Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a several part series where we dissect each offensive fantasy position and tell you what happened this season (2016) and how you can apply those lessons into your draft for next season (2017). You can check out all the lessons learned from quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends throughout the offseason.
Coming out of the 2015 season, the 2016 quarterback landscape was looking good. In 2015 all of the top 13 QBs threw for 30+ touchdowns and the top 6 all had over 300 fantasy points. In 2016 however, only five players threw 30+ touchdowns and only three QBs topped the 300 fantasy point bar. So, what did we learn about the quarterback position this fantasy season? Did anything go right or was this just simply a down year for quarterbacks?
We learned that…mechanics make the wheel go round
2016 was the year the general football consensus learned the importance of QB mechanics. Many quarterbacks have managed to skate by on arm talent alone and that makes them good fantasy options for one season. But inconsistent mechanics means inconsistent quarterback play and this means inconsistent fantasy production in the long run, explaining the huge drop off in quarterback production from 2015 to 2016.
Brock Osweiler was at the helm of arguably the most talented offense in the NFL. Surrounded by DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller and Will Fuller, Osweiler’s lethargic wind-up and sluggish release resulted in batted balls and many uncatchable targets due to his side-arm release.
The same goes for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles. The Jags offensive performance in 2015 garnered questions as to whether they were home to the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Bortles’ terrible 2016 mechanics resulted in Allen Robinson, a borderline 1st/2nd round pick in August, becoming effectively unusable this season as Bortles began to drop the ball below his elbow in his wind up leading to an unnecessarily long release and producing overthrown passes.
Even last year’s MVP Cam Newton along with rookie prospect Carson Wentz had their mechanical flaws expose them this season. Relying on arm strength alone leads to inaccuracy and produces passes often too low for receivers to catch. Forced passes and backfoot throws are all traits of a quarterback’s reliance on their arm strength and often result in passes being too far behind receivers. Using your arm instead of your body is a quick recipe for an interception. Neither player steps into their throws and so they struggle to throw with touch and anticipation.
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the other hand have perfect mechanics and it comes as no surprise that both of them are consistently top 5 fantasy quarterbacks, with the odd SuperBowl thrown in too.
We learned that…mojo doesn’t last
Momentum is a term we hear a lot regarding NFL offenses and it is often why fantasy owners worry when their players return from their bye-weeks as offense is all about practice, repetition and chemistry. Offenses that can keep their momentum going throughout the season are both NFL gold and fantasy gold.
In 2015 we saw that a few offenses certainly were feeling their mojo and this lead to stellar quarterback play. Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Carson Palmer were all part of high-flying offenses last year and all finished as top 5 fantasy quarterbacks.
However, without relatively much changing, all three of those quarterbacks failed to repeat this in 2016, with Newton following his QB1 season finishing as the QB18 and Palmer slotting in right behind him. Strangely enough, the much maligned Blake Bortles finished as the best of the bad bunch with a confusing QB8 ranking.
As we all accept Bortles is a fantasy anomaly year on year, the rankings clearly show that momentum doesn’t carry over through the offseason. With this in mind, beware of drafting the wildly inform quarterbacks from this season again in 2017. I’m looking at you Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford.
We learned about…the new kids on the fantasy block
2016 however, wasn’t all bad. With Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting up there in years, 2016 saw the birth of the new crop of fantasy studs. Derek Carr (QB9), Marcus Mariota (QB15) and of course Dak Prescott (QB6) had a coming out party this year.
Carr was an MVP candidate this season and probably would’ve finished as a top 5 QB without his injury in week 16. Mariota, who was also similarly injured to Carr in week 16, was complete gold-dust early in the season with three top 5 finishes in quick succession and threw for two or more touchdowns in two thirds of the games he played in in 2016.
And we couldn’t discuss young quarterbacks without talking about the man of the moment, Dak Prescott. Prescott finished 2016 tied 5th for total touchdowns with 29 but the true measure of Prescott’s greatness this year has been in his ability to limit his interception total with only 4 INTs. Not only does that result in less negative points but it also keeps drives alive and results in more scoring opportunities for Prescott, who has also demonstrated legitimate rushing capability too.
We learned to…please wait on QB
If 2016 has taught us anything, it is that you please, PLEASE wait on a quarterback when you draft next season. Unless you’re drafting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, there is no need to take a quarterback in the first 6 rounds. Top RBs and WRs are so few and far between and with injuries too, the need to stockpile your skill position players is greater than ever before. Fantasy is usually uses only one quarterback per line-up and as quarterback is so deep there is no need to waste a high pick on a brand name quarterback. Instead take a RB/WR and wait for a sensible upside QB.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger had a 6th round ADP and finished as the QB16 whereas Dak Prescott for instance had a 12th round ADP and finished as the QB6. It doesn’t stop there either; Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr were all available in rounds 10-12 and all finished as top 10 QBs this season. But the craziest thing of all…Matt Ryan was undrafted this year in the majority of leagues. Wait and bet on upside, you might just wind up picking up the QB2 off the waiver wire.
Thank you for reading, you can follow Will Pendleton on twitter @willpendosports
In my first installment of Buy/Sell I broke down the fantasy value between Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and the Broncos Peyton Manning. For my second installment, I am going to dissect the fantasy potential of two of the league’s most prolific passers, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and the Falcons Matt Ryan.
Buy: Matt Ryan
When Dirk Koetter signed on in 2012 to be the Falcons offensive coordinator one thing was for certain, Matt Ryan was going to throw the ball all over the yard. In the three seasons that Koetter was in charge of play-calling, the Falcons had one of the more pass-happy offenses in the NFL, finishing in the top-10 in passing attempts and passing yards every year.
Despite having one of the best offensive units in football the Falcons were held back by sub-par offensive line play, and arguably the worst defense in football. Due to these deficiencies the Falcons finished the 2014-15 season with a 6-10 record, leading to the dismissal of head coach Mike Smith and the rest of the Falcons coaching staff.
New Coaching Staff
Despite Kyle Shannahan taking over for Dirk Koetter as the Falcons offensive coordinator, I do not expect the Falcons offense to take a step back in the 2015-16 season.
During Shannahan's 7 seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL with the Texans, Redskins, and the Browns, Shannahan has been one of the most pass-happy coaches in the NFL, ranking in the top-10 in 5 out of 7 seasons in total passing attempts. The only two times that Shannahan did not rank in the top-10 in pass attempts was in 2013, one year after Robert Griffin III suffered a torn ACL, and in 2015 in Cleveland when he had to deal with the sub-par quarterback talent of veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny "Football" Manziel.
Aside from having one of the worst offensive lines in football, the Falcons offense is still littered with playmakers that have the potential to make even an average quarterback look like a Joe Montana.
Julio Jones has finally taken over as the focal point as the Falcons passing attack, with Roddy White shifting to more of a possession. Despite ranking third in the NFL in both targets (154) and receptions (103) Jones only found pay-dirt 6 times causing Jones to be an elite PPR asset, and a low WR1 in standard formats.
Although "Rowdy" Roddy White (as my buddy Paddy refers to him as) is getting closer to the twilight zone of his career he still proved to be a reliable receiver for fantasy owners. Despite missing two games in 2014, White still ranked in the top 20 in targets (122), receptions (80), and touchdown receptions (7), ranking White as the 24th overall wide receiver (Low WR2) in ESPN standard scoring leagues.
Sell: Drew Brees
Just like with Peyton Manning, I am not telling you that Drew Bress is a player you should completely avoid in fantasy football, but should definitely temper your expectations for the former MVP. After losing Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks and the team investing a large amount of money to stabilize the running game, the Saints could be looking at a shift in offensive philosophy in 2015.
Jimmy Graham Departure
Normally the loss of a tight end would not be something that scares me off from drafting a quarterback in fantasy football, but when that tight end is Jimmy Graham you have to take note.
As you can see by the table below Graham has been one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends over the last three seasons. Last year, in what could be considered a "down year" by the standards that fantasy owners hold Graham to, Graham was still able to post double-digit touchdowns and almost 900 receiving yards, ranking him the no. 3 overall tight end in fantasy football.
|Graham||TA||Rec.||% Ct||Yds||Yds / Rec.||YAC||YAC / Rec.||LG||TD|
With Graham's departure to Seattle, it leaves a gaping hole in the Saints receiving corps. All-purpose receiver Brandin Cooks showed promise during his rookie season, but would be more effective as a slot receiver than a player that predominantly plays on the boundary. Marques Colston re-structred his contract to stay with the team but is in no way capable of being a no. 1 WR at this point in his career.
Little known second-year tight end Josh Hill will be given the opportunity to fill the void left by Graham in the Saints passing game. Saints head coach Sean Payton has raved about Hill this offseason stating in an interview with ESPN, "This Josh Hill is another player that I love. I love," Payton said "When you look at his runs, jumps, height, weight, speed, you look at his measurable ---- and he didn't go to the Combine, thank God.
While it is fair to assume that Hill will see an uptick in production in 2015, I highly doubt that the will come anywhere close to the production Graham posted aside from his 31/356/5 that Graham posted his rookie season.
With the draft quickly approaching, and the Saints in possession of two first-round picks the Saints could be in line to add wide receiver early in the draft for the second year-in-a-row.
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Preparation in fantasy football is always crucial to victory. Each week, it's like a mad dash to see who can make the right pickups first and who's ahead of the injury and matchup curve the most. As the playoffs draw near, the planning that goes into having a strong lineup in Weeks 14,15 and 16 are the staple of every fantasy owner's season.
Those three weeks mentioned above are the big climax for fantasy owners, and they want their matchups tastier than a Chip Kelly personalized smoothie. If you're already thinking your team is destined for the playoffs, then you may want to look into how you can fortify your team to make it even more tough to beat when it really matters. Here are some matchups for Week 14 that could be plausibly fruitful.
Week 14 matchups
Eric Ebron (3% owned) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With a little over 100 yards receiving and just one touchdown, the tight end dubbed the second coming of Vernon Davis hasn't had a very productive rookie season due to a nagging hamstring injury that's kept him out of action for nearly half the season. Still, he's eventually expected to return to the lineup in Week 11 and has a good matchup down the road against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks second worst in the league against the pass. In a pass heavy offense loaded with plenty of receiving talent, it's not out of the question Ebron could get lost in the shuffle playing along guys like Golden Tate, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson. Despite the possibility of low targets, he's still a good TE2 option just because of his athletic upside and a favorable matchup. With tight ends like Jordan Cameron and Vernon Davis constantly hurt, Ebron could be a good savior if you're weak at the TE position.
New Orleans Saints defense (8% owned) vs. Carolina
Carolina's offense has really struggled these past three weeks. They haven't scored more than 20 points since they tied Cincinnati 37-37 back in Week 6. Panthers QB Cam Newton has been playing hurt with two bad legs, which could severely limit his upside as a rushing quarterback. The Panthers running game has been non existent with their running backs averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Jonathan Stewart heads their paltry rushing attack with 299 yards on the year.
The Panthers receivers have also been inconsistent, with Greg Olsen serving as the team's best option with 51 catches. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin has shown flashes but his route running and consistency haven't been there, as evidenced by his 43 catches on a whopping 85 targets. He's basically catching just half of the balls thrown his way. Jerricho Cotchery is still without a touchdown on the season and looks as every bit out of place as many thought the vet would be in a role too big for a guy of his age.
On the other side, the Saints' defense has improved mightily. They've registered five interceptions in their last four games and have sacked the quarterback at least four times in their last three games. Surprisingly, they rank in the top 15 in yards allowed as well. While divisional matchups can often be close, the Saints defense could be worth a play due to Carolina's struggles on the offensive end.
Allen Hurns (20% owned), Cecil Shorts (43% owned) vs. Houston Texans
The Jacksonville Jaugars lost their most targeted receiver, Allen Robinson, to a broken foot which will sideline him for the remainder of the season. With Robinson out, expect the speedy Hurns to be the primary benefactor in the Jaguars' offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown for at least 200 yards in all but two starts, and he's eclipsed the 300 yard mark once as well. He moves the ball down the field consistently.
Hurns suffered a concussion during the Jaguars' last game against Dallas, but he still leads the Jaguars in touchdowns (5) and with Robinson now out, expect Hurns to see more targets which should increase his yardage totals and overall consistency. Plus, he's still available in nearly 80 percent of Yahoo! Leagues. Shorts is second on the team in targets (61) and has two 100 yard games on the season.
These two receivers are good options in Week 14 because of their matchup against the Houston Texans, a team with a secondary known for getting burned throughout this season. The Texans are allowing 279 passing yards per game, which ranks 29th in the league. Hurns will have major upside as a WR3/flex guy in a bigger role with a good matchup.
