After averaging 5,272 passing yards and 42.7 touchdowns passes per year during the 2011-2013 seasons, Brees’ production declined during the 2014 season. While he fell barely short of reaching 5,000 passing yards, finishing the year with 4,952, his touchdown count dropped to 33 and he threw 17 drive killing interceptions. His points per game fell to just 24.5 after averaging 28.0 during 2011-2013. Solid numbers to be sure, but a decline that causes some concern as he enters the latter stages of his career at 36 years of age. Not helping matters is the talent drop in his supporting cast with tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills traded in the offseason. In addition, Marques Colston’s days of topping 1,000 receiving yards appear to be over and the Saints have done a poor job in grooming a replacement for him. New Orleans will look to 2nd year wide receiver Brandin Cooks, tight end Josh Hill and running back C.J. Spiller to help replace the lost production, but there are also strong hints out of New Orleans that the team will rely more heavily on the running game in 2015. We rate Brees as our 4th ranked quarterback this season behind Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, but he should be considered a tier below his normal top tier standing given there is increased risk owning Brees in 2015.
It took a while but the light seemed to finally come on for Ingram as an NFL runner in 2014. Taken in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Ingram struggled to earn consistent playing time during his first three leagues in the league, failing to top 700 total yards in any season. However, that changed last season as he amassed 964 yards and nine touchdowns in just 13 games while also reaching career highs in receptions with 29 and receiving yards with 145. That earned him a four-year, $16-million contract extension in the offseason and he will split the running back duties with free agent signee C.J. Spiller in 2015. Look for Ingram to handle most of the early down work as well as short yardage duties with Spiller chipping in 8-10 rushes per game and working as the team’s main receiving option out of the backfield. Although Ingram isn’t in line for a workhorse type role, he rates as an intriguing mid-tier RB2 given head coach Sean Payton’s apparent desire to alter his run-pass ratio this coming season. While Spiller’s presence puts the damper on any true breakout expectations for Ingram, he should approach 1,200 total yards with another 8-10 touchdowns.
Didn’t you always get the impression that the Buffalo Bills didn’t really know how to get the most out of running back C.J. Spiller? Well, he’s moved on to New Orleans for the 2015 season to play for a head coach in Sean Payton who seems to squeeze every ounce of production out of a running back that they have to offer. From Pierre Thomas to Darren Sproles to Mark Ingram and even lesser talents such as Khiry Robinson, Payton puts his running backs in roles where they can succeed. And we expect that will carry over to Spiller in 2015. More comfortable running on the edges and in the passing game than running between the tackles, Spiller will relinquish most of the obvious rushing down work to Mark Ingram. Since Pierre Thomas caught 77 passes in 2013 and Sproles averaged 77 receptions per year during his three year stay in New Orleans, look for Spiller to catch at least 50 passes in his first year in New Orleans. While the ride may be bumpy, look for him to amass at least 1,100 total yards with between 7-10 touchdowns. We rate Spiller as a lower tier RB2 in standard scoring formats and a mid-tier RB2 in PPR leagues.
An undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M, Robinson is clearly a player that the Saints like. It’s just that they don’t quite like him enough to hand him a significant role in their offense. After rushing for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first six games, Robinson suffered a broken arm in Week 7, missed seven games and was relegated to spot duty when he returned to the lineup. With Mark Ingram having been signed to a long term contract extension and the addition of C.J. Spiller in free agency, Robinson won’t see more than a handful of carries a game barring an injury to either Ingram or Spiller. A punishing runner, Robinson has the potential to be an effective handcuff (in particular if he were to assume Ingram’s role) but he is best left on the waiver wire in most leagues.
