New Orleans Saints Fantasy Football 2017 Preview: Drew Brees Is Still Top QB
Fantasy football and the Saints go together like coffee and beignets. There’s always some rich flavor to be savored in N’awlins.
Drew Brees is 38, but there’s mounting evidence he’s some sort of immortal character straight from an Anne Rice novel and will be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in your great-grandchildren’s fantasy leagues in the year 2092. What concerns me about Brees for 2017 isn’t his age, but rather the offseason departure of mercury-footed receiver Brandon Cooks and the potentially season-ending labrum tear sustained by starting left tackle Terron Armstead in OTAs. The former is less troubling than the latter. The Saints can plug in rookie first-rounder Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle, the position he played at the University of Wisconsin, but there’s no telling whether Ramczyk will be ready to deal with the sort of speed he’s going to see in the pro game, particularly on the Superdome’s synthetic turf. Brees has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of QB3 and is going about a round later than Tom Brady and about a round earlier than Andrew Luck. I think he should be closer to Luck than Brady, and if I’m still skittish about the Saints’ left tackle situation come August, I might drop Brees to QB4.
|Michael Thomas||WR7||WR11||Steer clear|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||WR59||WR49||Indulge|
To say that drafters are infatuated with Michael Thomas after his superb rookie season would be a vast understatement. Drafters are lighting candles, opening a bottle of red wine and putting on a Barry White record for Michael Thomas. Ben Gretch of RotoViz (@YardsPerGretch) makes a compelling case that Thomas is being grossly overdrafted, and I recommend that you read his article. Gretch contends that Thomas is unlikely to duplicate his 2016 catch rate of 75.4% and points out that wide receivers tend not to have big target numbers in the Saints’ offense. Gretch makes some other salient points, too, and I pretty much agree with all of them.
My biggest issue with Thomas is that I don’t see him as anything more than a Marques Colston clone. That’s not a bad thing—Colston was a fine receiver and is the all-time Saints leader in receptions, receiving yardage and TD catches. Colston was 6-4, 225 pounds, with 4.5 speed. Thomas is 6-3, 212 pounds, with 4.57 speed. Colston was a top-15 fantasy receiver six times but cracked the top 10 only once, in 2007, his second NFL season, finishing WR8. Thomas finished WR9 last season. It was a great start to his pro career, no question. But with Cooks gone, Thomas is going to be facing opponents’ top cornerbacks every week—just as Colston did for most of his career. It’s naive to assume that the next step for Thomas will be a step forward. At his current cost of WR7, I’m steering clear.
Willie Snead turned 104 targets into a 72-895-4 stat line last year. With Cooks out of the picture, it’s not hard to envision a slight target bump for Snead, which makes his 2016 output seem like his absolute floor for 2017 (barring injury, of course). The market recognizes the potential here, and while Snead isn’t a screaming bargain at an ADP of WR32, I’m still biting. Everyone needs a Snead.
John Paulsen of 4for4.com (@4for4_John) is the California chapter president of the Ted Ginn Jr. Fan Club. Paulsen is consistently among the top rankers tracked by FantasyPros.com, so if Paulsen likes Ginn, the rest of us probably should, too. Ginn’s hands rank just below topaz on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, but the dude can flat-out fly. He produced 1,491 receiving yards and 14 TD catches for the Panthers over the last two seasons, and he’ll now be taking his throws from a quarterback far more accurate than Cam Newton. Ginn replaces Cooks as the foremost vertical threat in the New Orleans offense. Here’s hoping he isn’t just a smaller version of Devery Henderson, who used to be regarded as the foremost vertical threat in New Orleans but in reality was little more than a deep-route decoy. At WR59, Ginn is worth a home run swing in the twilight rounds of drafts.
It’s not at all inconceivable that one of the other Saints receivers—Brandon Coleman, Corey Fuller, Tommylee Lewis or someone else—could become fantasy-viable. The leading candidate from that group is probably Coleman, a 6-6 willow tree who had a 10-TD season at Rutgers in 2012 and just turned 25.
If you’re still interested in Mark Ingram at his early-sixth-round price, you and I can’t be charades partners. The Saints have been vigorously pantomiming their intent to marginalize Ingram, first signing future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, then drafting Alvin Kamara, one of the more highly regarded backs in this year’s class. Perhaps some fantasy owners are reluctant to downgrade Ingram because it’s so hard to find reasons why the Saints might be displeased with him. Ingram had his first 1,000-yard rushing season last year, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He’s averaged 4.65 yards per carry over the last three seasons. He’s gotten handy in the passing game, with 96 receptions over the past two years. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 17th-best running back in the league last year. Could it be a personality issue? Ingram hasn’t gotten into any legal trouble during his six years with the Saints, and there is nothing on the surface to suggest that he has somehow aggravated his bosses.
It’s widely believed that Ingram and Peterson will compete in training camp for the starter’s job, but I suspect that decision was made the day Peterson was signed. Ingram is a jack-of-all-trades who’s qualified for either early-down or third-down work, but he’s unlikely to get the sort of touch volume he’d need to be consistently startable in fantasy leagues. Fade him.
Fantasy football market psychology is fascinating. Peterson played only one game in 2014, spending most of the season under suspension after being charged with child abuse for whipping his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch. Upon his return in 2015, he was the consensus RB1 among fantasy owners despite the layoff. Last season, Peterson tore his meniscus in Week 2, had surgery, then came back to play one game in mid-December before being shut down. He averaged 1.9 yards on 37 carries behind a dreadful offensive line. Granted, Peterson is older now, he did nothing in limited action last season, and an injury is more worrisome than a suspension with regard to the following year’s performance. But a torn meniscus is hardly a death sentence for an NFL player. Peterson has a phenomenal track record, and he’s joining one of the league’s best offenses. His ADP of RB22 no doubt reflects some uncertainty about how carries will be divided in New Orleans—uncertainty that didn’t exist two years ago when Peterson was in Minnesota. I get it. In fact, I have Peterson ranked RB21 myself. Peterson may yet ascend higher on my board, and as long as his price doesn’t go through the roof the first time we see footage of him breaking a long run in a training camp scrimmage, I’ll try to get him in at least one or two leagues.
There’s a vast range of potential outcomes for Kamara this season. His highlight reel from his University of Tennessee career is well worth Googling, and he’s a highly athletic kid who had the best broad jump and vertical jump among the running backs at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine. But Kamara had only 210 carries in two seasons with the Vols and had fewer than 700 rushing yards both years. With his advanced receiving skills, Kamara could pop if injuries opened a door for him, but he could also spend most of the season languishing on the bench.
|Coby Fleener||TE19||TE13||Pay homage|
Gaffe-prone tight end Coby Fleener gets little respect from fantasy owners, as reflected by his ADP of TE19. Over the last four years, Fleener has finished TE14, TE6, TE21 and, in his first year with the Saints, TE12. We surely haven’t seen the last GIF of a perfectly thrown ball clanking off Fleener’s paws, but now that Cooks has vacated all those targets and Fleener has had more than a calendar year to build rapport with Brees, the oft-maligned tight end looks like a value at his current price. I plan to invest in him heavily (and no doubt curse him repeatedly). Backup Josh Hill received some hype prior to the 2015 season, but Ben Watson was the Saints tight end who went off that year. Hill could yet emerge if Fleener steps in a gopher hole or something.