Terrance Williams (81% owned) @ Chicago Bears
I know, Williams has been an inconsistent player at times. But he's still on pace for 11 touchdowns and 700 receiving yards. Williams and the Cowboys will have a gift wrapping of a matchup against the Chicago Bears in Chicago on Week 14. The Bears have allowed 268 passing yards per game, which ranks 28th in the league. They're also surrendering around 30 points per game. Williams is coming off a poor game against Jacksonville where he only saw two targets, but they still took shots at him in the end zone. He's been a big part of the Cowboys' receiving game this season and while he may be feast or famine, he's unlikely to fade in an offense that values his contribution.
On Monday's edition of First Aid, the Helpers discuss Colin Kaepernick and whether or not they would trust him in the fantasy playoffs. They also hand out weekly awards and discuss the fantasy implication of tonight's game between Philadelphia and Carolina.
Fantasy analysis: San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans
Colin Kaepernick: 14-for-32, 210 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 rushes for 24 yards, 1 fumble lost (10 fantasy points)
Kaepernick's receivers struggled to catch the ball which hurt his stats, but he had his own problems as well. He still holds onto the ball a bit too long and refuses to throw it away, and often takes sacks that result in fumbles instead. His arm is still something to behold though, as his 50-yard strike to Michael Crabtree on diagonal line was a showcase of just how talented he can be at times.
Drew Brees: 28-for-47, 292 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble lost (27 fantasy points)
Brees had just another day at the office, and has now scored 20 or more fantasy points in seven games this season. He found Jimmy Graham twice in the second half, but his three turnovers put a damper on his score a little bit. He continues to develop better chemistry with Brandin Cooks and is looking like he'll remain a QB1 for the rest of the year.
Mark Ingram: 27 carries, 120 yards (4.4 YPC), 0 touchdowns (12 fantasy points)
Another fantastic game from Ingram, who looks like a completely new running back in this Saints' offense. He's running with a purpose we've never seen before, and it's translating to great fantasy numbers on a weekly basis. He's scored 23, 23 and 12 points in his last three games, and the Saints appear more committed to the run than they ever have been. He's a great RB2 option unless the Saints decide to scale back his carries. Keep in mind, Ingram is only 24 years old.
Frank Gore: 23 carries, 81 yards, 1 touchdown (14 fantasy points)
It was the most points scored by Gore since Week 5 against Kansas City where he rushed for over 100 yards. The 49ers keep leaning on Gore and he continues to produce consistently despite his age. He's still a great flex/RB2 option due to his role in the 49ers' offense and as long as he's healthy, you can be safe starting him in deep leagues.
Carlos Hyde: 4 carries, 36 yards, 1 touchdown (9 fantasy points)
It's a bit frustrating to see a talented rookie like Hyde only get four touches, but there's still some upside to having him on your team. The 49ers like to give him the ball in goal line situations, which leads to touchdowns of course. So as long as he's getting those, you can still plug him in your flex spot in a good matchup and hope for the best.
Anquan Boldin: 6 catches, 95 yards, 1 touchdown, 15 targets (15 fantasy points)
You know you're a valued receiver in your team's offense if you drop 3 passes in a game and still see 15 targets. Boldin's drops in this game were uncharacteristic of the veteran, as he came in with just two on the season. If you have Boldin, you shouldn't worry and should continue starting him every week as your WR3. The 49ers schedule gets much easier down the road, and they even have a great matchup against Oakland right around the fantasy playoffs. Boldin should be a heavy favorite to change the fortunes of your team when it matters most.
Even though week 5 is a favorable bye week (Dolphins/Raiders), that doesn’t mean you’re locked, loaded and ready to go with your lineup. Maybe you're dealing with injuries and/or suspensions. Maybe your team just hasn’t been very good. Maybe your roster contains players who should either be started or avoided this particular week based on matchups or other football related situations. Or maybe your team is loaded with Dolphins and Raiders, and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you.
The following predictions for week 5 sleepers and busts at QB and RB. They can assist you with those crucial decisions that could be the difference between winning and losing this week. A sleeper does not mean the player is a must start and a bust does not mean the player is a must bench for you. I’m just pointing out a couple players at each position who I believe will perform better or worse than the general public may think. The decision on whether or not to start these players depends on the quality of your alternatives. Without further ado, your week 5 sleepers and busts:
· Ben Roethlisberger at Jacksonville – This week it’s Pittsburgh’s turn to take on the conglomerate of NFL backup and practice squad talent otherwise known as the Jacksonville Jaguars starting defense. The Jags rank dead last against fantasy quarterbacks, having allowed 11 passing TDs and three 300+ yard performances with only one interception. This matchup is especially tasty since the Steelers' defense is a struggling unit that has lost starting CB Ike Taylor and starting LBs Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones due to injury. Blake Bortles should be able to keep this game close or win the game outright in a shootout, keeping the Steelers in throw mode for 4 quarters. Big Ben = Big production = Top 5 QB this week.
