We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 14th-ranked New Orleans Saints.
1. The Drew Brees era is over, and the Saints offense could look very different depending on which quarterback starts. Between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, who are you rooting for to win the battle in the preseason, and, if you had to bet, who do you think starts more games for the Saints in 2021?
Scott: For fantasy purposes, it would be better if Hill won the job because it's plausible that Hill then would have the position to himself. I cannot imagine a Winston-led situation that wouldn't still incorporate Hill into some packages, and that would create lots of frustrating fantasy questions. I suspect both quarterbacks will make multiple starts, to the point that I'm not targeting either player at the draft table. Never forget one simple rule: Sean Payton's favorite member of the New Orleans offense is Sean Payton.
Dalton: I’m drafting Hill, who has a lower ADP and higher fantasy upside. He needs to improve his fumbling issues, but Hill’s eight rushing scores during limited action last season reveal top-12 fantasy QB upside if he becomes the full-time starter. Hill looked plenty capable as a passer last season too. Winston, who’s as unafraid to throw a pick-six as any QB in the league, would be better fantasy news for Alvin Kamara (and probably Michael Thomas) should he take over as the starter, so it depends on which Saints you’re rostering in fantasy leagues. There’s a real chance both see regular action, further clouding things.
Matt: I will not be among the wide contingent of fantasy folks “rooting” for Jameis Winston to win this job. His place at QB1 might well lead to a situation more friendly to stats compilation. However, his overall volatility doesn’t just offend my football senses but also makes him a difficult player to bet on over the course of a full season. I wouldn’t advise anyone to just project the points carnival environment in New Orleans that Winston produced for the 2019 Bucs — an effort that ultimately got him replaced — just because he’s the starter. The outlook for the Saints offense would certainly shift depending on who among Winston and Taysom Hill starts, I’m just not convinced it’s an extreme transformation. Even if Winston does get the nod to start Week 1, you would have to expect to see plenty of Hill under center, as well. Sean Payton might just be wild enough to try to truly roll out a college football-style dual quarterback offense.
2. Alvin Kamara finished as the No. 1 scoring RB in fantasy last year, thanks to a legendary playoff run. How early would you draft him in Round 1, and why?
Matt: I’m right in line with the ADP market on Alvin Kamara. He should be a top-five or top-six overall pick in every single draft. We certainly understand that either quarterback is a downgrade for this offense. Winston is not the savvy, layup-conscious passer Drew Brees was and is going to lead a shakier offense than the future Hall of Famer did. Hill is more likely to take off running than dump the ball down to Kamara. But that understanding is already baked into his current ADP. If Brees was back this season and Kamara was coming off his RB1 overall season from 2020, he’d be in contention for the top overall pick. As things stand, he’s not in that discussion. No need to count the downgrade twice.
Dalton: He scored 21 touchdowns last season, so there’s no way Kamara isn’t a top-10 pick in any format. However, I have him about 3-4 spots lower than ADP, as I’d take Ezekiel Elliott, Cam Akers, and Nick Chubb ahead of him, which would likely be considered controversial. Kamara has never run for 1,000 yards and is likely to see a big decrease in targets with Drew Brees gone. He’s also not played a full season since his rookie year, but that’s nitpicking. He’s still a fantasy star.
Scott: I'm slightly under the ADP market on Kamara, concerned that Winston might not be the best fit for his abilities, and Hill's running chops could steal too many of the easy touchdowns. To be fair, Kamara is a high-profile pick on anyone's board, but there are some analysts and managers who might take him third or fourth overall in a standard or PPR league. That won't be me.
3. Michael Thomas followed up his legendary 2019 season with a disappointing 2020 riddled by injuries. Now healthy, is his fourth-round ranking just right, too high, or too low?
Dalton: My ranking suggests Thomas won’t be on any of my fantasy teams this year, which has more to do with the obvious uncertainty at QB than Brees' retirement. Thomas failed to reach double-digit touchdowns (and never has) while seeing 185 targets in 2019, so I’m not treating him as a WR1 now approaching 30, coming off an injury-plagued year, and with Brees no longer targeting him more than any receiver in the league. Not to mention, wide receiver is absolutely loaded in fantasy right now.
Scott: Thomas is going slightly later in early Yahoo drafts than he is in the NFFC world, so enjoy the minor discount. But given the quarterback situation here (I suspect both guys will play a lot) and Thomas' mercurial personality (you want your best wideout to have a strong ego, but it's possible for it to go too far), I'm going to walk away from the daydreams of 2019. Thomas is no longer is a fantasy destination of mine, and I suspect the Saints might look to wash their hands of him in a year or two.
Matt: Michael Thomas is a total value right now. There’s a weird narrative that Michael Thomas only runs slants and for some reason, that’s a bad thing. As if Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, or any other even replacement-level quarterback can’t throw a slant route for crying out loud.
Furthermore, watch some football, people — Thomas can run more than slant routes.
Perhaps he was only targeted on so many slant routes the last two years because his ascension into his prime years happened to overlap with the rapid decline of his Hall of Fame quarterback’s arm strength. Thomas is a truly elite wide receiver and those players don’t just lose volume or stay confined to one area of the field. And same as with Kamara, all of the “risk” you’d be assuming by drafting this player has already been baked into ADP. Thomas has consistently outkicked expectations and shattered the limitations people have wanted to put on his game since entering the league. I’ll gladly join him for the journey of doing it one more time in 2021 by drafting him when he falls to me.
New Orleans Saints projected 2021 fantasy contributors
QB: Jameis Winston / Taysom Hill
RB: Alvin Kamara / Latavius Murray
WR: Michael Thomas / Tre'Quan Smith
TE: Adam Trautman / Nick Vannett
New Orleans Saints O/U on 9 team win total from BetMGM
Scott: It's probably a no-play for me, but if forced, I would lean towards the UNDER. Per Football Outsiders DVOA, the Saints had the league's best defense last year, but defensive efficiency isn't as year-over-year sticky as offensive efficiency, and the mistake-free play of Drew Brees also helped the defense. I suspect the offense will have some growing pains with the new QB, while the defense will obviously take a step back. Tampa Bay is the clear NFC South favorite, and although the Saints should be a competitive team, I don't see them making the playoffs.
Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon
Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski
Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB