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2018 Team Report: New Orleans Saints
Offensive PhilosophySean Payton's offenses have historically been pass-first, pass-second, and sometimes even pass-third, though it's unclear how much of that was a product of personal preference and how much was a desire to make up for atrocious defenses; the 2017 Saints' defense was the best of his tenure, and the offense was simultaneously the most run-heavy. Even when the offense is passing, though, it runs through the running backs. No coach in history has called more passes per game to his backs, which has resulted in a decade of dominating PPR performances despite his preference to split the work among a committee.
QuarterbacksStarter: Drew Brees
Backup(s): Tom Savage Starting QB: Free Agent Drew Brees gave the Saints a home town discount signing back with the team on a two-year $50 Million contract, with only $27 Million guaranteed. It was reported that at least one team offered $60 Million. He is very comfortable in the City of New Orleans and fits exceedingly well in Sean Payton's offense. It is going to be an exciting season in New Orleans as he approaches and likely sets the NFL record for career passing yards. Brees again led the NFL last season in completion percentage (72%) and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, but dropped back to the pack with only 537 pass attempts (9th), 4,334 yards (4th) and 23 touchdowns (11th). His 537 attempts were the lowest in his twelve seasons in New Orleans, when he played all 16 games. In fact, over the previous seven seasons, he had averaged 656 passing attempts or 7 more passes per game than he threw last year. Brees' 23 passing touchdowns and 4,334 passing yards were also season lows for him with the Saints. He finished as QB10 in Footballguys.com scoring, his lowest ranking since 2004. Even with his decreased production, Brees still led the NFL last season in completions. He remains an iron man for the Saints, missing only 2 games in 12 years. Even though he turned 39 in January, his play has remained elite. The 2018 season will mark the first time in the past four seasons that Brees has not lost his top receiver. In successive years beginning in 2015, he lost Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Brandin Cooks. Last season's decreased reliance on the passing game was the by-product of both a stronger running game and a greatly improved defense. The Saints ranked 5th in rushing a year ago, where they had finished no higher than 13th and three times below 24th over the previous five seasons. The defense had finished no better than 27th over that same period and rose to 17th last season. Perhaps the Saints heavy reliance on their passing game was mandated more than preferred. Backup QB: Tom Savage signed a one-year $1.5 Million contract in March this year to be Drew Brees' back-up. Savage began the 2017 season as Houston's starting quarterback, but his mediocre play allowed the Texans to begin the Deshaun Watson era mid-way through the season opener. Savage returned following Watson' knee injury, but without much success and was placed on IR after suffering a concussion in week 14. Savage should not anticipate playing in 2018 since Brees is so reliable.
Running BacksStarter: Alvin Kamara & Mark Ingram (susp)
Backup(s): Jonathan Williams, Boston Scott [R], Daniel Lasco, Trey Edmunds, Terrance West
Fullback(s): Zach Line Starting RB: Alvin Kamara, the Saints' third round pick last year excelled in Coach Sean Payton's offense and was named the 2017 Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. Kamara had more carries (120) for more yards (728) and more receptions (82) for more yards (826) with the Saints than he had collegiately at Tennessee. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and over 10.0 yards per reception. Kamara had better production for the Saints as a rookie than either Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles in any of their seasons. He began the season primarily as the receiving back and averaged under four rushes per game through the first four games. However, for the remainder of the season he averaged 8.8 rushes per game. Despite Ingram's potential suspension, he may not see many more touches than that, but he will be the first option as long as Ingram is out and possibly after he returns. Prior to Ingram's announced suspension, the two should have each been considered the Saints lead running backs. Kamara's potential has climbed above Ingram's with the suspension. Mark Ingram has played seven seasons in the NFL, all with the Saints. Even though his skill set seems fitted for a heavy work load, it has not yet happened. Ingram set a career high in carries with 230 in 2017, despite sometimes playing a secondary role to Alvin Kamara. Ingram also played all 16 games for the second year in a row, and the third time in his career. With his impending suspicion, he will not play 16 games in 2018. Perhaps the most surprising Ingram statistic from last year was that he set a career high in receptions with 58. The same player that caught only 24 passes during his first three seasons with New Orleans tied for the 8th most receptions by a running back last year. Ingram who had not rushed for 1,000 yards in any of his first five seasons has now topped that mark two years in a row, while averaging 5.0 ypc. Ingram's suspension also hurts his future earning potential as he is playing in the final year of the four-year $16 Million he signed in March 2015. Ingram should remain a part of the successful tandem from last season, but how the Saints operate during his absence could signal future changes, possibly even before his contract runs out. Backup RBs: Last season there was minimal career production behind Ingram. This season's back-ups continue that pattern and now with the upcoming Ingram suspension, someone from this group's chances of playing significantly increased, unless the Saints sign another running back to fill the void. Jonathan Williams, drafted in the fifth round in 2016 only produced 94 total yards in his rookie campaign in Buffalo and missed the entire 2017 season. Williams' last success was at Arkansas, when he rushed 1,190 yards and scored 14 touchdowns as a junior in 2014. He missed his entire senior season at Arkansas after a left foot injury in August. He also missed all of last season after he had a minor knee injury in camp and then spent time on practice squads. Boston Scott, drafted in the sixth round this year had a solid senior year at Lousiana Tech, but seems better suited for a special team's role as a returner. Daniel Lasco was drafted in the seventh round in 2016 and has only played in ten games over his two seasons with the Saints. All his statistics came in his rookie season where he had 11 rushes and two receptions for 43 total yards. Trey Edmunds was an undrafted free agent last year and only had carries in a single game his rookie season. In that one game, he had nine carries for 48 yards and a touchdown. The Saints back-up running back experience is indeed sparse. Fullback: Zach Line signed as an undrafted free agent with Minnesota in 2013. In four years with the Vikings, Line started 10 games and had 13 carries for 25 yards and 7 receptions. He played in 12 games last year with the Saints, starting four and totaled only 7 carries for 28 yards. He also caught two passes for 8 yards and scored one touchdown. Line may possibly vulture a goal line touchdown or two, but will have no fantasy value.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn
Backups: Cameron Meredith, Brandon Coleman, Tre'Quan Smith [R] Starting WRs: The Saints drafted Michael Thomas (6'3" and 212 pounds) in the 2nd round in 2016. He earned Brees' confidence early and had a team leading 92 catches for 1,137 yards and 9 TDs in his rookie campaign. Thomas' successful rookie season prompted the Saints to trade Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for the 32nd pick last year. Thomas improved his production in his second year, again leading the team in reception with 104, in receiving yards with 1,245 and he tied Kamara with 5 receiving touchdowns. In his two seasons with the Saints, he has converted more first downs than all but two NFL wide receivers, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans. Thomas lacks break-away speed, but he is Drew Brees' favorite target by far and is primed to have his third straight productive season with the Saints. He should easily be Brees' primary target in 2018. He led the team in targets in his rookie season and then dominated targets last season. Thomas has averaged 98 catches and almost 1,200 yards over his first two seasons. Ted Ginn signed a three-year $11 Million contract with New Orleans in March 2017. Ginn was an effective second receiver, but for fantasy he was best suited for best ball. He only had one game with over 100 yards receiving and only had three games with over four receptions. He did average 14.8 yards per catch so he continued to stretch the field and clear out the middle for the running backs. Ginn, the 9th overall pick from the 2007 draft turned 33 this off-season and may not be able to maintain his speed and high yards per catch average much longer. He should remain involved in the offense in 2018, particularly when the Saints employ three wide receivers, but could lose snaps to newcomers Cameron Meredith and Tre'Quan Smith. Backup WRs: Cameron Meredith signed a two-year $9.6 Million contract in April. He only played two seasons at wide receiver for Illinois State after playing quarterback in high school and college. He missed all of last season, but was the Bears' leading receiver in 2016, catching passes from the quarterback trio of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and Jay Cutler. Despite his lack of playing experience, he is a solid route runner and if healthy will be a good fit for the Saints. Meredith could challenge for the third receiver this season. Brandon Coleman primarily played in the slot in 2017 and he again re-signed with the team in late April, likely for a league minimum contract. He has been with the Saints since 2014, but has failed to live up to expectations. His career year was as a rookie with 30 receptions for 454 yards. The only bright spot for Coleman is that he has scored 8 touchdowns on his 79 career receptions. Coleman, an unsigned free agent should not be more than a role player in 2018, if he can manage to make the final roster. Tre'Quan Smith was selected in the third round of this year's draft as the tenth wide receiver. He is an athletic 6'-2" wide receiver who played collegiately at Central Florida. He caught more than 50 passes in each of his three seasons there and his yards per catch and touchdowns climbed dramatically from 13.9 ypc and 4 touchdowns as a freshman to 19.8 ypc and 13 touchdowns as a junior. Smith should climb the depth chart during training camp and could easily see the field as a rookie for the Saints and might develop into a regular in three wide sets if Meredith is slow to recover.
Tight EndsStarters: Ben Watson
Backups: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui Ben Watson signed a one year contract with the Saints in late March. He previously played with the team from 2013-2015 and was their second leading receiver in 2015 with 74 receptions. Watson, a very intelligent player enters his 15th NFL season at the age of 37. It seems doubtful that he can be a consistent producer this year, but he was largely written off in 2014 and still caught over 60 passes in two of the three last seasons. His 2015 production is by far the best the Saints have had from the tight end position since Jimmy Graham. Josh Hill signed a three-year $7.1 Million also in 2016 and despite Fleener's poor play, has not overtaken him. Hill is another undrafted free agent, who originally joined the Saints in 2013. His 2018 salary is only $2.0 Million and he made the roster over Fleener as the cheaper depth option. Hill enters his 6th NFL season, all with the Saints and has great familiarity with the offense. Hoomanawanui is a journeyman tight end who has played with three teams over his eight NFL seasons, never topping 13 receptions in a season and is rarely used as a receiver.
Place KickerWil Lutz: The Saints surprise move to keep Wil Lutz as their kicker in 2016 continued to pay dividends in 2017, and fantasy owners who relied on Lutz also reaped the benefits. He posted his second straight top seven kicker scoring finish, fueled by his second straight year with 50 extra point attempts and a bump of two more field goal attempts and three more made field goals. Lutz also went from 3-7 from 50+ yards in 2016 to 4-5 in 2017, another sign that he is coming into his own as a kicker. With this early track record and the enviable role of cleaning up for one of the best offenses in the league and 11 indoor games in 2018, Lutz is worth a pick in the top five kickers off of the board.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Tommylee Lewis, Ted Ginn Jr., Alvin Kamara It's been a long time since he was roundly derided as a bust; Ted Ginn has managed to carve out a long career as a return specialist and situational deep threat spanning 11 years and five franchises. He faces tough competition in 2018, though, from Tommylee Lewis, who led the team in total returns in 2017, and the electric Alvin Kamara, who led in kickoff return yardage. Punt Returners: Tommylee Lewis, Ted Ginn Jr. Long a fixture on special teams, 2017 might have seen Ted Ginn Jr. pass the torch. Ginn led the team in punt return attempts, but averaged the lowest yards per return total of his 11-year career and finished behind former undrafted free agent Tommylee Lewis in punt return yards.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, RT Ryan Ramczyk
Key Backups: Rick Leonard [R], Jermon Bushrod, Bryce Harris, Will Clapp Left tackle Terron Armstead only started ten games last season but when healthy he's a good starter. Left guard Andrus Peat is listed on the roster as a tackle but can be a Pro Bowl caliber player if allowed to play inside. Center Max Unger remains the alpha dog on a line full of candidates for the job. Right guard Larry Warford is a road grading blocker and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk also plays with a bad attitude. The team re-acquired Jermon Bushrod for depth purposes and selected former defensive end convert Rick Leonard in the fourth round of the NFL draft. Overall the Saints' offensive line enters the season as a top-tier option.