The Saints are betting big that Cooks will emerge as a game breaking talent in their passing attack. Taken in the 1st round of last year’s draft, Cooks was enjoying a solid rookie season before a thumb injury ended his season in Week 11. In the 10 games he appeared in, Cooks hauled in 53 of his 69 targets for 550 yards and three scores while adding another 73 yards and a touchdown running the ball. Impressive but hardly earth shattering. However, the Saints apparently saw enough to convince them that they could trade their top receiving option in tight end Jimmy Graham as well as wide receiver Kenny Stills even though Marques Colston is clearly nearing the end of his career. At 5’9″ and 189 pounds and possessing great speed and agility, Cooks is a playmaker when the ball is in his hands but he failed to generate many big plays on deep passes as a rookie. With little competition for targets in the passing game, Cooks has an opportunity to shine in 2015. We rate him as a mid-tier WR2 in redraft formats and a top notch dynasty league prospect.
After topping 1,000 receiving yards in six of his first seven seasons and only missing the feat during an injury-shortened 2008 season, Colston has failed to reach that plateau in each of the past two seasons. At 32 years of age, the sun is starting to set on Colston’s career and 2015 will be the first season that he isn’t expected to be the team’s leading receiver since his rookie campaign back in 2006. While he has seen his targets, receptions and yards decline in each of the past three seasons, he did finish the 2014 season strongly with 25 receptions for 366 yards and four touchdowns in his final six games (10.1 PPG). Although that production was somewhat touchdown heavy, it’s worth noting that Colston will likely earn more red zone looks in 2015 given the departure of tight end Jimmy Graham. Given that his competition for targets consists of largely unproven players such as Brandin Cooks, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan and Josh Hill, there is a chance that Colston could enjoy somewhat of a bounce back season in 2015. The days of Colston as a low end WR1 may have come to an end but his current ADP has him being drafted as a bottom end WR4. We have him rated just outside WR3 range, and someone you can draft later and start early in the season if your young receivers with upside struggle.
Drafted out of Wisconsin with a 4th round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Toon has amassed just 21 receptions for 283 yards and one touchdown during his first three years in the league. At 6’4″ and 218 pounds and lacking deep speed, Toon is a possession receiver and he will enter training camp as the frontrunner to be the team’s 3rd receiver, although we expect that Joseph Morgan will earn some looks in that role due to his big play ability. Given that Toon has done precious little to expect a breakout season from him, he is likely only fantasy relevant in the event of an injury to either Marques Colston or Brandin Cooks. We project Toon to catch 35-40 balls for 500 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Waived by the Saints last December after being suspended earlier in the season, Morgan was surprisingly re-signed by the team in free agency. Lacking a speed option other than Brandin Cooks, Morgan will likely emerge with a roster spot and get enough downfield looks to catch 15-20 balls and score a couple of touchdowns. Unfortunately, his skill set hasn’t developed beyond that as a torn ACL caused him to miss all of the 2013 season and he spent most of last year in the doghouse. Barring injuries at the wide receiver position, Morgan isn’t worthy of a roster spot in all but the deepest fantasy leagues.
With Jimmy Graham’s trade to the Seahawks, the fantasy football community almost immediately tapped Josh Hill as a TE1 in 2015 as well as a potential breakout candidate. Let’s be clear here. Josh Hill is no Jimmy Graham and expecting him to come close to matching Graham’s production over the last four years (4,396 yards and 46 touchdowns) isn’t just foolhardy, it’s ridiculous. Graham has outstanding athletic ability while Hill wasn’t even drafted. While it was nice that Hill chalked up five touchdowns on just 14 receptions last season, you can bet your bottom dollar most of those touchdowns came as a result of the extra attention opposing defenses were giving Graham. Did we mention that the Saints thought so much of Hill that they put in a waiver claim on Tim Wright, whose skill set almost identically matches Hill’s? Or that head coach Sean Payton put the brakes on the Hill breakout talk in June when he mentioned that Hill’s playing time could be limited to sub-packages? While Hill displayed enough skill last season to suggest that he could emerge as a solid receiving option at tight end, his lack of blocking ability and the presence of Ben Watson will almost certainly prevent him from receiving enough targets to emerge as a mid-tier TE1. His upside is as a low end TE1 (which is where his ADP has him) but we would draft him as a mid-tier TE2.