The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Next up, the New Orleans Saints.
The New Orleans Saints were one of the clear best teams in the NFL in 2018. Drew Brees had another excellent season, Alvin Kamara was a revelation, Michael Thomas lived up to his moniker of “CantGuardMike,” and the defense showed out at times as well. Their season, however, came to a controversial end in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Rams.
This team is replete with fantasy goodies, but it also begs the question: How much more can we expect from Drew Brees, and how high will Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas go in fantasy drafts?
What does Drew Brees have left?
Drew Brees, who surely once shared a bottle of rum with famed French pirate Jean Lafitte, is set to enter his age-40 season. TRUE or FALSE: Using Yahoo default scoring, the future Hall of Famer finishes the 2019 season QB7 or higher.
Brad: FALSE. Due to New Orleans’ increased respectability on defense and dedication toward the run, long gone are the days of Brees’ incessant bombardments. Since his 673 pass attempt peak logged in 2016, he’s exhibited far more conservative outputs, evidenced by his sharp volume declines in 2017 (537) and again in 2018 (489 in 15 games). Though Sean Peyton is still at the controls, this isn’t the Saints’ “(Expletive) it and Chuck it” approach of yesteryear.
Well-protected and still highly efficient — Brees ranked No. 5 or higher in four different completion percentage categories last season — he very much remains a QB1 in 12-team formats. However, with the rise of several dual-threat QBs (e.g., Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, etc.), the traditional pocket passer is no longer a top-five or even top-10 QB lock. Roughly 4,200 passing yards with 28-30 TDs should be expected for my projected QB9.
Liz: He’s my QB8, just below Matt Ryan, so I guess FALSE, but it’s close. There’s no denying that Brees’ play slipped down the stretch of 2018. Averaging under 215 passing yards and 6.3 YPA, the Saints’ signal caller only managed three TDs (while also throwing three INTs) over his final four regular season efforts.
His numbers rebounded in the postseason, but his performances were far from crisp and/or dominant. For example, when facing both the Eagles and Rams in November, Brees played two ultra-clean games, taking zero sacks, and managed four scores apiece. Yet in January against the same rivals, he had an INT, took two sacks, and passed for only two scores per tilt. That decline isn’t particularly alarming for a player of Brees’ caliber … but it is a decline.
Heading into 2019, the Walk-On’s owner will continue to rely upon the hyper-efficient Michael Thomas (85% catch rate, WR1) while Alvin Kamara scores all of the TDs (18, RB2) and evades all of the tackles (74, RB7). Finally abandoning the Josh Hill experiment and adding Jared Cook (who averaged 12 fantasy points per game last year) should help Brees continue to move the chains. But this is morphing into a small(ish) ball offense. With an improving defense and weapons that excel in the short-to-intermediate passing game, Brees’ deep ball attempts should only continue to decline (QB9 in 2017 to QB19 in 2018).
Look at the deeeeetails!
Exploding onto the scene, consensus top-three RB Alvin Kamara tallied 1,554 and 1,587 total yards in 2017 and 2018, respectively. OVER or UNDER 1,599.5 combined yards this fall for the third-year rusher?
Brad: UNDER. This isn’t a jab at Kamara. He belongs in the conversation for a top-four overall pick alongside Saquon Barkley, Zeke Elliott, and Christian McCaffrey. Though his secondary analytics don’t tell the full story — RB51 in broken tackle percentage (12.9), RB36 in YAC per attempt (2.75) — anyone with functioning cornea can plainly see how he lives in the Matrix. His balance, awareness and lightning-quick adjustments are superhuman. So are his insane off-season workouts.
With Mark Ingram in Baltimore, the assumption is Kamara will suddenly revert to the 22.5-touch-per-game back witnessed Weeks 1-4 last season. His workload will likely increase, but it’s doubtful he’ll transform into a full-fledged beast of burden. Latavius Murray will siphon upwards of 10-11 touches per game. AK will grab another five-six receptions per game, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll exceed 15-plus carries per contest. It’s not in the Saints’ best interest to drive their most explosive offensive weapon into the ground. Tally it up and I say Kamara finishes just shy of the proposed line.
