Deciphering the Rubik’s Cube that is the New Orleans Saints
Elite offenses are fantasy gold mines right?
Quarterbacks in fantasy football are a widely controversial topic as a whole. From conversations of them being overvalued as starters, or that the position is just too deep to care about wasting an early pick in your fantasy draft, the debates are endless and tiring. There are, however, a few quarterbacks in the NFL that put these debates to rest. Names like Brady, Rodgers, and Brees have managed to put up elite and consistent numbers over the years that have left fantasy owners giddy. With this said, these different elite-QB led offenses offer different fantasy results in regards to the consistency of their wide receivers.
Rolling the Dice
With the exception of Jimmy Graham, who emerged as the go-to guy for Drew Brees over his tenure in New Orleans, picking consistent receivers in the Big Easy has been nothing short of maddening. Yes, the Saints have plenty of talent around the ball and these players do end up accumulating solid fantasy numbers by the end of the season, but it almost never happens on a consistent week-by-week basis.
The way in which Sean Payton runs his offense is brilliant from an NFL team perspective, which is all he cares about (and rightly so), yet it makes starting pieces of the Saint’s offense more risky nonetheless. Take a look at the Saints’ top-five target catchers over the past 5 years, we can see this trend:
|Saints 2010||Rec.||Yrds||TD||% of Targets|
|Saints 2011||Rec||Yrds||TD||% of Targets|
|Saints 2012||Rec.||Yrds||TD||% of Targets|
|Saints 2013||Rec||Yrds||TD||% of Targets|
|Saints 2014||Rec||Yrds||TD||% of Targets|
|Saints 2015||Rec||Yrds||Rec. TD||% of Targets|
It’s stats like these that left Saints fans and fantasy football fans alike scratching their heads when the tight-end stud was traded to the Seattle Seahawks after the season in 2014. The Saints were left with a rising-star wide receiver taken in the 2014 NFL Draft in Brandin Cooks, an aging Marques Colston, and a no-name tight end named Benjamin Watson. Despite this seemingly lackluster receiving-core however, Sean Payton and Drew Brees still were able to accomplish what they have been consistently doing for the past decade, and that is put up immense passing numbers.As you can see, over the past five years, Drew Brees has definitely had his favorite targets over the years. In 2010, Marques Colston led the team in yards (1023) and in target percentage (19%). He caught 18 more targets than his next-closest teammate Lance Moore, which is impressive in itself. However, since good ol’ Jimmy Graham took the league by storm in 2011, Drew Brees has shown completely unfettered favoritism. 2011 through 2014, Jimmy Graham led the Saints in target percentage, receptions, and touchdowns. He also averaged 1099 yards per season over this four-year period as a top-five receiver in the Saints offense.
Season of Change
Something very important to note here is the way in which the New Orleans Saints’ offense was forced to play in 2015. While Drew Brees put up his second highest passing yardage total since 2011 with 5205 yards (highest being 5347 yards), and amassed 32 total passing TD’s; their defense was nothing short of horrible, and their secondary might as well have consisted of a group of those new robotic tackling dummies. Because of this, the Saints played from behind the majority of the time, and the offense’s production was spread out a bit differently in 2015 than in previous years:
|Player||Pos.||2015 FP||Rec. TDs||Rec. Yds.||Rush Yds.||Rush TDs|
*Statistics from FantasyPros; Regular scoring; 2015
Drew Brees the Carpenter
It may seem somewhat obvious why Brandin Cooks is not a go to guy in the red-zone, right? He’s a small guy for wide-receiver standards, and doesn’t have the best vertical in the world either, so why would he be targeted?
If you take a look around the league, you will see my concern. Other QB’s find a way to get the smaller receivers involved in the red-zone. From Luck with TY Hilton, to Brady with Julian Edelman, now more than ever being smaller is not as much of a handicap as long as you are shifty and fast.
Cooks certainly has the athletic ability to be a red-zone threat, but the point here is that Brees just has his preferences. He knows what tools he has on his tool-belt, and he uses what he feels is the right tool at the right time. The stats don’t lie. Brees almost always go to bigger guys in the red-zone, and if they are able to establish their run game even further and keep the game close, Cooks is beginning to look like just another one of those inconsistent and risky starters for the Saints. Just how valuable will he be when the Sean Payton isn’t forced to send him on a go-route every other play because they are down 14 points?
Different year, Different landscape
Coming into 2016, the Saint’s have brought in some more tools for Brees’ tool belt. Tight end Coby Fleener joins the team, and is fully expected to be a favorite in the red-zone this season. They drafted Michael Thomas out of Ohio State this year to hopefully fill the void left by Marques Colston departing. His build and skillset is almost identical to Colston’s, and Colston was able to surpass 1000 yards his rookie season with Brees. It will take work and dedication on the part of Thomas, but if he has the drive and is able to develop a report with Brees, he could be a dangerous weapon in New Orleans. Willie Snead -who performed decently from a fantasy perspective in 2015- has proven he can get the job done, but I feel like that was more a result of good QB play than anything else. Picture a Lance Moore-like fantasy star, burning short and bright for one or two years.
The Saints spent a lot of draft stock on defensive players last month, and this combined with their already experienced and young defensive core, should allow the team to play their games from behind less often. New Orleans last year achieved their second lowest rushing yard total since 2008, and everyone is fully expecting that to change this year as well with Mark Ingram coming back from a successful season cut short by an injury. The past has shown for the Saints, and for all NFL teams, that if you have successful run game, your passing offense will benefit tremendously:
|Year||RushYds||Rush TDs||Passing Yds||Pass TDs||Total Yds / TDs|
|2008||1594||20||4977||34||6571 / 54|
|2009||2106||21||4355||34||6461 / 55|
|2010||1519||9||4441||33||5960 / 42|
|2011||2127||16||5347||46||7474 / 62|
|2012||1577||10||4997||43||6574 / 53|
|2013||1473||10||4918||39||6391 / 49|
|2014||1818||16||4764||33||6582 / 49|
|2015||1491||16||5205||32||6696 / 48|
These combined factors should give the Saint’s more red-zone opportunities, and as a result it will be targets like Fleener and Thomas, not Cooks, that will reap the rewards. Cooks has an ADP of around 31st overall, and is the 16th ranked WR, according to FantasyPros. While I love what he did last season, and have full faith in his speed and ability, this Drew Brees led-offense has a history that just can’t be ignored. I’m extremely uneasy about Cooks’ prospects, and I’m definitely not going to recommend that anyone reach for him in 2016 fantasy drafts. Drew Brees and Mark Ingram are obvious safe-bets for good fantasy production that should go in early rounds, but Cooks just isn’t nearly as safe for his draft stock cost.
“That’s a bold strategy, Cotton”
For the price you would have to pay to draft Brandin Cooks to your team this year, you could snag other receivers such as before-mentioned Edelman or Hilton; and arguably achieve more consistent and safe fantasy results in 2016. You’d be better off waiting until either the mid-rounds for Fleener, or taking a late-round flier on Michael Thomas if you want a piece of the Saints’ passing offense that has larger upside and red-zone target percentage. This obviously won’t be a very popular opinion, as Cooks has been marked a favorite by many fantasy analysts to break out this upcoming season, but I’m going to side with history by the numbers on this one.