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2012 Fantasy outlooks: New Orleans Saints

Senior Fantasy Writer
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No team in the NFL has had a worse offseason than the Saints. If there was a lottery of bad luck, they would be millionaires.

To recap, the Saints were heavily penalized for their role in a bounty program. The NFL suspended coach Sean Payton for the season and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis got eight games, and standout defensive players Jonathan Vilma (the season) and Will Smith (four games) will also miss significant time.

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Mark Ingram (knee) also has yet to return at 100 percent, and his health issues remain after a down rookie year. It could be hard for him to reach his full potential in a loaded backfield. We consider Ingram a low-end No. 3 Fantasy running back at best, and he should only be drafted with a late-round pick.

Robert Meachem left the Saints as a free agent for the Chargers. The Saints should be able to fill his role with Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and someone out of the group of rookie Nick Toon, Adrian Arrington and Joe Morgan, but Meachem will be missed in this offense as a complementary option.

If there's a silver lining, it came a few weeks ahead of training camp when the Saints made quarterback Drew Brees the highest-paid player in the NFL with a five-year deal worth $100 million. Having him back in the fold eliminates any distractions this season and gives the team some good news. He remains a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback worth drafting in Round 1 in all standard leagues.

Another good thing for the Saints is Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham remain viable weapons, and all three project as starters in the majority of leagues. Brees should also show no signs of a long layoff and should continue to be an elite Fantasy quarterback.

Some owners are concerned the absence of Payton will hurt the offense, but we're not worried. Even though he's not around to call plays, the Saints should still be able to put up plenty of points.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Drew Brees 1
Running Backs
Darren Sproles 4
Pierre Thomas 8
Mark Ingram 9
Chris Ivory ND
Wide Receivers
Marques Colston 4
Lance Moore 9
Nick Toon ND
Devery Henderson ND
Joe Morgan ND
Tight Ends
Jimmy Graham 3
Kickers/Defense
Garrett Hartley 14
Saints DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Late-round flier ... Lance Moore, wide receiver
Moore had a productive year in 2011 when he finished with 110 Fantasy points, which made him the No. 30 receiver in standard leagues. He finished with 52 catches for 627 yards and eight touchdowns and his stats would have been better if he didn't miss two games due to injury. Moore is a reliable weapon for Brees, and he has at least eight touchdowns in three of the past four years. His targets (73 in 2011) should rise this year with Meachem (60) gone, which should only increase his value. And since you can get Moore with a late-round pick -- probably after Round 9 in most formats -- he will definitely out-produce his draft value. Even though Moore is fourth on the pecking order for Brees behind Colston, Graham and Sproles he still is a valuable weapon for the Saints and Fantasy owners.

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Bounce-back candidate ... Mark Ingram, running back
Ingram may never live up to his potential as long as he's with the Saints. Pierre Thomas remains in the mix and Sproles is the star of this backfield. Ingram just doesn't touch the ball enough to succeed. All three running backs had at least 85 carries last year, with Ingram leading the way at 122. He's not a great receiver in a passing offense, and he has to prove he can stay healthy. In 2011, Ingram missed six games, and he is now dealing with a knee injury heading into training camp. Still, with a late-round pick, Ingram could reap plenty of rewards. If he's healthy, Ingram could reach double digits in touchdowns and 800 rushing yards. He had five touchdowns last year in 10 games, so eight touchdowns is realistic this year going by last year's average. We would like Ingram better if Sproles and Thomas weren't around, but Ingram could still do damage if you draft him in the right spot.

Keeper-league target ... Nick Toon, wide receiver
The Saints drafted second-generation receiver Nick Toon from Wisconsin in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Toon led the Badgers in receiving with 64 catches for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Toon is the son of former NFL receiver Al Toon. With Meachem gone, the Saints need a fourth receiver behind Colston, Moore and Henderson, and Toon appears to have the inside track. He is having a great offseason and we hope he can develop a rapport with Brees once he signs. Toon still has to beat out Arrington and Morgan, who has plenty of upside, but we'd invest a late-round pick in deep seasonal leagues on Toon. He's also worth a mid-to-late pick in dynasty/keeper leagues and a third-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
WAS @CAR KC @GB SD bye @TB @DEN PHI ATL @OAK SF @ATL @NYG TB @DAL CAR
The Saints scored less than 30 points six times in 18 total games last year. They might drop that number to four or five games with sub-30 points in 2012. Payton or not, they're identity isn't about to change, and they don't face a lot of strong pass defenses. But they don't take on many tough run defenses either -- some might suggest they play only one (San Francisco at home in Week 12). If the Saints were to make a move to start running more, it would probably benefit them given their opponents. This schedule will keep the Saints offense churning full speed ahead.

Training camp topics

The only real battle for the Saints will take place between kickers Garrett Hartley and John Kasay, but we expect Hartley to win the job. He remains a No. 1 Fantasy kicker worth a last-round pick.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Darren Sproles 87 carries, 86 catches
Pierre Thomas 110 carries, 50 catches
Mark Ingram 122 carries, 11 catches
Jimmy Graham 99 catches
Marques Colston 80 catches

Colston is still an elite Fantasy receiver and should have another solid year. Despite a few nagging injuries that have kept him off the field for all but two of his years, Colston has had over 1,000 yards receiving, at least seven touchdowns and at least 70 receptions in five of six NFL seasons. He should be drafted by Round 4.