Team DefenseThe Saints finally arrived as a fantasy defense in 2017, and their prospects are possibly even better for 2018. All-world rookie corner Marshon Lattimore anchors a secondary that added Kurt Coleman and Patrick Robinson. Demario Davis was added in free agency to shore up the linebacker corps. The team gave up two first-round picks to get edge rusher Marcus Davenport. Davenport is raw coming out of UT-San Antonio, but he can provide some energetic pass rush reps. Alex Okafor will also be back to help the edge rush after missing the last six games of 2017. The offense can still control games and the defense is now good enough to close them. The fantasy community has taken notice and the Saints D/ST is usually getting drafted, which would have been unheard of in recent years.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Alex Okafor, DE Cameron Jordan, DT Sheldon Rankins, DL Tyeler Davison
Backups: DE Marcus Davenport [R], DT David Onyemata, DT Mitchell Loewen, DT David Parry, DE Hau'oli Kikaha, DL Trey Hendrickson, DT Jay Bromley Starting DL: The Saints defensive front looks more stacked entering 2018 than it has for several years. After taking the league by storm last year with a much-improved overall defensive performance, they will be gunning for even better this year. Cameron Jordan is the straw that stirs the drink for the front four, combining power, athleticism and speed into a phenomenal package that makes him one of the finest defensive linemen in the game. Jordan played just shy of 1,200 snaps last season, a number unheard of in today's NFL, but produced one of his most impressive seasons. A minor foot injury on which he had surgery isn't expected to keep him out as camp approaches. On the other side of the line Alex Okafor is pencilled in to start, although the spot could be up for grabs. Okafor's 2017 season was shortened by injury, but the team re-signed him to a two-year deal and obviously liked what they saw. The interior is manned by Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison. Rankins hasn't quite hit the heights expected of him after his selection in the first round in 2016, but he has a chance to make the leap in 2018. Davison could face stiff competition for his starting spot from second year pro Trey Hendrickson. Backup DL: The standout among the backups is Trey Hendrickson, who impressed in 2017 - his rookie season - by disrupting often as a pass rusher. He played only 344 snaps and played in just 12 of 16 games, but his development has to excite the Saints brass. The Saints surrendered a 2019 first round pick to trade up and select Marcus Davenport, a talented developmental pass rusher. Davenport has all the tools to thrive, but will need to be brought along slowly to truly unlock his vast potential. The oft-injured Hau'oli Kikaha will take another shot at being an impact pass rusher from the bench as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. David Parry and David Onyemata will provide good depth on the interior, along with Jay Bromley.
LinebackersStarters: MLB Demario Davis, SLB A.J. Klein, WLB Craig Robertson
Backups: LB Alex Anzalone, LB Manti Te'o, LB Nathan Stupar, LB Shayne Skov, LB Michael Mauti Starting LBs: The Saints made a decisive move in free agency to sign former New York Jet Demario Davis, scooping him up with a three-year contract. Davis is coming off arguably his best season with Gang Green and should slide immediately into the middle linebacker role that has vexed New Orleans for years. In a developing defense, Davis represents a game-changing signing. A.J. Klein failed to provide the stability the Saints had hoped for in his first season with the team, so he will be likely moved to his more suited spot of strongside linebacker. Craig Robertson played an every-down role last year and should reprise that role. A camp battle with Alex Anzalone, who the Saints drafted in 2017, could be on the horizon, though. Backup LBs: Alex Anzalone represents the biggest threat for playing time among the backups, although there must be some concern in the organisation after the shoulder injury that ended his rookie year. He suffered two similar injuries in college. Manti Te'o was signed for insurance behind Demario Davis, while Nathan Stupar, Michael Mauti and Shayne Skov are all decent special teams options.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Ken Crawley, SS Vonn Bell, FS Marcus Williams
Backups: CB Patrick Robinson, CB P.J. Williams, CB De'Vante Harris, S Kurt Coleman, S Chris Banjo, S Natrell Jamerson, S Kamrin Moore Starting DBs: The defensive backfield that at one time looked putrid has turned into one of the league's most underrated units. The turnover in reputation is owed in large part to the two draft picks the Saints made last season - Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams. Lattimore parlayed a phenomenal rookie campaign into end-of-season accolades and allowed a 45.3 passer rating into his coverage. Williams may have ended his rookie campaign in ignominious fashion after a playoff gaffe, but he should be remembered for crushing ball-carriers for fun on the way to 59 solo tackles. Ken Crawley more than held his own opposite Lattimore, defending 17 passes. He should remain a starter barring anything unforeseen. Vonn Bell enters his third season and will need to show better than he did in 2017, when he was a letdown at times in run defense. Kurt Coleman will put some pressure on his starting role. Backup DBs: The signing of Kurt Coleman could put some heat on Vonn Bell at strong safety, and the former Panther represents the most reliable option among the backups. Patrick Robinson, after leaving the Saints in 2015, re-signed with the team and is expected to play the all-important nickel cornerback role. P.J. Williams and De'Vante Harris provide good depth at cornerback as well. Draft pick duo Natrell Jamerson and Kamrin Moore will provide depth at safety. Last modified: 2018-06-16 12:21:38