth instance in five years that Ingram has failed to play in more than 13 games. Still, Ingram is the clear No. 1 back on this team and has been for the past two years when healthy.
While Brees may ‘struggle’ on the road, Ingram thrives. Over the last two seasons, Ingram at home has a +3.3 Plus/Minus and 9.9 percent ownership (in the DraftKings Millionaire Maker). On the road, he has a +4.8 Plus/Minus with just 5.3 percent ownership.
Ingram will continue to get plenty of work around opponents’ goal lines (29 carries inside the 5-yard line over the past two seasons) and will have early opportunities in 2016 to put up points against weak defenses. The Giants (Week 2), Falcons (Week 3), and Chargers (Week 4) all had bottom-eight defenses in 2015 in average fantasy points allowed to running backs. Ingram should feast as the undisputed top back in New Orleans for as long as he can stay on the field.
If you had some DFS lineups that scored an unreal number of points in the final weeks of the 2015, there’s a good chance that Tim Hightower was in those lineups. Hightower wasn’t even on the Saints’ roster until an injury to Khiry Robinson forced the Saints to reach out to Hightower midway through 2015. After Ingram went down a few weeks later with a season-ending shoulder injury, Hightower took over in a major way:
A bonkers Plus/Minus of +12.9 was the result of Hightower’s new role as the Saints’ featured back. Hightower has always been a good receiver, and so he played all three downs and averaged three receptions per game over the Saints’ last four games.
Hightower is now on the wrong side of 30, and he wasn’t a great athlete even when he was young, as evidenced by his subpar SPARQ-x score (103.1: 19th percentile among all running backs). Still, being THE guy in the Saints’ offense will carry plenty of opportunity for touchdowns and yards along the way.
If Ingram were to miss games, Hightower may not replicate his great 2015 stretch run, but he’d still be in the RB1 conversation. Anyone who gets an average of 24 touches per game as a lead back deserves strong consideration.
Other than snagging Brees’ 400th career touchdown pass in style, Spiller had a disasterous 2015. Seen as the heir to the Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles role in the Saints’ offense, Spiller surpassed 50 total yards exactly one time in 2016. Buried on the Saints’ depth chart, Spiller might not even make the team. Even if he does, Spiller won’t be trusted with a featured role even with an injury to Ingram, as Spiller averaged just five touches per game in Weeks 13 and 14 without Ingram in the lineup.
After spending his first four NFL seasons in New Orleans, Travaris Cadet started 2015 on the Patriots . . . before flipping to San Francisco . . . before returning to NOLA in Week 16 after Spiller was sent to the Injured Reserve. In Weeks 16 and 17, Cadet had the two best performances of his career, as he averaged 4.5 receptions for 73 yards per game. Cadet in his career has just 22 rushes compared to 62 receptions, and he did a better job in two weeks of replicating the Sproles’ role than Spiller did in an entire season.
Cadet is Hightower-esque in that his athleticism is underwhelming but he has shown the ability to produce anyway. Cadet’s lack of a rushing presence gives him a low ceiling as a fantasy option, but he could potentially provide regular value if he becomes the Saints’ receiving back.
After a promising junior season at the University of California saw Lasco gain 1,471 total yards and score 14 touchdowns, he was relegated to a running back by committee timeshare as a senior. Even though he played in nine games, the injury-impacted Laso started in just three, as Cal seemed content to hand the offense over to Jared Goff.
The seventh-round rookie has good speed (4.46-second 40-yard dash) and was a top combine performer in his jumps and 60-yard shuttle as well. Two mediocre preseason performances (just 42 yards rushing on 17 carries) have brought Lasco’s roster spot into question, but if he does have good athleticism and three-down ability. This statement might sound ridiculous — and it is — but a team could do a lot worse than having Lasco as its fifth running back.
It’s always nice when predicted second-year breakouts actually happen, and this was the case for Cooks in 2015. With 84 catches for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns, Cooks the 20th wide receiver in DraftKings points per game, and his rare speed and athleticism were on full display for all 16 weeks of 2015.
There are a lot of things to like about Cooks. His 98th percentile SPARQ-x score of 132.9 is certainly one of them, as is Cooks’ season long Plus/Minus of +3.35. The negatives? Cooks’ inconsistency (seven games with fewer than 65 yards and no touchdowns) and red-zone usage (just four targets inside the 10-yard line over the past two seasons).
The Saints finished 2015 with the second-most pass plays in the league, and Cooks’ status as the No. 1 receiver in this aerial attack makes him a weekly consideration as a low-end WR1. However, Brees’ tendency to get everyone involved, combined with Cooks’ lack of a red-zone presence, could make it difficult for him to improve upon his 2015 performance.
As a second-year undrafted receiver with no NFL receptions and a mid-major pedigree, Snead came out of nowhere in 2015 to emerge as the team’s No. 2 receiver with 984 yards and three touchdowns. It appears that Snead has held off the rookie Thomas for the same role in 2016, and so DFS players should be able to cash in on Snead’s consistent role in the Saints’ offense: He had five or more targets in 12 of 15 games last year.
