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2012 Team Report: New Orleans Saints

Quarterbacks

Starter: Drew Brees
Backup(s): Chase Daniel

Starting QB: Drew Brees is coming off a record-breaking season that included 5,476 yards passing with 46 touchdown passes. His performance last year is among the highest fantasy producing seasons in the history of the league. Brees is a bonafide elite quarterback. He has finished in the Top 5 five of the last six seasons and has completed at least 33 touchdown passes in each of the last four seasons. The upcoming 2012 Saints season is mired in the bounty scandal and although all of the player suspensions were on the defensive side of the ball, there is one big loss, head coach Sean Payton. The absence of Payton, however, won't take away Brees's leadership, accuracy or supporting cast. He is expected to be a top-five quarterback once again, despite the turmoil in New Orleans.

Backup QB: Chase Daniel has just eight career pass attempts for 45 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in his two pro seasons (both with New Orleans). Daniel received a lot of snaps during the preseason and has earned the job as the Saints only backup quarterback to Drew Brees.

Running Backs

Starter: Mark Ingram
Backup(s): Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory, Travaris Cadet [R]
Fullback(s): Jed Collins

Starting RB: By virtue of 12 more carries, Mark Ingram edges out Pierre Thomas as the Saints starting RB, with a healthy contribution from Darren Sproles as well. The Saints led the NFL with 147 receptions to running backs last year (86 by Sproles, 50 by Thomas, and 11 by Ingram). The consensus last year was that first-round pick, and former Heisman winner, Mark Ingram would take over as the primary running back. However, like in years past with Sean Payton-led teams, the running game again featured multiple playmakers sharing the load. Ingram could find himself getting more carries in 2012 with the absence of Payton (suspended for one year) and his tendency to utilize several running backs in the game plan. In his first year, Ingram didn't breakout by any stretch, but he did show glimpses of big play ability. That may become more commonplace in his second year.

Backup RBs: Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles dominated the Saints as receivers out of the backfield combining for 136 receptions. The two backs were often used in multiple offensive formations lining up in several positions including flanker, slot, split wide and of course tailback. The diminutive, yet mighty Darren Sproles was an immediate success, replacing Reggie Bush, who ventured to Miami in 2011. Sproles is expected to be a big part of the offense in 2012 and would be the safer pick between him, Pierre Thomas, and even Mark Ingram. Despite Thomas leading the team last year with 5.1 YPC, he may get squeezed for carries if Ingram continues to excels and finally performs up to expectations.

Fullback: The Saints don't use many formations that include a fullback, but when they do, Jed Collins occupies that role in a quasi FB-TE type of role. Collins is used strictly as a receiver, often running short ranged routes. He scored two touchdowns last year, both in the goal line formation. Sixth year pro Korey Hall rounds out the fullback position in his second year with the Saints after four years with the Packers.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Marques Colston, Devery Henderson
Backups: Lance Moore, Adrian Arrington, Joseph Morgan, Nick Toon [R], Courtney Roby

Starting WRs: Marques Colston re-signed with the Saints in the off season and maintains his place as the team's primary wide receiver threat. He is coming off back-to-back 80+ reception seasons, both with at least 1,000 yards or more receiving with a combined 15 touchdowns. Outside of tight end Jimmy Graham, Colston is the Saints' top down-field target. The departure of Robert Meachem to San Diego opens the door for Devery Henderson to stake his claim as one of the Saints top wide receivers behind Colston. Last year, Henderson started off strong with consecutive 100-yard games with a touchdown in each to begin the season, but he tailed off after that, reaching just 67 yards as a game high and zero scores the rest of the year. Henderson figures to receive a spike in targets who could produce a decent fantasy option as a WR3.

Backup WRs: After Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, Lance Moore has a firm grasp on the WR3 role. Moore has excelled out of the slot position, catching eight touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Moore has been inconsistent and has teetered on the boundary of being an every week fantasy starter, due to his tendency to find the end zone, despite having less than stellar game stats. Moore could see more involvement in 2012, if Devery Henderson struggles to fill the void left by Robert Meachem. The Saints have several options in the passing game, that could also include third-year pro Adrian Arrington, and second-year Joseph Morgan, who is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him in 2011.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jimmy Graham
Backups: David Thomas, Mike Higgins