I’d start Ben Roethlisberger over: Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning.
· Mike Glennon at New Orleans – This entry is for two QB leagues or for those who are extremely thin at the position. Mike Glennon has improved the outlook for all Tampa Bay skill players since taking over for Josh McCown. He has a rocket of an arm, sees blitzes well and takes shots down field. In last week’s upset victory over the Steelers, he posted 302 yards 2 TD and 1 INT. There is no defense outside of Jacksonville worse than the New Orleans Saints (ranked 28th vs. QBs). As long as that funny looking guy who's Buddy’s son and Rex’s brother is calling the plays, the opposing offense will have every chance to succeed. Expect him to match or exceed last week’s numbers.
I’d start Mike Glennon over: Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Alex Smith
· Matt Ryan at New York Giants – Through three weeks, Matt Ryan is the number 4 fantasy QB in the land. The start to this season has many of his owners believing that this could be the year Ryan breaks into that elite discussion, but I have bad news for all of you — the fun is over for Matt Ryan. Ryan lost his starting center Joe Hawley and starting right tackle Lamar Holmes. With left tackle Sam Baker already out for the season this leaves the Falcons with really serious issues on the offensive line. The Giants defense has been flying around the field, hitting the quarterback at will and causing turnovers. A confident defense at home vs. a new and shaky o-line….I’ll take the defense in that matchup. I’m sure Ryan still has some good games left in him in the future but most of them will be at home or indoors where he has proven to be a better QB. If you have a quality QB2 to start over Ryan, I’d go with him this week. Through four games this season, Ryan has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions in road games.
I’d start the following players over Ryan: Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, Cam Newton, Tony Romo
· Matthew Stafford vs. Buffalo Bills - This is one of those cases where a bust does not necessarily mean that you’re not starting him. I do still have Stafford as my QB10 on the week, but I’ve seen him mostly in the top 5 or 6. Stafford is coming off a great 293 yard 2 TD performance against the Jets, a 24-17 victory. That game was competitive. Kyle Orton will be getting his second start since January 2011 (last start 12/29/13) in a hostile environment against a very good defense in Detroit. The defense should be able to take care of the win and the offense will step on the breaks in the second half. If Stafford secures his TDs early, he could salvage his day but his upside is limited by a a few things. For one, the game could be a blowout. Two, Calvin Johnson’s possible injury and lastly, the fact that Buffalo’s defense is not bad at all. You’re probably starting him but take a look at the rankings page to see the 9 better options at QB this week.
I’d start the following players over Stafford: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler.
· Shane Vereen vs. Cincinnati –The Patriots offense has been putrid through 4 weeks and it looks like there's no one answer that will make them any more than an average unit. The offensive line is in shambles. Belichick was benching player after player on the o-line, making the game they were playing look more like musical chairs instead of football. Brady and Belichick have too much pride and intelligence to get blown out week after week. Whether or not they figure out how to be a top team once again, the Patriots will try to figure out how to create big plays and let one of the best players of all time, Brady, determine their fate. The beneficiary of the struggling Patriots in the long term will be Shane Vereen. The Patriots soon to be passing mode offense favors Vereen’s game. His resurgence into fantasy relevance starts this week in a matchup against a very good Cincinnati defense. We saw glimpses of this last week as he totaled 5 receptions and 67 total yards but I expect a lot more going forward. I see a lot of dump-offs, quick passes, screens and wheel routes with some draws mixed in. Plus, if the Patriots do get to the red zone, he should also get a few goal line looks. 8-10 catches, 100 total yards and a TD is within reach for Vereen.
I’d Start Shane Vereen over: Arian Foster, Zac Stacy, Matt Asiata, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Ivory
· Reggie Bush vs. Buffalo – While nobody in the real world likes to see an injury, Reggie Bush owners around the world probably were not all that upset when Joique Bell went to the sidelines with a concussion in the 3rd quarter last week. If Bell can’t give it a go, Bush owners will finally get what they’ve been screaming about all year, the majority of touches in the running game. Expect a heavy workload for Bush in probable blowout even if Bell does play as he may be limited. 100+ total yards 5+ catches and at least one score are my prediction.
