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Player Spotlight: Drew Brees

A detailed examination of Drew Brees' fantasy prospects for the 2016 season

Setting the Stage

Drew Brees was a three sport athlete at Westlake high school in Austin, Texas, playing baseball, basketball and football. Although he had an ACL tear as a junior, his team won 28 games with him as the starting quarterback. He completed 64% of his passes, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Possibly due to his junior year knee injury or maybe his lack of height, he was not highly recruited and only received offers only from Kentucky and Purdue.

He played very little as a Purdue freshman, but took over in his sophomore season. In his final three years, he started 37 games, completed 61.6% of his passes for 11,560 yards and 90 touchdowns. He also ran for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished 4th as a junior and 3rd as a senior in the Heisman Trophy voting. Even with his outstanding college production, he fell out of the first round and was drafted at #32 overall in 2001 by the San Diego Chargers. He was the second quarterback selected behind only Michael Vick who was taken #1 overall by the Falcons.

He played in only one game as a rookie, but became the Chargers starting quarterback in 2002 winning the job in pre-season over Doug Flutie. He lost the starter’s role briefly to Flutie the next year, but again earned it back. Then in 2004, the Chargers acquired Philip Rivers during the draft and Brees’ job was in serious jeopardy. However, Rivers missed a lot of camp while in contract negotiations and Brees won the job in pre-season. Brees then completed a career high 65.5% of his passes for 3,159 yards (7.90 ypa) and 27 touchdowns. He led the Chargers to win the AFC West and was named to the Pro Bowl and NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Since Brees was a free agent, everyone expected him to leave, but the Chargers declared him a franchise player and no team was willing to give up draft picks to sign him. Surprisingly, Brees again held off Rivers in 2005 and had another outstanding season. The year ended badly for Brees in the Chargers’ final game as he suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder by aggressively trying to recover his own fumble. His display of team first attitude immediately before he was set to enter free agency was quite different than what we saw in last year’s Super Bowl from Cam Newton.

Brees eventually signed a six-year $60 Million contract with the Saints as he and Coach Sean Payton began the rebuilding process with the Saints in New Orleans the year after Katrina’s devastation. The Dolphins also considered Brees, but signed Daunte Culpepper instead and Coach Nick Saban left the team and the NFL in mid-year to return to college and coach at Alabama. Brees and the Saints definitely made the correct choice. Brees has been the perfect fit for Payton’s offense. Brees has been named to eight pro bowls and has led the NFL in passing in six of his ten seasons with the Saints.  

The following table provides Brees' yearly statistics in New Orleans:

Year Games Comp Att Yds TDs ints ypa % Comp Rushes Yds TDs
2006 16 356 554 4,418 26 11 7.97 64.3% 42 32 0
2007 16 443 655 4,428 28 18 6.76 67.6% 23 52 1
2008 16 413 635 5,069 34 17 7.98 65.0% 22 -1 0
2009 16 363 514 4,388 34 11 8.54 70.6% 22 33 2
2010 15 448 658 4,620 33 22 7.02 68.1% 18 -3 0
2011 16 468 657 5,476 46 14 8.33 71.2% 21 86 1
2012 16 422 670 5,177 43 19 7.73 63.0% 15 5 1
2013 16 446 650 5,162 39 12 7.94 68.6% 35 52 3
2014 16 456 659 4,952 33 17 7.51 69.2% 27 68 1
2015 15 428 627 4,870 32 11 7.77 68.3% 24 14 1
Totals 158 4,243 6,279 48,560 348 152 7.73 67.6% 249 338 10


Looking Forward to 2016

The Saints offensive line depth improved last year and they were ranked 6th overall in pre-season by Matt Bitonti on Footballguys.com. The team added Max Unger at center and Andrus Peat (13th overall in the draft) at tackle. Terron Armstead really improved at left tackle.  The team allowed 32 sacks (tied for 8th), but that number would have been lower except for injuries to multiple players. This year they lose Jahri Evans, their long time pro-bowl starter at right guard. Evans spent ten years with the Saints, being drafted in 2006, the same year that Brees joined the team, but has fallen off the last two years. All their other starters return. Tim Lelito started 13 games last season and should replace Evans at right guard.

The Saints also lose their all-time leading wide receiver, Marques Colston, but he had career lows with 45 catches, 520 yards receiving, 4 TDs and only 11.6 ypr. Their top two wide receivers (Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead) return and the team also drafted Michael Thomas in the second round. Thomas has received accolades from Brees for his work ethic and play and he will compete with Brandon Coleman for offensive snaps at the third wide receiver position. The Saints also signed free agent Coby Fleener to replace Ben Watson. Fleener’s athleticism will help open up the field for the underneath routes that Cooks and the Saints running backs exploit.

Brees has been the unquestioned team offensive leader for the past decade. His skills combined with the ineptitude of their defense mandates that the passing game is prominently featured. Over the past four seasons, the team has averaged passing the ball over 63% of their plays.

Positives
• Brees is an accurate passer in a system that is perfect for him
• He has averaged 5,127 passing yards, 38.6 TDs and 68.0% completion rate over the past five years
• New receiving options Coby Fleener and Michael Thomas should be better than the players they replaced from last year’s offense
• Their defense has finished 31st in yards allowed per game in each of the last two seasons

Negatives
• They drafted three defensive players and bring in a new defensive coordinator so the defense should be improved
• Brees turned 37 in January and his age and fifteen NFL seasons could begin to wear on him
• Brees is in the final year of his contract, but hoping to stay with the Saints for the rest of his career


Projections

Name Gms Comp Att Yards TDs ints Rushes Yds TDs
David Dodds 16 428 630 4,788 34 15 23 35 0
Bob Henry 16 435 645 4,920 32 14 22 30 1
Jason Wood 16 444 665 5,075 33 12 20 20 0
Stephen Holloway 16 440 660 5,080 36 14 28 28 1

Final thoughts

Brees finished at QB6 last season, which was the first time that happened since 2010 and only the second time in his ten years in New Orleans. Even with that QB6 ranking, he had ten games with over 300 yards passing, including one with over 400 yards and another with over 500 yards. His current ADP is around 70 overall and QB6. With the increased depth at the quarterback position, the prevailing fantasy wisdom is to wait and then wait some more to draft one. Yet it will be tempting to take Brees in the sixth or possibly seventh round and possibly get a quarterback that could lead the NFL in passing. He has finished at or above QB2 in six of his ten seasons in New Orleans.

Other Views

Mike Tagliere, lead writer for PFF_Fantasy is adamant that you should draft Drew Brees before Ben Roethlisberger, even though his ADP is later. Give On the Couch 06.01.16 a listen for why.

Neil Greenburg in "Drew Brees has the best chance to remove Peyton Manning from the record books". He needs only 11,038 passing yards and could easily achieve that if he can remain healthy for three more seasons. He gives him a 30.7% chance of doing it in the next two seasons.

Andy Hicks in his player comments on Footballguys.com – Drew Brees is running out of time to keep his elite fantasy production intact. The Saints are turning over its offensive roster underneath him with long time number one target Marques Colston the latest departure. Colston had been with Brees since both their arrivals in 2006 and his loss cannot be replaced easily. Brees has seen his touchdown numbers drop in each of the last four seasons and while 30 a year is still good, it is not elite. At age 37 Brees has seen his best days and his owners need to have a backup in place in place the cliff comes sooner than expected.