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Fantasy Impact: Sean Payton Leaving Saints

With Sean Payton stepping down as the Saints' head coach, the team's offense will look different next season. That changes the Saints' fantasy outlook.

In a bombshell development, Sean Peyton is stepping down as the Saints' head coach.

And as much as Cowboys fans may hope he could be Mike McCarthy’s replacement, rumor has it he is going to join Drew Brees - and maybe Tom Brady- in retirement.

OK, I was just kidding about Brady. Does anybody really believe he is retiring after an MVP-caliber season that took him into the postseason? But, I digress...

Payton leaves New Orleans as the winningest coach in franchise history with 161 wins (including postseason). Since taking the reigns in 2006, Payton led the Saints to nine playoff berths, seven NFC south titles and the 2009 Super Bowl championship.

And often, his offense was fantasy gold.

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New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton calls out from the sideline in the first half against the Carolina Panthers.

There is no question the Saints are going to look completely different next season. Surely, New Orleans' fans will miss Payton.

Fantasy managers will wait with bated breath to hear what’s in store for the future. 

Under Payton, we saw Michael Thomas obliterate the catch-percentage record in 2018 and follow with an 80.3% catch rate, 9.3 yards per target and 1,725 receiving yards in 2019 - at the time good for the the seventh-most receiving yards all time. And he accomplished that despite playing with a backup quarterback for six games.

We haven’t seen Thomas in a complete season since, and my guess is we won’t see this performance again in the post-Payton era.

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Alvin Kamara also had a career-year in 2018, posting the 37th-best fantasy season of all time. He finished 2020 with career-highs in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receiving yards and catches as he took on some of the role meant for the injured Thomas. He’s been a top-10 running back since 2017, and is entering his age 27 season. But will he be able to keep up this pace?

Well, that all depends on what happens at quarterback.

With Jameis Winston under center, Kamara was used more as a pure rusher. With Trevor Siemian, he became more of a pass-catcher and the centerpiece of the offense. With Taysom Hill, he was often an afterthought.

This is the biggest question for fantasy teams moving forward.

Will Winston return?

Will Hill take over the reigns?

Or will a new coach request a quarterback change?

As far as Winston is concerned: Should he re-sign with the Saints, his range of outcomes would vary dramatically based on the coaching system. We know he has a big arm - he displayed that with a massive 5,109-yard season under Bruce Arians, but Payton’s system did more to control Winston’s proclivity to throw picks. It was a “safer” system and one that didn’t lend itself to fantasy upside.

Unfortunately for Hill, I can’t imagine any new coach would like to go to battle with Hill as their starting QB. Hill has remained one of those quarterbacks that is fantastic for fantasy due to his rushing upside, and Payton always had designed packages for Hill even when he wasn’t under center. The days of using QB Taysom Hill as a cheat code at TE will likely go back to using QB Taysom Hill - well, never.

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