At the start of the 2014 NFL season, many experts were selecting the New Orleans Saints as the Superbowl champions. Though after an extremely disappointing 7-9 season in a wide, and I mean WIDE open NFC South (Carolina won the division with a 7-8-1 record) and the departure of Pro Bowl Tight End Jimmy Graham to Seattle, the apparent opinion among the fantasy football world is that the stock of the Saints passing game is rapidly falling.
ESPN ranks Brees behind a seriously aging Peyton Manning in their preseason fantasy rankings, and if you take a look at our LTFF group’s rankings, you’ll see that with the exception of a respectable Brandin Cooks ranking, and the running game of Mark Ingram, not many Saints are getting the love that they’re used to.
I’m here to tell you that the notion of a declining Saints offense is WRONG, I say, and I’m going to explain why I’m all in on the Saints despite all of the concerns surrounding them.
S’mores without the Graham
Since he entered the league in 2010, Jimmy Graham has been regarded as a serious force in the NFL and with the fantasy tight end position being a frustrating and shallow pool, Graham became a fantasy star, sometimes drafted in the first rounds of fantasy drafts. And he backed it up!
Three of five NFL seasons he caught double digit TDs and eclipsed the 1,000 yd mark twice. There’s no question that Graham established himself as not only one of the best pass catchers in the league, but arguably the most coveted offensive weapon in the NFL.
I’ve been hearing people say: “The Saints are nothing without Graham”, and the fan base is justifiably worried, but Brees still has the love of the New Orleans faithful. There’s also something else Brees has that Jimmy Graham doesn’t: A Superbowl ring…The Saints don’t NEED Jimmy Graham.
Cool Autumn Brees
Don’t forget. Drew Brees is still really, really good. In that disappointing season last year, Brees still led the NFL with 4,952 passing yards and threw 33 TDs. Take away Graham’s 2014 production and Brees still gets over 4,000 yds and 23 TDs. Now 23 Brees Touchdowns would be extremely uncool, but let’s be honest, Sean Payton will still let Drew Brees sling, and Graham’s 9 targets per game have to go somewhere.
The two games last year where Graham did not have a catch, Brees is a combined 599 yards and 7 TDs. Jimmy Graham is not the “be all, end all” of the Saints offense. Regardless of whether or not you agree with that statement, the Saints only have one division title since Jimmy Graham came to the team in 2010, and won the whole thing the year before that.
It seems obvious that the Saints’ offense with Brees excels with vertical possession WRs, a power running back, and a speedster in the backfield for those check downs. Ok, a surefire touchdown on a Graham fade with 1st & Goal is something that will be missed, but this Saints squad is starting to resemble a supporting cast Brees and Sean Payton are comfortable with, and have had success with in the past.
Here are my 2015 fantasy projections for Drew Brees: 4,560 yds; 35 TDs; 15 INTs
Picking up the Slack
So I’ve made the case for Drew Brees finding success in the post Graham era, but that 900 yards and 10 touchdowns has to go somewhere. With Mark Ingram solidifying himself as the workhorse in the running game, I believe the tandem of Ingram and newly acquired CJ Spiller will prove to be one of the more effective backfields in the NFC this fantasy season.
If Spiller can’t succeed here, I don’t know if I can. He finally breaks free of a tumultuous Buffalo offense, where he rushed for only 300 yards with zero touchdowns, but I think if he stays healthy, the Saints will use him effectively enough to mimic his 2012 campaign that prompted him to be a preseason top 10 back in 2013.
Here are my 2015 projections for the Saints backfield:
Mark Ingram: 1,190 total yds; 11 TDs
CJ Spiller: 1,015 total yds; 7 TDs
As for the New Orleans pass catchers, emerging young star Brandin Cooks is going to be expected to fill most of the void left by Graham. While I don’t think he can dunk on and break a goalpost, I think there will be a huge improvement on his 3 touchdown season.
If you check out our 2015 WR rankings you’ll see I’m obnoxiously high on Cooks this season and even have him in my top 10 at his position. With the excitement that surrounds Cooks, the same amount of concern is centered around veteran receiver Marques Colston, who seems to always fall short of expectations every fantasy season.
In my opinion, Colston is crucial to the Saints success this season. With an underwhelming Josh Morgan as their third receiver, a subpar season from Brees’ most seasoned veteran just won’t cut it. While I don’t think Colston will re-ascend quite into the top 20 at the WR position, I am optimistic that he will be more consistent, and become the “next in line” endzone threat for Brees in the redzone.
I could end up eating some serious crow for this Colston love, something I thought I’d never have, but the heart works in mysterious ways. As far as the Tight End position, I’m not sure Josh Hill is someone you can feel comfortable drafting and starting early in the year. Could someone emerge as a waiver wire star? Sure. But there won’t be enough clarity there until the first few games.
Here are my projections for the Saints receivers:
Brandin Cooks: 1,210 Total yds; 8 TDs
Marques Colston: 930 yds; 7 TDs
My Brain Hurts
Yes, I know this was a tedious article to read on the likes of Marques Colston and CJ Spiller, but I can’t fight this feeling anymore about the Saints offense, and I figured I better explain myself as early as possible.
This will likely be a theme of mine throughout the preseason (and hopefully the regular season). Sometimes the secret to fantasy football success, is going against the grain.
With everyone down on the Saints, stepping back and saying: “Dude they’re still the Saints” could be the difference of you being ahead of the curve on some potential sleepers. I could be wrong and if so I’m sorry, but who knows, without Jimmy Graham the Saints could return to the form they established without him…..champions.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to talk it out. Comment below and let me know if you think I’m an idiot.