Andy: OVER, perhaps by a lot. Kamara has averaged 101.5 scrimmage yards per game over two seasons, so we’re not asking him to do anything he hasn’t already done. If he plays all 16 games and handles last year’s workload (18.3 touches/game), he probably cruises past this number. Kamara is the featured back in an absurdly efficient offense, and he runs behind an exceptional O-line. Everything about this setup suggests he has the potential for an 800/800 season. Latavius Murray’s arrival isn’t some value-altering issue for Kamara, because this team’s backfield was already a two-man committee.
Bottom line, Kamara needs to be selected in the first half of the first round in pretty much every draft. He’s a lock for 80-plus receptions and 100-or-so yards per game, assuming good health. And if he picks up a few of Ingram’s old touches, he has a shot at 1800 total yards.
TAKE IT TO THE BLANK
This fall, Michael Thomas finishes _____ in the .5 PPR wide receiver pecking order.
Andy: My ranks say SIXTH, so let’s go with that. But really, wherever you slot Thomas, the important thing to recognize is that he’s a clear upper-tier fantasy receiver tied to the most accurate passer in NFL history. If you want to select him as high as, say, WR3, you’ll get no strong argument from me. He’s excellent. His catch percentage last year (85.0) was just stupid — the sort of rate you’d expect from a running back, not a wideout. For me, Thomas is one of seven receivers who could plausibly lead the position in half-PPR scoring.
Liz: FIFTH. On the most recent episode of the Yahoo Fantasy Football Podcast, Matt Harmon swooned over Thomas’ #ReceptionPerception numbers, remarking that the former Buckeye’s Success Rate Versus Man Coverage reached an all-time high of 82.2 percent. Thomas was also the WR1 in Success Rate Versus Zone Coverage and the WR2 in Success Rate Versus Press Coverage. An expert separator and route runner, Thomas’ polish additionally bears out in a pristine catch rate of 85 percent (WR1). He’s my WR5 just behind Julio Jones and OBJ.
Best Ball Bargain Bin
Brad: LATAVIUS MURRAY. Pilfering touchdowns is what the goal-line gremlin does best. Different from his days in Oakland and Minnesota, New Orleans presents Murray’s finest chance to do exactly that. Last season, the Saints ranked third in red-zone scoring attempts, averaging 4.2 per game. Undoubtedly, the rusher will have ample opportunity to trip over a shoelace and fall into the end zone.
Kamara is the unquestioned lead dog, but his terrier complement should post feisty numbers in the range of 700-750 total yards with six-eight scores. At an RB35 (77.3 ADP) cost, Murray is more than serviceable.
Liz: Meh, how about TRE’QUAN SMITH? Sure, outside of a few flashes (Weeks 5 and 11), Smith’s 2018 was mostly disappointing, but he was also a rookie. Heading into 2019, Brees has already spoken about the “high expectations” he has for Smith. With Ted Ginn entering his age-34 season and coming off an injury-riddled year, Smith has an opportunity to ascend a Saints depth chart that is lacking in deep threats. Here’s to hoping he takes a route-running intensive from teammate Michael Thomas.
Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook): New Orleans 10.5 wins OVER (+115) or UNDER (-135)
Brad: UNDER. Still fuming over last year’s missed PI, the Saints are highly motivated to return to the NFC Championship. They’re a clear playoff team and title contender, but with the 13th-hardest schedule according to projected Vegas win totals, a 10-6 finish seems most realistic.
Andy: OVER. This squad is among the clear Super Bowl favorites, and — no matter how Evans tries to frame it — Drew Brees is coming off an MVP-level season. The Saints clearly have 12- or 13-win potential.
Stay tuned for more Fantasy Football team previews!
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Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF
Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens