Saints Pierre Thomas Fantasy 2014
During the Drew Brees era in New Orleans, the Saints have boasted one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. But the team’s production has come predominantly through the air, as evidenced by the fact that the Saints own the league’s longest current streak for seasons without a 1,000-yard rusher. The last New Orleans running back to reach that milestone was Deuce McAllister in 2006, Brees’ first year with the team. This is a big reason that, with the exception of PPR scoring formats, Saints rushers are often overlooked by the fantasy football community. However, a closer look at the last three years demonstrates that the top New Orleans back in terms of total yards per season has averaged almost 1,100 combined rushing and receiving yards and better than seven touchdowns. Those are RB2 numbers in 12-team fantasy leagues and it’s just the beginning of why more people should be saying “Oui Oui” to Pierre Thomas in 2014.
The bad play on his French-sounding name notwithstanding (he’s of Haitian descent, but the way), Thomas has already proven himself to be a fantasy asset, as he was one of the above-mentioned top New Orleans backs from the past three seasons, accumulating 1,062 total yards and five touchdowns in 2013. That production made Thomas a top-25 fantasy running back last season and it wasn’t the first time that he enjoyed such success. Before missing most of the 2010 season with an ankle injury, Thomas had over 2,000 combined yards rushing and receiving across the 2008 and 2009 seasons, scoring 20 touchdowns over 29 regular-season games. He also added 254 total yards and three touchdowns as a key component of the Saints’ Super Bowl run in 2009.
New Orleans rushed the ball less than 400 times in each of the last two seasons, ranking 26th in attempts in 2013. While that might not sound like a selling point for a fantasy running back, I think it increases the likelihood that Thomas remains the Saints’ top backfield option this season. Khiry Robinson was a preseason marvel last year and finished the season strong when Thomas missed New Orleans’ two playoff games with a chest injury. And the chronically-ineffective Mark Ingram is still around. But whereas Robinson and Ingram might be better suited for pounding the ball on the ground, Thomas is an exceptional pass-protector and receiver. On a decidedly pass-oriented team led by one of the best quarterbacks in the game, those skills will keep Thomas more heavily involved in the Saints offense than his backfield competition. Despite just 147 rushing attempts last year, Thomas had 224 opportunities when taking into account his receiving prowess, which placed him 23rd among all running backs for total touches.
Thomas’ 77 catches in 2013 were more than any other running back in the league, and last year was hardly an anomaly for the Saints’ backfield. Darren Sproles led the position in receptions during the previous two seasons, with 75 grabs in 2012 and 86 catches in 2011. With the offseason departure of Sproles and Lance Moore from New Orleans, Thomas should have the opportunity to at least match last year’s receiving totals and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him even more involved in the passing game. The two former Saints accumulated 108 catches for 1,061 yards and four receiving touchdowns last year, and Thomas is likely to be among the players called upon to fill that void. New Orleans running backs have caught an average of 160 passes per year over the last three seasons, and the current depth chart suggests reaching that total again in 2014 would heavily involve Thomas. Given the circumstances, it’s not out of the question that he could approach 100 receptions this season, a milestone not achieved by an NFL running back since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2003.
Recent ADP data indicates that Pierre Thomas fantasy stock is being drafted near the beginning of the seventh round in standard scoring formats, making him the 31st running back selected. Given his level of performance last season and over the course of his career, as well as the increased involvement that he is likely to see in the New Orleans offense in 2014, I think Thomas would be an absolute steal at that point in fantasy drafts. I currently have him ranked as the 22nd best running back for the upcoming season and believe he’s someone that more fantasy owners should consider as a RB2 or high-upside flex play.
A Note for PPR Leagues
Thomas’ involvement in New Orleans’ high-powered passing game buoys his fantasy value in standard-scoring leagues. But in PPR formats, it could make him an absolute beast. Thomas was a borderline RB1 at times last season in PPR leagues, where only 15 running backs scored more fantasy points than him on the year. I’m expecting him to comfortably rank in that range again in 2014, with a tremendous amount of upside potential should he make a run at 100 catches.