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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
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


49ers' Phil Dawson makes 1-of-2 field-goal attempts in Week 7
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree held to 27 yards in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

While the 49ers averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a team Sunday, top options Crabtree (6.8 YPC) and Anquan Boldin (7.1 YPC) could find no room to work, leading to disappointing performances despite the offense dialing up 46 passes in the loss. Crabtree hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his last four games, and he owns 32 receptions, 322 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


Anquan Boldin catches seven passes in 49ers' Week 7 loss
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(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

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49ers WR Steve Johnson scores touchdown in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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