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.
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.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|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.
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.
Training camp topics
|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.
Ingram (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Chris Ivory (hamstring; probable for the start of training camp)