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2011 Fantasy outlooks: New Orleans Saints

Senior Fantasy Writer
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In an offseason where there wasn't much going on, the Saints sure found ways to retool their roster.

Before the NFL's labor dispute began, the Saints trimmed some fat by releasing tight end Jeremy Shockey and bulked up by signing defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. They also extended the contract of Pierre Thomas while not doing any readjustment for fellow rusher Reggie Bush, only to trade him in July and replace him with Darren Sproles. And then during Day 1 of the NFL Draft, Sean Payton & Co. improved their pass rush with the drafting of defensive end Cameron Jordan while splurging with another first-round pick via trade in power rusher Mark Ingram.

And now a team that was dangerous to begin with looks even scarier to opponents. Though the Saints aren't entirely free of problems -- Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Pierre Thomas are coming off of surgery this offseason -- they are loaded to make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.

Much of that success will fall on the shoulders of Drew Brees. A key figure in the NFL labor dispute, Brees overcame playing on an injured knee for part of last season to finish as a Top 6 Fantasy quarterback. Because the knee injury is behind him, many Fantasy owners believe Brees will improve on his 2010 stats and be a Top 3 Fantasy passer. With burgeoning talents like Jimmy Graham and Lance Moore combined with the receivers he's got, there's no reason to believe he won't -- unless Ingram dominates on the ground and takes the ball out of his hands, of course.

Bust ... Pierre Thomas, RB

Ever since he came into the league, Thomas has been a favorite of mine. He's been a rare versatile rusher capable of doing anything asked of him -- except stay healthy. The poor guy messed up his ankle twice last season, and while the Saints showed him some gratitude with a contract extension, they also shored up their backfield by trading a future first-round pick and more for Mark Ingram and signing Darren Sproles to help replace Reggie Bush. Obviously, the addition of Ingram doesn't suggest that they'll put their eggs in Thomas' basket. Instead, figure that the Saints will take advantage of Thomas' versatility and use him as a rusher and a receiver in a part-time role. Draft accordingly, or better yet, don't draft him at all unless you pick up Ingram.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value
Quarterbacks
Drew Brees
Running Backs
Mark Ingram
Darren Sproles
Pierre Thomas
Chris Ivory
Wide Receivers
Marques Colston
Lance Moore
Robert Meachem
Tight Ends
Jimmy Graham
Kickers/Defense
Garrett Hartley
Saints DST

Impact rookie ... Mark Ingram, RB

Duh! If the Saints ponied up a handful of picks to get this guy, you better believe he'll see a lot of playing time. At one point last year New Orleans' run game was down to Julius Jones and Ladell Betts, and between them rushing touchdowns were a challenge. Enter Ingram, who averaged 5.7 yards per rush in college and a touchdown every 13.6 carries, to shoulder the rushing workload. Not only can Ingram run powerfully between the tackles, but he caught 53 passes in his last two seasons at 'Bama and could serve as a short-area outlet for Brees. And speaking of Brees, so long as he's back there, defenses will never load the box to try and slow down the run -- that's an open invitation to get ripped by Brees. Ingram is expected to get close to 1,000 total yards and six touchdowns, but he might blow the doors off of that even with Sproles in the fold.

Breakout ... Jimmy Graham, TE

We're not going to recite the hype that others have spewed about Graham. We won't remind you of his four touchdowns over his final three games, or that if you extrapolated his stats from his final eight games that he would have had 52 catches for 614 yards and 10 touchdowns over a full season. No, we won't bowl you over with numbers. Instead, we'll point to his playing time in his final eight games, and how Drew Brees couldn't help but look his way in the red zone (nine targets, seven red-zone catches, five touchdowns). We promise that the Saints already have a play in their arsenal where Brees fakes the handoff to Ingram and throws a tall dart to Graham for six. And that you'll see it many times. His yardage numbers probably won't be on par with the likes of Antonio Gates or Jason Witten, but he should still be a solid factor in the New Orleans offense, especially with a year of work already under his belt.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@GB CHI HOU @JAC @CAR @TB IND @STL TB @ATL bye NYG DET @TEN @MIN ATL CAR

They'll start with a tall order: at Green Bay to kick off the season and then a home date against the Bears. But after that the Saints should roll. Expect a lot of high-scoring games as they'll take on some potent offenses this season, but there isn't a defense that should shake Brees' boots. Ingram could put up some impressive totals in Weeks 3 through 9 -- definitely watch out for that. Not even a three-game road trip during that early chunk of the year is enough to dissuade owners from Saints on Draft Day.

