Drew Brees watched one of his favorite targets, Jimmy Graham (125 targets for 85/889/10 receiving), promising young receiver Kenny Stills (83 for 63/931/3), and reliable pass-catching running back Pierre Thomas (55 for 45/378/1) depart the Saints' fold during the offseason. There is no question that the loss of an elite target like Graham is enough to depress any quarterback's stock, but there are also other factors in play down in New Orleans that have many fantasy owners worried about Brees' probable output for the 2015 season. In the spotlight below, we'll examine the factors conspiring to darken the outlook for one of the last decade's favorite fantasy football quarterbacks.
Since Brees arrived in New Orleans for the 2006 season, he has thrown for a minimum of 4,388 yards (2009) and he has thrown at least 33 pass TDs every season since 2008, with a high-water mark of 46 TD passes during the 2011 season (he also set a career-best with 5,476 yards passing during the 2011 season). Over the past five campaigns, Brees has averaged 5,077 yards passing and ~39 TD passes per season. He did match a five-year low with 33 passing scores during 2014, but still had 456/659 for 4,952 yards passing last season, with a solid 69.2 completion percentage during the campaign. Brees still has the necessary tools to lead a NFL offense.
However, the Saints have announced a paradigm shift for their offense entering 2015, with coach Sean Payton stating on March 24, 2015 that the Saints are working to "reduce the amount of points you may need to score to win a game." The team intends to feature Mark Ingram II more heavily in a power-running-centered attack - part of the Graham trade was to acquire C Max Unger, a noted run-blocker to anchor the new offensive line/emphasis on running the football, and the team also used their premium first-round draft pick (#13) for an offensive tackle, Stanford's Andrus Peat. New Orleans invested heavily in a defensive overhaul during the offseason/the NFL Draft (using six of their nine picks in the lottery on defensive help, including the 31st pick in the first round which was the pick they acquired from Seattle in the Graham trade). In fact, the Saints didn't pick a wide receiver or tight end in the draft but did take QB Garrett Grayson at round 3, pick 11 (75 overall), perhaps acquiring an heir apparent to Brees. The above retooling of the Saints' roster is telegraphing a reduced role for Brees as a passer this season - it would be no surprise to see his number of pass attempts dip below 600 (perhaps well below that number).
As mentioned above, the departure of Graham, Stills and Thomas diminished the talent level of the Saints' receiving corps. To replace Graham and Stills we have the largely unproven Josh Hill entering his third NFL season at tight end (20 targets for 14/176/5 receiving over 16 games played last season) and an explosive-but-inexperienced Brandon Cooks at wide receiver entering his sophomore NFL campaign (69 targets for 53/550/3 receiving during his rookie season). Nick Toon enters his third NFL season with a combined 35 targets for 21/283/1 receiving over 15 games played in his first two years with the Saints, and figures to be the #3 wide receiver for this season. Stalwart Marques Colston (99 targets for 59/902/5 receiving during 2014) is still around, but he failed to go over 1,000 yards receiving for a second consecutive season last year and had the least number of receptions over a full 16-game season of any point during his nine-year NFL career - Colston turns 32 on June 5, 2015 which is an advanced age for any NFL receiver. At 34 when the season kicks off in September, tight end Ben Watson will be entering his 12th NFL season and is now a veteran backup who has never exceeded 20 receptions/two TD catches while with the Saints. Third tight end Orson Charles has nine catches for 109 yards over his first two NFL seasons (2012 and 2013), and didn't play during 2014 while on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad. As you can see, question marks abound about the cast of players surrounding Brees as we move into the 2015 OTAs/preseason. We'll see how the new-look offense jells during the preseason contests in August.
- Brees is a seasoned NFL veteran who has been among the premier quarterbacks of the last decade. He retains a high level of skills at 36 years of age and should continue to play the position very well regardless of offensive philosophy.
- The Saints upgraded their offensive line significantly this past offseason, which should help keep pressure off Brees. A successful transition to a power-running game will also keep pass rushers at bay more often than in seasons past.
- The Saints' receivers have a lot of youthful potential shared among them - if Hill and Cooks pan out during 2015, the loss of Graham and Stills shouldn't sting as badly.
- The Saints look poised to run the ball more and throw it less, which means reduced opportunities in the red-zone for Brees. 40+ TDs passing in a season is probably a thing of the past given the new offensive philosophy, capping Brees' upside for fantasy owners below that of the elite fantasy quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers
- The Saints' youthful potential at the receiving positions is unproven, increasing the uncertainty of drafting Brees as your #1 fantasy quarterback.
- #1 wide receiver Marques Colston is quite advanced in years, and he has faded as a fantasy producer over the last two years.
For the reasons enumerated above (changing offensive philosophy and a decreased level of talent among the surrounding receivers), most fantasy experts project Brees to finish out of the top tier of NFL quarterbacks during 2015 - his aggregate ranking at Footballguys.com as of June 3, 2015 places him at #6 among all fantasy quarterbacks (I have him at seventh on my quarterbacks' board as of early June), and Footballguys' David Dodds projects him to finish fifth among all fantasy quarterbacks with 4,484 yards passing, 31 TDs and 15 interceptions thrown. Jason Wood predicts an eighth-place finish for Brees, with 4,675 yards passing, 31 TDs thrown and 14 interceptions given away. These are very good numbers, friends, but not the elite level of production that Brees' fantasy owners have come to expect during his time in New Orleans.
Mark Wimer's PROJECTIONS
- 400 completions
- 590 attempts
- 4,500 yards passig
- 34 TDs
- 15 interceptions
- 10 rushes
- 10 yards rushing
- 1 rushing TD