I’d Start Reggie Bush over: Eddie Lacy, Frank Gore, Montee Ball, Andre Ellington
· Zac Stacy at Philadelphia – The confidence in Zac Stacy among the general public baffles me. I see him listed as a top 12 RB this week so maybe I’m just watching a different game, but I don’t see it. Philadelphia should be able to control this game, easily limiting Stacy’s rushing attempts. In addition, Stacy has not yet earned the complete trust of his own coach, as displayed by his exact 50/50 split with Benny Cunningham (34 snaps each) in week 3. I don’t trust Austin Davis to keep this game competitive and I don’t trust Jeff Fisher to play Stacy enough to warrant this kind of value.
I’d Start the following players over Zac Stacy: Reggie Bush, Khiry Robinson, Doug Martin, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams
· Khiry Robinson vs. Tampa Bay - The New Orleans Saints are a difficult team to figure out when it comes to fantasy RBs. With Mark Ingram out, everyone thought that Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas would split the remaining workload. Well, surprisingly it was Travaris Cadet who received the first touch of the game in week 4, and it was Pierre Thomas who played the most snaps on offense. Khiry Robinson averaged almost 11 YPC and totaled over 100 yards but again, the timeshare was alarming (Snapcount: Pierre Thomas-23, Khiry Robinson-18, Travaris Cadet-18). Who knows what Sean Payton will do now after the Saints got trampled in Dallas. Furthermore, the Bucs run defense is healthy and stout with star DT Gerald McCoy having returned last week.This unit held LeVeon Bell to only 3.3 YPC and 63 yards rushing in week 4. There’s too much uncertainty with the Saints backfield for me to trust Robinson as any more than a flex option this week.
I’d Start the following players over Khiry Robinson: Doug Martin, Shane Vereen, Chris Ivory, Andre Williams, Justin Forsett
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When the Saints come marching in, defenses shudder.
That’s been the case ever since Drew Brees and Sean Payton formed an alliance that’s brought one Super Bowl championship and countless fantasy titles to owners across the globe. The combination of a Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the shrewdest offensive minds in the game has proven to be a fantasy owner’s delight, often without elite skill players.
This year will be no different for Brees and Co. Both George and Stephen see Brees as the favorite to be the No. 1 QB in fantasy. He’s a few years younger than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, has been extremely durable and plays inside a dome. Combined with a great supporting cast that now features rookie Brandin Cooks, Brees should easily finish as a top-three QB.
New Orleans’ running back situation is solid in real-life, but from a fantasy perspective it’s a mess. Former first-round pick Mark Ingram is the biggest name, but he has yet to establish himself as a full-time player. The former Heisman Trophy winner had one breakout performance in 2013 against the Cowboys—but who didn’t? Take away his 145-yard performance against Dallas and Ingram averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. George and Stephen are steering clear of the first-round disappointment.
On the other hand, Stephen sees value in Pierre Thomas for PPR league owners. Thomas led all running backs with 77 receptions in 2013 and figures to see plenty of passing-down duties with Darren Sproles gone. He’s a solid flex option.
Though Khiry Robinson possesses NFL-caliber skills, his poor preseason production has George questioning his fantasy relevance. Stephen agrees and doesn’t see Robinson as a draftable asset.
Moving to the receivers, George and Stephen differ in their views of Marques Colston and Kenny Stills. While George still sees Colston as a rock-solid WR3, Stephen is skeptical that New Orleans’ No. 1 receiver can rebound from a down year. However, Stephen sees big things ahead for Stills, who led the NFL with a 20-yards-per-catch average as a rookie. George disagrees that Stills will out-produce his veteran counterpart.
Brandin Cooks is the real wild card and should catch between 60-80 passes. He’s tailor-made to play indoors, where his ridiculous speed and quickness will be maximized. Both of our fantasy experts see him as a solid flex option with WR3 upside.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about the Saints’ fantasy prospects without mentioning the king of the tight end/receiver/hybrid position: Jimmy Graham. Unquestionably the best pass-catching tight end in football, Graham is poised for another big season and shouldn’t have any trouble finishing atop his position. Even with Rob Gronkowski coming back, Graham is simply too athletic and too involved to not be the No. 1 fantasy tight end.
It’s clear the Saints know what they’re doing on offense. Don’t be afraid to spend early-rounds picks on Brees or Graham and position yourself for a fantasy championship!