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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
Falcons' Robert Alford ready to expand his game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:06 am ET) Falcons cornerback Robert Alford knows that in order to continue to play at a high level he has to keep expanding his game, per ESPN.com.

Alford wants to be ready if his coaches approach him and ask for the 26-year-old to move down to the slot and play more in a nickleback role.

"I'd love to play outside and nickel," Alford said. "I told the coaches I'd love to play both. Wherever they need me, I'm willing to play. As long as I'm on the field being able to compete and show my talent, I feel good."

Alford recorded 31 tackles and three interceptions in 10 games last season.


Chargers' Franklin: Rivers more 'approachable' than Manning
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Chargers offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, in an appearance on NBC Sports Network's Pro Football Talk Live, said Philip Rivers is a more "approachable" quarterback than Peyton Manning

Franklin spent the past four years with the Broncos and has played with Manning the past three seasons. He joined the Chargers this offseason as a free agent. 

“[O]ne thing I noticed immediately when I got here is that Philip Rivers is definitely more approachable than Peyton,” Franklin said. “I don’t know if it was because I was a lot younger being that I met Peyton in my second season and now meeting Phillip going into my fifth season but definitely I will say Phillip is more approachable than Peyton.”


Lions DT Caraun Reid taking strides during early OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:28 am ET) With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley gone, there will be a lot of opportunities for defensive tackle Caraun Reid to contribute for the Lions, per mlive.com.

Though it's still early during organized team activities, Reid has impressed coach Jim Caldwell thus far. 

"I think he's done a tremendous job just in terms of his approach to it," Caldwell said. "He looks good, increased his strength, his lean muscle has gone up, I mean, the whole gamut. So, hopefully we'll see that translate when we get an opportunity to go out there and go after it."

Reid, a fifth-round pick out of Princeton in 2014, has gotten a majority of the first-team reps during OTA's, which defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says ties back to the hard work he put in during the offseason.

"He's trained really hard, he's in really good shape," Austin said. "He looks good right now. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see once we get to pads where we are, but I like what he's done so far."

Reid appeared in 12 games last season and recorded just two tackles.


Colts Bjoern Werner: 'I can be a baller' when healthy
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Since he was selected in the first-round of the 2013 draft, Colts defensive end Bjoern Werner has been banged up and bruised with various injuries. 

For Werner, playing through these ailments has frustrated him through the first two years of his career. He's totaled 68 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks through 28 regular-season games int wo seasons. 

"I don't want to sound cocky, but personally, I feel like when I'm out there and healthy, I can be a baller," Werner said, via the Indianapolis Star. "I can do it all. You always have to get that mojo going of course. But I'm telling you, I'm confident I can be an NFL player and a starter in this league."


Jets' Bowles: Leonard Williams 'more mature than the average rookie'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) Jets coach Todd Bowles has been impressed with rookie defensive end Leonard Williams' maturity since bringing him on board. 

"He's more mature than the average rookie," Bowles said, via NJ.com. "He's grasping the system quickly and he's moving around well out of pads, but to really judge him, you have to see him in pads for the linemen."

Williams was taken by the Jets with the sixth-overall pick, even though the organization has plenty of defensive line talent on the roster. Bowles said that Williams doesn't look the part of someone coming out of college when it comes to the way he presents himself on and off the field. 

"Just the way he carries himself," Bowles said. "He doesn't carry himself like a young 20-year-old. He's got years beyond his age and the way he comes in and walks into it, treating it professionally."


Jaguars DE Dante Fowler has surgery to repair torn ACL
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) Jaguars rookie defensive end Dante Fowler underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL sustained in rookie minicamp, according to the Florida Times-Union

Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery. 

Fowler will miss his rookie season as a result. He was the team's first-round selection and the draft's third-overall selection. 


Lions TE Eric Ebron struggling with drops early in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:13 am ET) The Lions need tight end Eric Ebron to be one of their primary offensive weapons, but the second-year player has not looked like that early on in organized team activities, per mlive.com.

The 22-year-old is suffering from a severe case of butter fingers. He dropped at least three well-thrown balls and mishandled a high pass that hit his hands.

Ebron, though, is confident he will work through the drops and expects them to be a thing of the past.

"The one over the middle I shouldn't have dropped. Got down on myself, and it made me drop the next one," Ebron said. "That's just stuff that I've been practicing (to prevent), and I let it get to me.

"But it's Day 2 of OTAs. We're just out there competing. I'll settle down. Today was a bit jittery, but I'll settle down and that'll never happen again."

Ebron caught 25 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown in 13 games last season.


Colts getting Jack Mewhort reps at right tackle
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:10 am ET) Colts offensive lineman Jack Mewhort received the majority of his snaps on Wednesday at right tackle, according to ESPN.com. 

Mewhort was getting these reps due to Gosder Cherilus unavailable. Mewhort entered the league as a left guard. 

"Versatility is hard to find," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "So obviously him playing a bunch of spots and playing everywhere along the line is definitely the more you can do. I think everybody is well aware of that spot and us trying to fill that hole right now. I'm fully confident that we've got the guys in this building right now that we're going to be fine there."


Broncos LB Brandon Marshall still rehabbing foot injury
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:01 am ET) Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall was able to lift weights with his teammates during Wednesday's OTA practice, according to the team's website. 

Marshall is still recovering from a foot injury which has kept him off the practice field thus far. 

"I think it will be fairly soon," Marshall said, "because I feel really good, honestly."

Marshall injured his foot in a December game against the Chargers and later played through the pain in the playoffs against the Colts. He said that watching practice hasn't been as much fun as being out there. 

"It's kind of tough, because while I'm out here, I need to pay attention; I need to watch more film, because when you do it more, you get a better feel for it," he said. "I have to learn through visual learning and just trying to soak up as much information as I can, because when training camp comes, it's going to come fast, and I've got to learn fast. I'll be all right.


Giants new-look offensive line on display in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:00 am ET) The Giants have completely remodeled their offensive line unit for the start of organized team activities.

Compared to last year's o-line, only two players are back but even those guys have switched positions and shifted along the line. Justin Pugh has gone from right tackle to left guard and Weston Richburg shifted from left guard to center.

Will Beatty, who was a mainstay at left tackle last season, will miss five to six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Beatty's injury has paved the way for rookie Ereck Flowers to step in at the left tackle position.

Quaterback Eli Manning is still adjusting to all the moving pieces in front of him.

"Obviously, having a new center can be an adjustment," Manning said. "But (Weston) Richburg was here last year and I got snaps with him last year, so that hasn't been a big deal. Anytime you have a rookie at left tackle, it can be an adjustment."

Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry are splitting time at right guard, while Marshall Newhouse has been taking the snaps at right tackle.


 
 
 
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