2010 Touches Leaders
* includes postseason
Player Touches
Chris Ivory 138
Pierre Thomas 112
Marques Colston 89
Reggie Bush 80
Lance Moore 70

Training camp topics

Back in 2006, the Saints had Reggie Bush fall into their lap on Draft Day and ever since was a key figure on the field and off. But with a huge contract number on him for 2011, the team dealt him to Miami for a draft pick. In the process, they replaced him with Darren Sproles, who should pick up Bush's special-teams reps immediately and work his way into a role on offense too. Here's the kicker: Will Sproles impact the run game as much as Bush did, or might he take on a lesser role and open the door for Ingram, Thomas and receiver Lance Moore to pick up the touches left behind by Bush?

The health of receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are obvious concerns heading into camp as well. Colston had another microfracture procedure on his knee and got work done on his wrist while Meachem took care of a left ankle issue that had reportedly bothered him since he was a kid. Both should be OK for training camp. Colston has become a staple in Fantasy Football and is a pretty consistent choice as a low-end No. 1/top-end No. 2 receiver. Meachem has been the opposite: Inconsistent as can be but with off-the-charts potential. If Meachem feels as good as he says he does and can earn regular playing time, he could surprise us (or not surprise you if you read this and then draft him late).

If you miss on an elite DST on Draft Day, the Saints are worth a look with one of your last two picks. They boast one of the best secondaries in football and added run stuffer Shaun Rogers to a pretty good front seven, even with the loss of Remi Ayodele. Their linebacking corps needs sorting around Jonathan Vilma and their pass rush needs improvement, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams could fix those issues in short order and make this defense ferocious. The schedule is challenging for the defense but they could be a nice bargain.

Injury update

Marques Colston (knee, wrist; probable for the start of training camp) ... Robert Meachem (ankle; probable for the start of training camp) ... Pierre Thomas (ankle; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Chris Ivory (foot; questionable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
Steelers LB Ryan Shazier expected to play Week 8
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, who's missed four straight games with a sprained knee, is expected to suit up Week 8 against the Colts, reports ESPN.com.

LeSean McCoy should see bigger role if Darren Sproles is out
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) With Darren Sproles likely out for Week 8 against the Cardinals, how will the Eagles fill the hole in their offense this Sunday?  

Chris Polk is the third running back on the depth chart, but he might not have the skills to fill in for Sproles. He has just four career receptions in the NFL, and wasn't much of a pass-catcher in college, with a career-high of 31 catches as a senior. And, of course, he is dealing with his own injury issues, with a hamstring that may still keep him sidelined Sunday.

Of course, the Eagles already have a pretty fantastic option to catch passes out of the backfield in LeSean McCoy. McCoy has taken a step back as a pass-catcher this season, with just 16 through six games, but he does have at least 50 in three of the last four seasons. He should do just fine.

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Report: Ray Rice's appeal to be held Nov. 5-6
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(2:46 pm ET) The appeal hearing for former Ravens running back Ray Rice will be held Nov. 5-6, reports NFL Network. Rice is appealing his indefinite suspension from the league for a domestic violence incident in February.

Former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones will hear and decide the appeal.


Giants RB Andre Williams asked to show more patience
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Giants rookie running back Andre Williams often fails to let his blocks materialize, making it harder to find a crease, according to The Star-Ledger. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry over the past two weeks as Rashad Jennings' replacement.

"I think for all young players, they have a tendency to really get in a hurry, but I think that he is getting more patient as he continues to go," running backs coach Craig Johnson said.

