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2019 Team Report: New Orleans Saints

Offensive Philosophy

No team has been running the same basic scheme with the same quarterback as long as New Orleans, which means at this point you know what you're going to get. The team will likely rotate several running backs and lead the league in passes to them. Thanks to that emphasis, Drew Brees is the best bet to lead the league in completion percentage, but he'll also be aggressive taking shots deep down the field to his 3rd and 4th options when they're open. If the defense holds up, the team will rely heavily on the run to shorten games, but if the defense falls apart they'll put the game on Drew Brees' arm with a high-volume passing offense.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Drew Brees
Backup(s): Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, JT Barrett

Starting QB: Drew Brees once again finished as a top ten fantasy quarterback in 2018, but he is no longer an elite option at an overstocked position. His touchdowns jumped back to 32, which is in line with his 2014-16 production, after a temporary dip to 23 in 2017, but his yardage was the lowest in his career with the Saints, and it's clear that the running back position will continue to be prominent in the offense. Brees could still experience a bump in his numbers due to the arguable downgrade from Mark Ingram to Latavius Murray, the addition of Jared Cook to give the team their best receiving tight end since Jimmy Graham, and the potential for better health from Ted Ginn and/or Cameron Meredith and growth from young receivers Tre'Quan Smith and Keith Kirkwood. It is also notable that the Saints had "legitimate interest" in Antonio Brown when he was available via trade, so they have had an eye towards adding an offensive piece to put them over the top. Brees ADP accurately reflects his value as a bottom half of the QB1 ranks performer with severe swings between floor and ceiling games over the last two years. His biggest spike came when Ingram was suspended early in the season, and Brees spent December in the fantasy doldrums. He has the potential to offer some profit on draft cost if the offensive philosophy gets more aggressive in the passing game, or the performance of options other than Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara improves.

Backup QB: Teddy Bridgewater spurned Miami's overtures to make him their starter in free agency and instead returned to the Saints on a one-year, $7.25 million dollar deal. This should increase speculation that he is prominent in the team's post-Brees plans. While he's nowhere near Brees in terms of effectiveness or efficiency, Bridgewater could be one of the best backups in the league in terms of preserving fantasy value if he's called upon, with more to offer if he is getting back mobility and soundness in the leg that basically collapsed in 2016. Taysom Hill can play quarterback in a pinch, but is set as a package player, especially near the goal line, and a core special teamer.

Running Backs

Starter: Alvin Kamara
Backup(s): Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Devine Ozigbo [R]
Fullback(s): Zach Line

Starting RB: Alvin Kamara's 2018 overall numbers increased from his revelation of a rookie year, although some of that bump came from a four-game stretch to open the season when he wasn't sharing with Mark Ingram. Kamara's rushing scores and overall receiving numbers could have a slight dip with a full season of sharing with a solid #2 option. He's still well worth the top five pick it will take to snag him. Ingram has been replaced by Latavius Murray, so the face has changed for that #2 role, but the role should be similar. Like Ingram, Murray is a functional receiver, good short yardage runner, and best used between the tackles. He might not have the top 10 of the week ceiling Ingram carried through 2017, but Ingram rarely approached that value in 2018. Murray is costing less than Ingram did last year, and Ingram was suspended for the first four games. He is one of the most valuable #2 backs in the league, with or without injury to the #1 ahead of him.

Backup RBs: With the signing of Murray, the Saints got their running back depth chart where they wanted it entering the season. His four-year, $14.4 million deal is structured so that he's likely to play at least the first two years. If they have to dip deeper into their running back ranks due to injury this year, Dwayne Washington would get the call if it the eventual third back is a veteran. Washington is a size/speed back who got some work with the Lions earlier in his career and looked good in Week 17 while Kamara rested last year. He'll be pushed by an undrafted rookie, Devine Ozigbo from Nebraska. Ozigbo was a baffling combine snub, and it led to him going undrafted. He's a powerful runner with burst and solid all-around skills who should push for the third running back job.

Fullback: Zach Line is one of the best fullbacks in the league and a key to the Saints running game. He was an accomplished runner at SMU in college, scoring 47 touchdowns, and finishing second in team history in rushing yards behind Eric Dickerson. He'll likely vulture a touchdown or two over the course of the season, but that's tolerable because of his contributions to the running game as a blocker.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn
Backups: Cameron Meredith, TreQuan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, Travin Dural, Simmie Cobbs, LilJordan Humphrey [R], Emmanuel Butler [R]

Starting WRs: Michael Thomas set career highs across the board in 2018, although a closer examination reveals that his increase was fueled by three games as the top receiver of the week. The rest of the time his numbers wildly fluctuated between low WR1 scores and point totals that put him outside of the top 36 wideouts of the week - four times to be exact. The good news is that his target total was actually down slightly, so his new heights are sustainable, even if they come with a more dramatic rollercoaster ride. Ted Ginn had trouble staying healthy, but he was still relevant for fantasy during his short stints on the field, scoring twice and posting at least four catches and 55 yards in three of his five games. He is the primary deep threat and should be second in snaps unless Tre'Quan Smith breaks out in his second season.

