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Fantasy Extra: Choosing the right Saint

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When news of Darren Sproles' hand fracture surfaced before Week 9, Fantasy Football owners flocked to Pierre Thomas as the go-to replacement option.

But last week Thomas had just five carries -- third-highest on the team -- despite leading them in snaps played. Meanwhile, former first-round pick Mark Ingram led the Saints in carries in a close game against the Falcons but didn't have the best stats -- those belonged to Chris Ivory, who broke a long touchdown run for the second consecutive game.

A three-headed backfield is the kind of nightmare Fantasy owners shouldn't want any part of, but it's difficult to resist a running back in the New Orleans offense considering how many points it has the potential to put up from game to game, pretty much regardless of the opponent.

In an effort to try and make sense of what's going on in New Orleans, we broke down the playing time of the three backs from Week 10 against Atlanta.

 
Pierre Thomas
Mark Ingram
Chris Ivory
  Run Pass Run Pass Run Pass
1st & 10 3 6 10 3 3 2
2nd & 5+ 1 6 4 2 4 0
2nd & 4- 1 2 1 1 0 1
3rd & 5+ 0 7 1 0 0 0
3rd & 4- 0 1 0 1 0 0
Red Zone 0 2 2 1 0 0
Hurry up 1 7 0 0 0 0
Snaps 27 23 10

The first point to make is that on every run play listed above, the back received the carry. At no point did any two of these players play together. Fourth-string rusher Travaris Cadet occasionally shared the field with these guys in the game.

The next big-picture thought is that while Thomas had the most snaps, it is clear that he's who the Saints trust the most in pass protection and on passing plays, especially third-and-long and in the hurry-up offense. The one carry Ingram had on third down came at the end of the game when the Saints were trying to grind down the clock. It was one of two snaps Ingram had on third down while Ivory had none. Thomas is the Saints' passing downs back, which means a lot of playing time and some chances (not a ton) to make a play if downfield coverage isn't to Drew Brees' liking.

But when it came to first down, Ingram played and did the most. Ten of his 16 carries came on first downs. Ivory's first-down runs didn't even come until the second half and two of Thomas' three first-down runs came toward the tail end of the second and fourth quarters. In this game, Ingram was the Saints' primary rushing downs back.

Second downs were the wild card. Thomas had 10 snaps, Ingram had eight and Ivory had five. However, Ingram had five carries, Ivory had four (including his touchdown jaunt) and Thomas had two. There might not be much rhyme or reason as to how that broke down. Of Ivory's second-down plays he replaced Thomas once and Ingram twice -- the other two plays he was a part of on first down. It's noticeable that the Saints didn't have a ton of second-and-manageable plays (six total), but when it was second-and-five or more, Ingram and Ivory split eight of nine runs. A rational conclusion might be that Ivory was used when the team wanted to give Ingram a break.

The red-zone stats speak for themselves, though there weren't many red-zone plays for New Orleans in this game.

Fast forward

Just because the Saints leaned on their running backs a certain way against Atlanta doesn't entirely mean they'll do it again when they play at Oakland. Saints coach Joe Vitt dropped a hint in his Monday press conference suggesting that the coaches will re-evaluate Ivory's role. Vitt also said that the amount of carries and workload warranted per running back depended on the opponent and "will change on a weekly basis."

But Vitt didn't hide what he liked about Ivory's game.

"I think he's run over people since he's been here," Vitt said. "I think he is one of those backs that does a great job of running behind his pads. He is one of those backs that, at his size, can make you miss. At the same time, he can lower his pads and run over some people. He's always looking to get extra yards. I think what has been encouraging about Chris, you saw him switch the ball into the proper hand when he finished his touchdown run. Those are the little things that he has really worked on to become a better player. It's fun to watch and we're proud of him."

This is the same coach who referred to Mark Ingram as an "elite" running back a week ago, then gave him the most carries he's had since Week 2. No coach will knowingly tip his hand but if the Saints look back on the Falcons game (and the Eagles game the week prior) they'll see that there's more of a home-run threat with Ivory than there is with Ingram.