The writing was on the wall for a breakout season for the Saints young, athletic tight end Jimmy Graham. The tight end position has been a strength for the Saints over the last four years, but last season was the first year in which one tight end was featured, as opposed to multiple players sharing the load at the position. When Jeremy Shockey signed with Carolina last year, it opened the door for Graham to occupy the position by himself, and he did not disappoint, totaling 99 receptions for 1,310 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He was upstaged only by Rob Gronkowski, who enjoyed the greatest season ever by a tight end. Graham led the Saints in targets, receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and 100-yard games. He was by far the best player on the field for the Saints, and nothing suggests that will be any different in 2012. He should be the first or second tight end taken in redraft leagues this year. David Thomas is entering his seventh year in the league, three with New England and the last three with the Saints. Last year his season was cut short after being shelved in November with a concussion that forced him to injured reserve. He expects to be back in 2012 as the team's backup tight end behind all-world Jimmy Graham. Thomas won't have a big role, but he will see time in two-TE sets and could produce an occasional touchdown. He has four career scores, three with New Orleans. Last year Michael Higgins replaced Thomas when he was placed on injured reserve, but only managed one reception for four yards in the regular season. Unless injuries affect the team's tight end structure, Higgins should see only minimal action.

Place Kicker

Garrett Hartley : Garrett Hartley has yet to kick a full season in his four year NFL career. He missed last year with a hip injury, but is reportedly fully recovered. Uber-veteran John Kasay filled in last year and did well -- hitting 28 of 34 (82.4%) field goals and adding 63 PATs. In a slightly surprising move, the team re-signed him in late April. Hartley held off the challenge and retained the job.. Thomas Morstead will again handle the punting, kickoffs and holding. Justin Drescher is back at long snapper. The Saints have bounced in and out of the top ten, ranking 2nd, 11th, 4th, and 14th in attempted kicking points the past four years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Courtney Roby

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Saints have an excellent all around return specialist in RB Darren Sproles, and trusted him to return every punt and 40 out of 42 kick offs last season. RB Pierre Thomas and WR Courtney Roby will serve as reserve kick returners.

Punt Returners: Darren Sproles, Courtney Roby

Should something happen to Sproles in the punt return game, the Saints will likely turn to Roby who was re-signed this off-season.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Ben Grubbs, C Brian De La Puente, RG Jahri Evans, RT Zach Strief
Key Backups: T Charles Brown, T Marcel Jones [R], G Eric Olsen, C Matt Tennant

PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Right guard Jahri Evans is tough, smart, and athletic - an outstanding all-around player. Evans has three All-Pro selections on his resume. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod is an extremely consistent and reliable pass protector, having made his first Pro Bowl in 2011. Left guard Ben Grubbs steps in for the departing Carl Nicks, but there shouldn't be a huge dropoff at the position, as Grubbs was also a 2011 Pro Bowl starter. Center Brian de la Puente was a bit of a journeyman prior to the Saints, employed by five teams in only three seasons, but the coaches like his game. De la Puente comes from a California program that recently has produced many quality offensive linemen. Right tackle Charles Brown is basically being given the job based on his draft slot as a former second-round pick. Brown was a talented pass protector out of Southern Cal but has had his career path slowed by injuries. Swing tackle Zach Strief is last year's starting right tackle and could easily reassume that job should Brown falter. Fenuki Tupou and seventh-round pick Marcel Jones are possible swing tackles and sixth round selection Andrew Tiller will likely backup Evans at right guard. The overall depth of this line is very good. Line coach Aaron Kromer is known as one of the league's better line coaches. The cohesion score is lower due to only three out of five returning starters at the same position, but as these players learn each other's tendencies, look for this group to be among the league's best pass blocking units.

Team Defense

Can the Saints recover from bounty-gate and produce respectable fantasy numbers from a Def/ST standpoint? Even before the suspensions were handed out, New Orleans had just 16 takeaways last year (second worst only to PIT, who managed just 15). They had the third worst pass defense at 259.8 YPG, but managed a respectable 33 sacks. LB Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the whole season, however the Saints signed free agent Curtis Lofton, who is a very legitimate replacement. In addition to Lofton, OLB David Hawthorne and DT Brodrick Bunkley were also signed in the off season. The combination of these three free agents will improve the Saints on defense. DE Will Smith will be suspended for four games and will be difficult to replace during that time, but will his absence play a big role in the success or failure of this team's fantasy prospects? Probably not. The secondary will essentially be the same as last year and the Saints had just 9 INTs. Jonathan Vilma accounted for four of the team's seven fumble recoveries and of course he will not be with the team in 2012. The Saints were not a good fantasy Def/ST last year and likely won't take that big of a leap this year, especially with all of the changes in players and the coaching staff. Consider them a team that will be lucky to finish in the Top 20.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Sedrick Ellis, DT Brodrick Bunkley, DE Will Smith (suspended), DE Cameron Jordan
Backups: DE Junior Galette, DE Turk McBride, DT Akiem Hicks, DE Martez Wilson

Starting DL: The Saints defensive line has taken a significant hit with the loss of veteran DE Will Smith due to the bounty scandal punishments. That suspension -- currently at four games -- is not a complete deterrent to take Smith in your drafts, but it knocks him down a couple of rounds. Smith registered seven sacks and 19 tackles last season and can usually be relied upon as a DL3. In his stead, second-year player Cameron Jordan will be expected to contribute more by the coaching staff, and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo especially. Jordan was exception in run defense last season. He is likely to stay at LDE and anchor, leading to more tackle opportunities. Jordan will be a decent replacement option at DE in the first few weeks of the season. At defensive tackle, the Saints invested in another big body with the signing of Brodrick Bunkley from Denver. Bunkley, an instrumental part of Denver's tough run defense, will be a welcome addition for the Saints, who have struggled to plug the middle for many years. Bunkley had an impressive 40 solo tackles last season and there is no reason why he cannot reproduce that in New Orleans. Bunkley is a DT1 in leagues that start them. Sedrick Ellis tailed off after a solid start in 2011. His value in fantasy leagues is negligible now that Bunkley has joined this line.

Backup DL: The Saints lack any type of quality depth on their defensive line, meaning the absence of Smith will hurt them. Junior Galette will be the primary replacement option at DE, but it may be a committee with Galette and Turk McBride rotating in. No backup defensive lineman is worth considering in fantasy leagues.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Curtis Lofton, MLB Barrett Ruud, OLB David Hawthorne
Backups: MLB Jonathan Vilma (suspended), OLB Jonathan Casillas, OLB Scott Shanle

Starting LBs: At linebacker the Saints are in a much better position than they were a year ago. The signings of Curtis Lofton, Barrett Ruud and David Hawthorne will dramatically improve this run defense, coupled with the signing of Brodrick Bunkley on the defensive line. Curtis Lofton comes from Atlanta where he was a perennial top ten linebacker. Nothing should change in New Orleans. Lofton could even be a top five linebacker. He has a knack for finding the football and his coverage skills are very solid. He is a definite top tier LB in all league formats. David Hawthorne is slotted to play the WLB position and will stay on the field on third down. Hawthorne may never reach the heights of his 2009 campaign again, but an 80+ solo tackle season is well within his reach. If you miss on Lofton in your drafts, Hawthorne is an excellent consolation prize. Martez Wilson, the second-year LB, will see playing time but only on base downs. Wilson rarely played last season, possibly owing to the lack of familiarity with the playbook following the lockout. He is not a certainty to win this job, however, so keep a close eye on training camp reports. Update 8/22: David Hawthorne may miss the first few weeks of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery. Curtis Lofton suffered a high ankle sprain, although interim coach Joe Vitt believes he will be good to go in Week 1.

Backup LBs: The Saints have decent to above average backup options at linebacker, notably Jonathan Casillas and Scott Shanle. Shanle in particular has played a lot of snaps for this team, including last season when he played over 900. Casillas projects better to the weakside, but will compete for the SLB position along with Shanle.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jabari Greer, CB Patrick Robinson, FS Malcolm Jenkins, SS Roman Harper
Backups: CB Johnny Patrick, S Jonathan Amaya

Starting DBs: The Saints defensive backfield is normally a productive one in IDP circles. At safety, Roman Harper is a perennial top ten option at safety and last season went over the 80-tackle mark. Harper excels in run defense and added nine sacks to his resume last season as well. Harper will once again be a very good option at S in all league formats. His tackle numbers could take a dip with better linebackers ahead of him, but don't let that put you off too much. Malcolm Jenkins never leaves the field for the Saints and racked up over 70 tackles last season. Jenkins is a solid DB2 in most league formats. At cornerback, Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson could be a good tandem again as they were last season. Greer is the more trustworthy in terms of fantasy production and should be used as a DB2.

Backup DBs: No backup option is worth considering in fantasy leagues.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 20:19:35

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