Team Profiles- New Orleans Saints 2015
by Utter-Fantasy Writer & Illustrator Doug Bowles
Ever since head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season as a result of the “Saint Bounty Scandal” where players were paid to “knock out” players on opposing teams, the New Orleans just haven’t looked like the same team. They also don’t look like the same team since QB Drew Brees demanded and got his $100 Million contract in July of 2012. (The Saints currently are 22 Million Dollars Overspent. The 2015 NFL salary cap is confirmed at $143 million, so Saints GM Mickey Loomis has plenty of work ahead of him if he wants to squeeze the franchise under the cap and still field a competitive team.) In several games last season when the Saints were far behind late in ballgames, it seemed as though they had no urgency to win any of them. When we think of QB Brees being down in the 4th quarter, we think of airing it out, and long strikes down the field. Last season however, we saw many games where New Orleans, down by a couple scores, continued to grind out yardage with RB Ingram, running the clock down to a point where a comeback wasn’t possible. HC Payton could be seen smiling on the sidelines with his playbook, until the final seconds ticked down. It was bizarre.
2015 Team Outlook- The Saints had losing records in 2014 & 2012 (both 7-9) and winning records in 2011 & 2013 (13-3 and 11-5) so the good news is…this is an odd year (2015) meaning if their pattern continues they should have another winning season. They are in a division with 4 good teams, Carolina, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, but no team seems to want to take over and dominate. Most of the other Divisions that I have written about in previous team spotlights, have 2015 looking like more of the same, such as Denver winning again, as well as Green Bay and Indianapolis, but the NFC South is different. Except for Tampa Bay, because of their uncertainty at the quarterback position, any of the other teams can win this division. Carolina has won the NFC South the past two years, but it’s an even call whether it will be Carolina, New Orleans or Atlanta that wins it on 2015.
2015 Fantasy Outlook-
QB– The great thing about QB Drew Brees for fantasy owners is…it doesn’t matter if the Saints win or lose, it’s irrelevant because he’s a guy that always puts up big stats regardless. The Saints could go 16-0 or 0-16, and Brees will still be a great fantasy quarterback. The Saints have drafted a young wide receiver for Brees to throw to, 3 years in a row. Brees also has one of the best tight ends in the NFL. 12% of of Drew Brees’ passing yards in 2013 went to RB Darren Sproles, and it was apparent that the Saints missed him as an outlet for Brees more than they thought they would. If Drew Brees ends the 2015 NFL season ranked in the top 3 of QBs, it will be his 10th year to do so. Quick fact: Brees has averaged 41 passes per game every year, for the past 5 years. UPDATE: Drew Greed’s $100 million contract has the Saints with the worst cap room in the league, so adios TE Graham & WR Kenny Stills. Brees will still have a decent fantasy year, but the New Orleans won’t contend for the division.
RBs– The Alabama Crimson Tide can say that 2 of the past 3 running backs drafted since 2011 are very successful in the NFL, Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy. Ingram was drafted 3 years ago by the Saints, and had a break out season in 2014. He ranked as the #15 RB in the NFL, rushing for 964 yards and scoring 9 TDs. He also had 145 receiving yards. The departure of RB Sproles and injuries to other Saint backs gave Ingram the opportunity he needed, and he didn’t disappoint. He would be a lock as the Saint’s #1 RB for the upcoming season, if he wasn’t a free agent. As previously noted, New Orleans is way over the cap right now and can only afford Ingram if he comes back at a team discount. With several strong running backs coming in April’s draft, and others available as free agents, Ingram would be smart to stay put and enjoy another season as the starter for a good team. RB Pierre Thomas was injured most of 2014, and turns 31 this year. Other running backs on the Saint’s roster, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet, are young players who have had limited action for New Orleans. Their roles could expand significantly if RB Ingram leaves for another team. UPDATE: Saints released RB Pierre Thomas and re-signed RB Mark Ingram to a 4 year deal. Saints also signed former Buffalo RB C J Spiller.