Backup WRs: The Saints backup wide receiver group is full of promise, but more questions than answers right now. The biggest is about Cameron Meredith, who took a pay cut to stay with the team after his season ended prematurely when his surgically repaired knee didn't hold up. He could man the "big slot" position and give the team more size in the passing game. He's also a proven producer. Tre'Quan Smith went into history with Brees when he caught a record-breaking score and dominated in a blowout win over the Eagles, but otherwise was not heard from much during his rookie year. Keith Kirkwood was a UDFA surprise after Dez Bryant went down almost immediately after signing with the Saints. Kirkwood has excellent tools, combining size, speed, and explosiveness, and could overtake Smith if the draft pick's development stalls out. Austin Carr is on the roster fringe if Meredith is healthy, but he'll be on the team's speed dial if they let him go and he's available when a need comes up during the season. Travin Dural is a local product who was one of the latest LSU wide receiver prospects to be held back by poor passers. He has spent two years in the organization on the practice squad and injured reserve. Simmie Cobbs is a big receiver who wins at the catch point, but went undrafted and landed on Washington's practice squad before the Saints poached him to fill out the roster when injuries thinned the receiver corps.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jared Cook
Backups: Josh Hill, Dan Arnold, Alize Mack [R], Nate Wozniak

The Saints held off a late charge by the Patriots after Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement to land Jared Cook in free agency with a two-year, $15 million dollar deal. Cook gives them the best receiving tight end they've had since they traded Jimmy Graham, and should fare better than their last big free agent signing at the position, Coby Fleener. Cook had his most consistent and productive season of his career with Oakland last year, setting career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns. He moves to an even better situation this year in New Orleans, with easily the best quarterback he has played with in his entire career, although he'll compete with a potentially deep wide receiver group. This offense also tends to limit pass attempts at times, so Cook's valleys might return, albeit with more frequent peaks. He looks like the rare player whose best seasons will come in his 30s. Josh Hill is now entering his seventh season with the Saints. He probably won't lead the team's tight ends in snaps like he has the last two years, but he'll still be on the field a lot. He offers blocking ability that has developed during his time in the league, along with baseline receiving ability and the occasional touchdown or chunk play. Former wide receiver Dan Arnold got on the field for a handful of snaps in a little over half of the Saints games last year. He made a positive impressive with his top-end athleticism, but was inconsistent. The addition of Cook closes the door on his role getting larger this year, but he should still make the team as a third tight end and will be one to watch in camp for continued growth. The team took a tight end in the seventh round who has a chance to stick. Alize Mack is athletic enough to hang in the NFL and he's a natural pass catcher, but he needs work as a route runner and will be developing behind Cook for the time being, possibly on the practice squad.

Place Kicker

Wil Lutz: Going with Wil Lutz out of training camp in 2016 was one of the gutsier calls of Sean Payton's career, and it is paying more dividends with every passing year. 2018 was Lutz's best year as a pro, making 28-of-30 field goal attempts and 52-of-53 extra points. That was good enough for a top five fantasy finish regardless of scoring format. Lutz is often available outside of the top three kickers off of the board in fantasy drafts, which makes him a good target if you want to not be one of the first to take a kicker, but also not be one of the last.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Taysom Hill, Alvin Kamara, Marcus Sherels

The Saints' top kickoff returner, Taysom Hill, returns to the team in 2019, where he's joined by former Viking Marcus Sherels and offensive weapon (who still gets a surprising amount of snaps on special teams) Alvin Kamara. Sherels is more of a punt return specialist, though, and the team seems to be moving Kamara in that direction as well, meaning Hill is a good bet to reprise his role in 2019.

Punt Returners: Marcus Sherels, Alvin Kamara

Over the last eight years, no one has more punt returns than new Saint Marcus Sherels; no one comes particularly close. Kamara is an electric kickoff returner who has been hit or miss on punt returns, but the Saints like getting the ball in his hands and seemed to try to transition him over last year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Nick Easton, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk
Key Backups: Derek Newton, Erik McCoy [R], Cameron Tom, Will Clapp

The Saints' line was dominant last season and despite the retirement of 32-year-old center Max Unger retired in the offseason prior to his eleventh season, they grade as an elite line in the rankings. Both tackles, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk made second team All-Pro while the guards in Andrus Peat and Larry Warford enjoyed Pro Bowl honors. The team signed Nick Easton from Minnesota to replace Unger, who had been dealing with multiple lower body injuries and didn't think he could make it through another campaign. Easton (a former economics major from Harvard) is young but missed most of last season rehabbing a neck injury. Should Easton not prove up to the task, the team also drafted Erik McCoy in the second round out of Texas A&M. Derek Newton arrived from Houston via free agency and will likely be the swing player off the bench, as the team has not re-signed Jermon Bushrod. Overall this is a top-tier line, but the new center has some huge shoes to fill.

Team Defense

The Saints team defense's middling finish in many scoring systems hides that they came on as a reliable option in the second half of the season after a slow start. The acquisition of Eli Apple plugged a hole at cornerback, and Marcus Davenport was developing to show why the team traded two first-round picks for him. The defense is returning almost everyone, and they added utility defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the draft with a trade up in the fourth round despite having limited draft capital. The Saints open with the Texans at home, where they are always worth consideration, then go on the road to face the Rams and Seahawks before returning home to face the Cowboys and Buccaneers at home. They are going undrafted in many leagues and will be a top streaming option any time they are at home, and potentially even in road matchups - including the Rams game in leagues that don't penalize yards and points allowed.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Cameron Jordan, DE Marcus Davenport, DT Sheldon Rankins, DT Malcom Brown
Backups: DT David Onyemata, DT Taylor Stallworth, DT Tomasi Laulile, DE Trey Hendrickson, DE Mario Edwards

Starting DL: Despite a heavy workload of 1,001 snaps in 2018, Cameron Jordan produced one of his finest seasons as a pro, routinely wrecking offensive game plans. Jordan underwent surgery on his foot earlier in the offseason, but it will not affect his availability for training camp. Marcus Davenport, a highly touted second-year pro who the team traded up to draft last year, played limited snaps in 2018 as the team bedded him in to be a professional. In 2019, Davenport should be given ample opportunity to impress. The Saints' interior rushers complemented Jordan and Davenport perfectly, with Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata impressing last season. Rankins tore his Achilles in January, but the Saints opted to pick up his fifth-year option, a signal of their faith in his recovery - and his long-term role with the team. Malcom Brown is expected to start in Onyemata's stead, but this one could be a fierce contest.

Backup DL: Interior defender David Onyemata played over 700 snaps last season and could compete for a starting role, while Taylor Stallworth was an unsung hero of the Saints rotation who distinguished himself in 2018. Trey Hendrickson has some work to do to get back into the good graces of the decision makers - he was a healthy scratch for multiple weeks last season. Mario Edwards spent last season with the Giants and was snapped up to provide rotational pass rush.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Alex Anzalone, SLB A.J. Klein, WLB Demario Davis
Backups: LB Darnell Sankey, LB Craig Robertson, LB Vince Biegel, LB Kaden Elliss

Starting LBs: The Saints return all three of their starting linebackers from last season's NFC Championship run, with Demario Davis the standout performer. Davis excelled as a run defender in particular, logging 994 snaps overall. Alex Anzalone continues to develop and could see an uptick in production and participation in 2019 after playing just 545 snaps. Former Panther A.J. Klein is a solid veteran presence and performed well in pass coverage last season. Having continuity at this position group will be a boost for the team entering 2019.

Backup LBs: Among the backups, Craig Robertson stands out as the player most likely to see the field should any of the starters go down. Vince Biegel was drafted by Green Bay in 2017 but proved to be a casualty of new Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. This offseason he was scooped up by the Saints to bolster a rather thin group of linebackers beyond the starters. Idaho product Kaden Elliss, a seventh round rookie with freakish measurables, rounds out the corps.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Eli Apple, FS Marcus Williams, SS Vonn Bell
Backups: CB Ken Crawley, CB Patrick Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, CB P.J. Williams, CB Justin Hardee, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S Chris Banjo, S J.T. Gray, S Saquon Hampton

Starting DBs: Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple both played over 1,000 snaps last season and played a huge role in the Saints' success. Lattimore did not perform quite like the lockdown cornerback of his 2017 rookie campaign, but still created problems for receivers. Apple outdid expectations and helped to turn the secondary into a championship-level unit. Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell return in an experienced secondary loaded with talent and experience.

Backup DBs: The Saints boast plenty of options at defensive back, with Ken Crawley and Patrick Robinson excellent players to summon from the bench if required. Marcus Sherels, formerly of the Vikings, will provide nickel experience and a punt return threat, while Chris Banjo would appear to be the most likely to contribute at safety in a pinch. The team was widely praised for nabbing Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. He profiles as a safety/cornerback hybrid who can immediately make an impact in subpackages. The Saints doubled down on safety with the selection of Saquon Hampton, a safety with above average ball skills and position versatility.

Last modified: 2019-05-24 15:26:53