The Giants are on a bye Week 8 before hosting the Colts in Week 9 on Monday Night Football. Jennings hopes to return from his knee injury against Indy, but if he can't Williams will make his third start.


Patriots' running back situation mostly clear
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:22 pm ET) Forget about Brandon Bolden. The Patriots' use of him against the Jets in Week 7 -- he played only one snap -- pretty much tells the story there. Granted, they've had their share of about-faces at the running back spot over the last few years, so I wouldn't dare claim to know what they're thinking, but if they've decided their next-best choice at the position is Jonas Gray, who at least saw the field for 11 plays Thursday, it's pretty clear what direction they intend to go, right?

With that in mind, I cautiously, carefully and with a preemptive tinge of regret plan to start Shane Vereen Week 8 against Chicago and hopefully every week thereafter. Yes, he played 80 percent of the snaps in Week 7, and yes, he scored two touchdowns. But you'll notice both of them came through the air. True, he also got more than two-thirds of the Patriots' carries, but I can't help but wonder if in a different matchup, one that encouraged them to pound the ball instead of rushing just 15 times as a team, they would have been more creative. That would work to Vereen's detriment, obviously.

For more of my biggest takeaways from Week 7, be sure to check out my latest post to the Fantasy Football Today blog.


Darren McFadden still carries limited value
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:16 pm ET) Raiders running back Darren McFadden has fallen on such hard times that even a three-week span with one double-digit Fantasy performance counts as a career renaissance. Does he have another level he can take his game to?

McFadden ranks 29th among running backs in Fantasy points over his last three games, but has just 25 Fantasy points. This might be more indicative of just how bad the position has been recently, as he isn't exactly lighting the world on fire. McFadden has topped 4.0 yards per carry just once this season, and has registered one or more Fantasy points through the air in just two games.

McFadden gets work, which will always make him an interesting Fantasy option, no matter how mediocre he is. Still, there are higher upside options out there than McFadden, who also carries the constant risk of injury. As a third Fantasy running back, McFadden is fine, but he doesn't have much more value than that at this point.  


Dolphins RB Lamar Miller wearing brace on right knee
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Dolphins running back Lamar Miller practiced Tuesday wearing a brace on his right knee, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Miller has been on the injury report lately with a knee injury, but it's not believed to be serious. He has not missed a game.

Martavis Bryant a threat to Markus Wheaton
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:11 pm ET) Wide receiver Markus Wheaton didn't impress through the first six weeks of the season, so the Steelers saw fit to give someone else a chance Week 7 against Houston. Active for the first time this season, Martavis Bryant had as productive a day as any pass catcher not named Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell, hauling in two passes for 40 yards, including a 35-yarder in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. His five targets were third-most on the team, and no one after him had more than two.

That includes Wheaton, who was among those with two targets, going without a catch. He actually played 48 percent of the Steelers' snaps compared to Bryant's 34 percent, which makes his lack of production even more discouraging. Considering he's been up around 80 percent most of the year, he may be in danger of being overtaken.

Of course, Wheaton probably wouldn't disappear completely, and because Antonio Brown is still the go-to guy in the Steelers passing game, Bryant probably wouldn't have the opportunity for big numbers in his place. But in leagues deep enough that Wheaton is relevant, Bryant is now, too.


Bills put C.J. Spiller on short-term IR
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(2:10 pm ET) The Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve/designated for return, meaning he's eligible to return Week 16 at Oakland. Spiller had surgery Monday to fix the broken collarbone he suffered Sunday against the Vikings.

Outlook for Le'Veon Bell continues to improve
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
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But then he went and caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against the Texans in Week 7, putting him second among all running backs with 36 receptions, behind only Matt Forte (who remains in a class of his own). In PPR leagues, he's also third among running backs, behind Forte and DeMarco Murray, in Fantasy points to date.

Even better, his touchdown came from the 2-yard line -- a situation where the Steelers may have gone to LeGarrette Blount earlier in the season. Only one of Blount's seven carries even came in Texans' territory in this one.

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