WRs– WR Marques Colston was drafted by the Saints in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and has been Brees’ go-2-guy ever since. Colston is the Saints’ all-time franchise leader in receiving yards, yards from scrimmage, receiving touchdowns, total touchdowns, and total receptions. In 2014, he led the team once again with 99 targets, but had career lows with 902 receiving yards and 5 TDS. At 32 years old, and a $7M contract Colston will need to accept a pay if he doesn’t want to be cut. The Saints have three young wide receivers, WRs Kenny Stllls, Brandon Cooks and Nick Toon, who have already been contributors to the offense and who should excel in 2015. UPDATE: Saints re-signed WR Joe Morgan and early out of camp has fourth-year WR Nick Toon as the “strong frontrunner” to serve as New Orleans’ No. 3 receiver this year.
TEs– Jimmy Graham said that he was playing at around 70% last season, and that’s just about how it hit his stats for the year. Although his receptions were not far off (143 in 2013 vs 125 in 2014) Graham’s yards receiving and TDs were down around 70% compared to 2014 when he was the #1 TE in the NFL. Even playing at 70%, Graham was still the #3 tight end in the league last season totaling 889 yards and 10 TDs. If he is 100% going into 2015, expect tight ends Graham and New England’s Gronkowski to have 16 round heavyweight fight to be the NFL’s #1. TE Ben Watson is 34 and entering the final year of his contract. The Saints are strapped for money (worst in the league) so Watson may have to go, which is OK because they really like 2013 un-drafted TE Josh Hill who had 176 yards and 5 TDs last year. UPDATE: Saints traded TE Jimmy Graham and a 2015 fourth-round pick to Seattle in exchange for C Max Unger and the 31st overall pick in the 2015 draft. TE Josh Hill is one of my favorite sleepers for 2015.
K– In 2014, the Saint’s potent offense had the 7th best Red Zone Scoring Percentage in the NFL. This is probably why they don’t kick very many field goals. Last season Shayne Graham only attempted 22 field goals, and connected on 19 of them. (Green Bay’s Mason Crosby attempted 40 in 2014.) Even at 37 years old, since he’s not asked to do a lot (he doesn’t handle kickoffs either), he should be around for the Saints in 2015.
DEF– The Saints 31st finish in 2014 marked the sixth time that they have been in the bottom 10 of total defenses, while coached by Sean Payton. With one of the best offenses every year, and one of the worst defenses every year, the Saints are the Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde team of the NFL. The defensive coordinator is Rob Ryan, who inherited one of the worst defenses in NFL history two years ago. Not much has worked for the defense, including recording the fifth fewest takeaways (206) in the NFL since 2006. In 2014, the Saints finished dead last in run-defense. The Saints have invested eight high picks in the past five drafts on defenders, and will likely go heavy on the defensive side again in April. UPDATE: Acquired MLB Dannell Ellerbe and a 2015 third-round pick from the Dolphins in exchange for WR Kenny Stills. New Orleans also signed CB Brandon Browner.
2014 New Orleans Fantasy Surprises– In 2013, RB Mark Ingram only played in 11 games, totaling 386 yards rushing yards on the season, and scoring once. Given his history since being drafted in 2011, RB Ingram wasn’t expected to be able to carry the ball 226 times. While RB Ingram wasn’t expected to produce as much as he did, WR Kenny Stills was expected to produce more. With QB Brees throwing the ball, and rookie WR Brandon Cooks on IR early after breaking his thumb in Week 1, Stills disappointed scoring only 3 TDs in 2014.
2015 Free Agents that New Orleans Needs to Address– QB Luke McCown (re-signed)- RB Mark Ingram (re-signed)- WR Robert Meachem- C Jonathon Goodwin- DE Brandon Deaderick- CB Patrick Robinson (signed w/ SD)
2015 NFL Draft- The immediate needs of New Orleans are trying to fix this defense and protection up front on the O-Lline. The Saints are in trouble at the corner back position and it should be their #1 draft selection (CB), the Saints were near the bottom of the league in sacks, and last at run defense (DT) and New Orleans decide that it’s time to think about the future (QB). UPDATE: Saint’s entire 2015 NFL Draft can be seen at this link- SAINT’S DRAFT
Did You Know– The New Orleans Saints most hated rival is division foe Atlanta Falcons and that Hurricane Katrina made it even worst. How? I’m glad you asked. In the aftermath of horrific event which occurred in 2005, many New Orleans residents were forced into moving to the Atlanta area, taking their Saints’ allegiances with them. This created the rare instance where many fans of the opposing teams not only hate each and each others team, but have to do so while residing in the same city…year-round.
All team reports can be seen at this link- TEAM REPORTS
Team Home Page: www.neworleanssaints.com