Snead is small at 5’11” 195 lbs., and his 4.62-second 40-yard dash doesn’t exactly jump off the page. Still, Snead posted a sterling Plus/Minus of +4.77 in 2015 and should continue to benefit as a key receiver in one of the more lethal passing attacks in the league. Like Cooks, Snead had a minimal red-zone presence last year (just three targets inside the 10-yard line in 2015), but he could replicate his status as a top-35 receiver in 2016 based on volume of targets alone.
Early praise from Brees, combined with highlight catches in camp, led many people to crown Thomas as the Saints’ No. 2 receiver before the second-rounder had even played a preseason game. While Thomas hasn’t had a bad preseason by any means, the hype has regressed a bit with Thomas settling into the Saints’ ‘large slot’ No. 3 role that Marques Colston owned for the past 10 seasons.
Thomas looks like a future No. 1 receiver. The size (6’3″ and 212 lbs.), the pedigree (Keyshawn Johnson‘s nephew), and the confidence (twitter handle is @cantguardmike): Thomas’ only red flag is that he wasn’t more dominant in college. Back-to-back seasons of nearly 800 yards and nine touchdowns are really nice — but not for people who want to have NFL success. Thomas didn’t dominate in college the way that Cooks and Snead (or other 2016 rookies) did.
Colston’s prime years in New Orleans were typically good for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns over 16 games. Those totals are unlike for Thomas in 2016, but he has the potential to have those numbers eventually, if he can show that his college production had less to do with him and more to do with the Ohio State offense in which he played.
A massive wide receiver at 6’6″ and 225 lbs., Coleman posted a 30/453/2 line in his 2015 campaign. While Coleman was often an afterthought on the Saints’ offense, he did well when given ample opportunity. In his four games with at least five targets, Coleman averaged 57 yards and .5 touchdowns per game. Coleman’s size and speed combination (4.56-second 40-yard dash) could mean that the best is yet to come for the former Scarlet Knight. Coleman is still a bit of an unknown, but if he were to start to steal targets from Thomas or Snead he could have some big fantasy production as the team’s largest receiver.
An undrafted second-year receiver out of New Hampshire, Harris made a habit of producing against a lower-level of college competition. Three straight seasons with at least 75 receptions and 1,000 yards culminated with an impressive 100/1,551/15 line in his senior year. Harris hasn’t done much this preseason, but he wouldn’t be the first Saints’ receiver to come from nowhere to deliver strong fantasy performances.
For the time being, Harris is your average 6’0″ and 191 lb., receiver with 4.5-second speed who could benefit from an extended stretch with Brees as his quarterback.
Lewis is tiny. TINY. At 5’6″ and 170 lbs., Lewis is a less explosive Jakeem Grant. Not to take anything away from Lewis’ 4.4-second 40-yard dash, but his collegiate production (2,258 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage) just isn’t on Grant’s level. Of course, Lewis did return four kicks for touchdowns in college, so that skill could help him stick on the team.
The former Colt, Fleener was brought in to New Orleans during this past offseason to replace Ben Watson. Fleener is an elite athlete, as his SPARQ-x score of 133.7 is in the 95th percentile among all tight ends and is actually the single highest score among the Saints’ primary receivers.
Fleener has been nearly unstoppable inside the 10-yard line, converting seven of his nine targets for touchdowns over the past two seasons. The presence of Dwayne Allen prevented Fleener from becoming ‘THE guy’ in Indianapolis, but he still totaled 774 yards and eight touchdowns during Andrew Luck‘s full 2014 season.
While the Saints’ wide receivers may not be featured in the red zone, Brees loves throwing to his tight end. Watson had double anyone else’s red-zone targets on the Saints last season. After doing nearly nothing for the previous two seasons, Watson emerged as the eighth tight end in DraftKings points per game in 2015.
Fleener has had mixed reviews in training camp thus far, but if he and Brees can develop even a little bit of chemistry then Fleener will have the opportunity to be a top-five tight end in 2016.
Despite murmurs that Hill could be getting more involved in the Saints’ offense because of Fleener’s struggles, there’s no evidence that Hill will see more playing time and he’s simply not the athlete that Fleener is. Hill’s five touchdowns on just 14 receptions show both his talent as a 6’5″ and 245 lb. target as well as his limited involvement in the Saints offense. Still, Hill could thrive in 2016 if he gets a chance as the Saints’ No. 1 tight end or simply starts to see more targets in two-tight end sets.
The 2016 New Orleans Saints appear to be similar to the 2015 team. Dennis Allen is the new defensive coordinator tasked with cleaning up Rob Ryan‘s mess, but it’ll likely take longer than a year for any massive improvement to be made. In the meantime, take advantage of a Saints’ offense that will feature a lot of different players scoring a lot of points.