Here's what all of this means: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Ivory cut into Ingram's workload against the Raiders with Thomas continuing to work mostly on passing downs. That would mean Ivory would have the most upside of the Saints' running backs against a Raiders run defense that gave up four touchdowns to Doug Martin in their last home game and at least one rushing touchdown to a running back in three of their last four games. Though Ingram could still keep the goal-line role (or split it with Ivory), the reality is that Ivory shouldn't sneak up on anyone in Fantasy this week.

Enjoy it while it lasts -- once Darren Sproles comes back for the Saints, Vitt will reshuffle the deck yet again and re-assign roles to his rushers, and the Fantasy nightmares will start all over.

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

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Player News
Report: Wes Welker may play Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:48 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker may play Week 1 against the Colts, according to the Denver Post

Welker is expected to be suspended for four games after reportedly testing positive for amphetamines. The league, however, has not officially announced the suspension. Suspensions are typically announced by Tuesday, according to Pro Football Talk. Since the NFL has yet to announce the move, it's thought Welker could be available for Week 1, but would serve his suspension once the NFL announced the move. 

There are a lot of uncertainties regarding the situation at this time. The club expects Welker to be available, provided he passes concussion protocal, but it remains to be seen how the NFL will handle this suspension. 


Randall Cobb to be tested Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:36 pm ET) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb should be in for a tough test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Cobb caught just three passes during the preseason, picking up 34 yards and a score. His lack of work shouldn’t be a huge concern, as the Packers offense doesn’t need any fine-tuning. The main thing here is that Cobb is 100 percent healthy after playing in just six games last season due to a leg injury.

His Week 1 production could be dampened by a strong Seahawks DST. Seattle was exceptional against the pass last season, holding opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game. That figure was the second-lowest rate in the league. On top of that, Cobb may have to deal with Richard Sherman, who is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Sherman may spend the majority of the game stopping Jordy Nelson, but he could find his way over to Cobb on a few occasions.

Cobb’s versatility makes him a strong candidate to be moved around the Packers’ offense. If Green Bay can create some nice matchups, and Sherman is preoccupied with Nelson, Cobb could be in for a better game than people might expect. 

Despite that, expectations should be tempered. Seattle’s DST was strong last season, and while Green Bay boasts a strong offense, things should be muted Week 1. Cobb is a fine start, considering his upside, but he carries more risk this week due to the matchup.


Jordy Nelson in for a tough test Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:25 pm ET) Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson should be in for a difficult test Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Nelson had a quiet preseason, catching just two passes for 19 yards. One of those catches wound up being a touchdown. Despite the lack of action during the preseason, Nelson’s upside with a healthy Aaron Rodgers is well-known among Fantasy owners. That said, he’s going to have to work for everything he gets against Seattle.

The Seahawks rated as the best defense in the league last year. They were strong in every facet of the game. Seattle held opposing wide receivers to just 14.79 Fantasy points per game, the second-lowest figure in the league. To make things even more difficult for Nelson, he’ll likely be covered by Richard Sherman. Sherman, by many counts, is arguably the best corner in the game. 

Still, it’s tough to pass up Nelson’s upside with a healthy Rodgers. The Packers boast an overabundance of weapons, and it’s possible moving Nelson around before the play could put him in a more favorable matchup. Even if Sherman covers him the entire game, Nelson is a good enough receiver to make some noise. While he doesn’t have a great matchup, Week 1 is not the time to take a player as good as Nelson out of your Fantasy lineup. 


Eddie Lacy to have his hands full Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:17 pm ET) Packers running back Eddie Lacy will have his hands full Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Lacy is coming off a tremendous rookie season, in which he rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He didn’t get a ton of use during the preseason, but seemed to be in midseason form. Lacy rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries, good for a 5.5 average over two preseason games. He also managed to run in a touchdown.

Though he looked strong in the preseason, Lacy should have a tough time against the Seahawks Week 1. Seattle allowed just 12.32 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. That was the second-lowest rate in the league. While the Seahawks lost three defensive linemen during the offseason, the club is thought to still have the top-rated Fantasy defense.

In many circles, Lacy was considered a strong Fantasy pick after the elite four running backs were off the board. With that in mind, it’s unlikely he’ll be benched in many leagues Week 1. There are better matchups out there, but Lacy is a tough player to sit. