Jazz, craziness on Bourbon Street, Drew Brees 30-TD seasons – the more things change, the more they stay the same in New Orleans. In this edition of ‘The Stance,’ Brad Evans and Dalton Del Don bare it all and throw beads at the Saints’ most intriguing fantasy commodities.
Climbing rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas was heavenly in his preseason debut catching four balls for 64 yards. A deafening buzz has surrounded the youngster since he was selected with the 47th overall pick in last May’s NFL Draft. BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Thomas greatly outperforms his 106.5 ADP (WR50), hauls in at least six touchdowns and tucks inside the WR top-40 in Year 1.
Dalton – MAKE BELIEVE. Thomas clearly has talent, evidenced by this sick catch during his pro debut, and a half dozen scores certainly isn’t out of the question. But I have him as my WR49 right now, so I can’t say I’m expecting him to greatly outperform his ADP. Thomas will have his moments and make highlight reels, and his long-term future is bright, but there’s a good chance he’s no better than the fourth or maybe even fifth option in New Orleans’ passing attack during his first year in the league. Cooks, Fleener, Snead and Ingram are all going to see a healthy amount of targets. There could be some growing pains for a young receiver with just 113 career catches in college.
Brad – BELIEVE. Drawing rave reviews from locals earlier this month, Thomas hit the national stage in his first preseason game and captured the hearts of fantasy drafters. The hype is real. His length, sick ball-tracking skills and plus athleticism complement plucky Brandin Cooks beautifully. The only doubts cast on Thomas during the NFL draft was how quickly he would absorb the offense. So far, he’s answered even his harshest critics.
In 2006, Marques Colston, as a rookie, emerged from the deepest depths to tally a 70-1038-8 line. Now filling the former Saint’s role, Thomas has a legitimate shot of at least flirting with a similar output. Keep in mind, New Orleans has averaged 660 pass attempts per year since 2009. If the rookie’s momentum continues over the next couple weeks, he should lock down a starting gig and likely coax some 105-115 targets this season. For now, a total around 60-825-6 is close to the floor.
There’s some debate Mark Ingram doesn’t deserve an RB1 designation in 12-team leagues despite finishing No. 8 at the position in fantasy points per game. Is it SMART or SILLY to shell out a top-30 pick (26.4 ADP, RB9) for the Saints plowshare?
Dalton – SMART. Thanks to suddenly becoming a major receiving threat, Ingram totaled 1,174 yards over just 12 games last season. His 29 carries inside the five-yard line over the past two years are the second most in the NFL (Chris Ivory leads with 30), and that’s with him missing seven games. Durability remains a legit concern for Ingram, but he’s still just 26 years old and the clear feature back in a potent offense. If he can maintain last year’s gains as a receiver, there’s top-five RB upside here, making Ingram an easy call as a top-30 overall pick.
Brad – SMART. Not long ago, I was Ingram’s staunchest critic. His knack for injuries, horrendous yards per carry and minimized role in the pass game soured his overall profile. However, now an integral receiver out of the backfield, tough between the tackles and one of the more evasive RBs in the game (No. 6 in juke percentage in ’15), he’s left any Trent Richardson analogies in the dust. Yes, missing a game or three is a distinct possibility, but without much competition around him and being a key cog in an explosive offense, he’s worth every penny inside the top-30.
Drew Brees drew some criticism last season due to a high volume of wounded ducks. Noodle-y or not, he still set the league pace in passing yards (4,870) and finished inside the position’s top-six for an almost unbelievable 10th consecutive season. OVER or UNDER Brees’ final QB rank this fall 5.5. (UNDER means inside top-5; OVER, outside)
Dalton – OVER. I’m really confident in the consensus top-four (Newton, Rodgers, Luck and Wilson in some order), and since I then get the field vs. Brees for that fifth spot, I’ll take the over here. He’s 37 years old, was extremely ordinary on the road last season (7.0 YPA, 9:6 TD:INT ratio over seven games) and has to face the Broncos, Seahawks and Panthers at home in 2016, so the schedule does Brees no favors. He’ll remain plenty productive (a horrendous Saints defense certainly helps the volume), but the safest bet is a finish outside the top-five this season. A fifth round pick can be much better spent.
Brad – UNDER. Skeptics have expressed considerable cynicism toward Brees due to his eroding arm strength, but at his advanced age and in an offense he could command in his sleep, he should keep his top-six streak alive. The additions of Thomas and Coby Fleener and given the Saints’ question marks on defense, especially with DT Sheldon Rankins on the shelf for the next 6-8 weeks, all arrow to another 600-plus attempts. He’s also still one of the game’s most accurate (68.4 cmp% in ’15) and most aggressive deep-ball throwers. Eerily consistent like death, taxes and Ryan Locthe’s idiocy, Brees is sure to crank out another 4,500-plus yards and 30-plus TDs.