There is a strong debate about the No. 1 overall tight end between Graham and New England's Rob Gronkowski and when either should be drafted. I consider Gronkowski the best tight end in standard leagues, but Graham has an edge in PPR formats. The earliest I would draft either tight end would be Round 3 otherwise it's a reach, even as good as Graham has become after he had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns on a whopping 149 targets.

Sproles had 1,313 total yards and nine touchdowns last year with 86 catches, and we don't want to see a change in how he's used. He might not score as much this season, but his ability in this offense is off the charts. We would draft Sproles with a fourth-round pick in standard leagues, and it's not a stretch to take him in Round 2 in PPR formats. He's that good even with all the weapons around him.

Injury update

Ingram (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Chris Ivory (hamstring; probable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Bears sign DE Austen Lane
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) The Bears have signed defensive end Austen Lane, Pro Football Talk reports.

Lane will fill the roster spot of defensive end Willie Young, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Lane was with the Bears during the preseason but didn't survive the final cuts. He's managed three sacks in 30 career games.


Cardinals' Thomas starts practice 'shaky,' finishes 'pretty strong'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians indicated that Week 17 starting quarterback Logan Thomas was "shaky" at the beginning of Wednesday's practice but finished "pretty strong" as he developed an understanding of where to throw his passes, ESPN.com reports.

"He's worked, fundamentally, extremely hard and gotten much better," Arians said. "But putting those fundamentals to use in the offense, that's two totally different things."

Thomas has just three days of practice before facing the 49ers in a game that has the possibility of landing his team with a first-round bye with a win and help from other results.

"It wasn't the greatest, but as it went on, it got better and better," Thomas added. "It just comes with reps and comes with time."

The Cardinals are a 6-point underdog in San Francisco Sunday.


Seahawks' Russell Okung, Max Unger practice Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (lung) practiced in full Wednesday, while center Max Unger (ankle) was able to return to practice in a limited fashion.

Okung is on track to return in Week 17 after missing last week's game with a bruised lung. Unger hasn't played in any of the team's last five game due to a high ankle sprain. The Seahawks will earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win Sunday, and it's possible Unger suits up for the crucial game.

The Seahawks are a 12 1/2-point favorite at home against the Rams in Week 17.


Raiders QB Derek Carr practices Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was able to practice Wednesday despite dealing with an illness.

"I got here early to work out and see how I would feel during that and after that and I felt pretty good," Carr said at a press conference Wednesday. "So, felt good at practice today, obviously not 100 percent but it felt good to practice and be out here."

Carr has been able to start every game for the Raiders this season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes while racking up 3,112 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Raiders are a 14-point underdog in Denver in Week 17.


Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman practices in full Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman was able to practice in full Wednesday for the first time since suffering a left foot injury on Nov. 9, ESPN.com reports.

"We've had a chance to watch him all week, participate and he's obviously further ahead than he was this time a week ago," head coach John Fox said after Wednesday's practice. "And the fact we're on grass, not on Astroturf, lot of variables, but I like what I see."

Hillman has been able to practice in a limited fashion during the last two weeks but hasn't been active on gameday since the injury occured. The Broncos are a 14-point favorite at home against the Raiders in Week 17.


Falcons RB Steven Jackson (quad) expected to miss Week 17
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Falcons running back Steven Jackson (quad) is not expected to play in Sunday's Week 17 matchup with the Panthers, ESPN.com reports.

Jackson missed practice Wednesday and the team promoted running back Jerome Smith from the practice squad. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are expected to share the workload in the critical regular-season finale if Jackson is indeed sidelined.

The Falcons are a 4-point favorite at home against the Panthers.


49ers RB Carlos Hyde still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) 49ers rookie running back Carlos Hyde missed practice again Wednesday with an ankle injury. He sat out Week 16 and appears likely to miss Sunday's game against Arizona, too.

With Hyde out, veteran Frank Gore went off for 158 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against San Diego. Gore should see another big workload against the Cardinals.


Michael Crabtree doesn't sound eager to return to 49ers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Impending free-agent receiver Michael Crabtree was asked Wednesday if he wants to return to the 49ers next season. "It depends," Crabtree said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't even want to talk about it."

Crabtree is finishing up a disappointing season. He's played every game but has only 64 catches for 657 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from the 85 grabs, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns he put up in his last full season, 2012.


Ravens LT Eugene Monroe bothered by ankle injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Ravens starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, who hurt his ankle Week 16 against Houston, missed practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. His status is uncertain for the regular-season finale at Tennessee.

If Monroe can't play, undrafted rookie James Hurst likely would start, the website said.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (shoulder) unable to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/24/2014) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe, who sprained his shoulder in last week's loss at Pittsburgh, was unable to practice Wednesday, reports ESPN.com. Bowe leads Chiefs wideouts with 57 catches for 724 yards.

Kansas City hosts San Diego on Sunday as a 3-point favorite.


 
 
 
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