The Saints' march to a championship last year was spurred by opportunistic play on both sides of the ball. The defense did a good job slamming the run for much of the season and had some electric moments against the pass (Tracy Porter's fourth-quarter interception-return of a Peyton Manning pass in the Super Bowl being the biggest of them all). But the offense ran well through the first 13 games and resulted in nearly every skill-position player having at least a decent measure of Fantasy value.
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Sometimes when a team wins the title there are questions about how they'll play the following year. There aren't many of those concerns for the Saints. Losing only one notable Fantasy option via free agency this spring (Mike Bell signed with the Eagles), the offense comes back intact running the exact same scheme that has tortured defenses for four years running.
So long as Drew Brees is under center and playcaller Sean Payton runs the show for the Saints, this offense will be potent and unpredictable, making them Fantasy catalysts. Remember, the Saints have owned the No. 1-ranked offense in football three of the past four years, with a fourth-place finish in 2007.
March into your Draft Day with Saints players at a premium.
Late-round flier ... Lynell Hamilton, RB
Hamilton is in line to replace Mike Bell as the backup and time-splitter behind Pierre Thomas, and there's been no indication given this offseason that he's going to have to fight hard for the job. The Saints let Bell go as a restricted free agent to Philadelphia and the team didn't draft or bring in any other rushers. There's a reason for it: Hamilton scored twice during last season on very limited reps and also punched one in for a score during the postseason. Sean Payton even gave him a vote of confidence this offseason when he said he and his staff haven't hesitated to consider him as a short-yardage/goal-line option. While we believe Thomas will be the bell cow of the Saints' offense, Hamilton should also see an uptick in production. He's worth a late-round pick in drafts.
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Bounce-back candidate ... Pierre Thomas, RB
Thomas had 909 total yards and 12 total touchdowns in 2008 and 1,095 total yards and eight total touchdowns in 2009. We're putting Thomas here because we think he'll exceed those totals and firmly establish himself in 2010. We've already chronicled Hamilton and named him as a candidate to take a few reps and potential goal-line work from Thomas. But it would be a surprise to see Hamilton take on the total amount of touches Bell did last season when he worked with Thomas. Furthermore, Thomas is healthy entering training camp (last year he was dealing with knee problems that saw him get off to a slow start) and is playing for a contract this season. He's motivated, he's without major competition for playing time and he's already proven that he can be productive. Here's the kicker: Thomas can be had a little bit later in drafts this summer compared to last summer. Do not hesitate to make him your No. 2 Fantasy rusher.
Bust ... Robert Meachem, WR
Meachem was incredible last season, scoring six touchdowns over five straight games and giving a stunning boost to the Saints' offense. But he finished the year with a whimper, including two catches for 6 yards in the Super Bowl and going 0-for-the-playoffs in catches beyond 20 yards. The Saints' receiving corps is bulking up with the return of a healthy Lance Moore and a deeper tight end corps than last year. That might not impact Meachem's role as a deep-ball receiver much, but this might: He had offseason toe surgery and the reports aren't optimistic that he'll be speeding as usual in training camp. Meachem should end up being beyond serviceable for the Saints, but expecting nine touchdowns (10 if you count his fumble recovery at Washington as an offensive play) is too much. He's best kept as a No. 3 receiver and nothing more -- don't risk a good draft pick on him when there's some risk involved.
If you enjoyed the story of the Saints in 2009, you'll probably like it again in 2010. They play 11 games indoors and have their difficult matchups spread out on the calendar. It helps that they play in a weak division where none of their rivals have complete defenses, and matchups against the Browns, Seahawks and Rams won't hurt either. Even better, a late-season bye week means that owners will get a lot out of their Saints' stars before having to sit them. The schedule is just another reason to love the Saints' offense.
Training camp topics
Look, this team is an offensive juggernaut. The biggest things Fantasy owners have to look out for are preseason injuries. The Saints have a lot of players who aren't known for their durability, none more significant than Reggie Bush. The versatile running back finally improved his rushing average but posted career-lows in attempts, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards last season. Between his injury history (no 16-game seasons since 2006) and his seemingly declining role in the passing game, it's going to be important to see just how ready to roll Bush is after not having any significant surgery this offseason. He also might play with a chip on his shoulder following NCAA sanctions against USC for violations allegedly stemming from his time there.
It will also be interesting to see how this defense stacks up. The Saints enjoyed big play from their defensive tackles and safeties last season, and their secondary has become exceptionally deep with the return of safety Usama Young, cornerback/safety Malcolm Jenkins and the drafting of first-round pick Patrick Robinson. The funny thing is, all of those guys have plenty of talent but none are penciled in as starters -- a sign of just how talented their defensive backs are. The knee of Darren Sharper will be something to watch, as will the strong-side linebacker starting job and the progression of veteran Alex Brown, who signed with the Saints this offseason.
But the bottom line is that there should be minimal regression from this team offensively, and perhaps only a small regression defensively. There's the chance that both sides of the ball could be even better. Pair that with a favorable schedule and their standing in the weakish NFC South, and the Saints might have the pieces in place to make another championship run.
Robert Meachem (toe; probable for the start of training camp) ... Devery Henderson (hernia; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Jeremy Shockey (back; probable for the start of training camp) ... Darren Sharper (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Heath Evans (knee; questionable for the start of training camp).
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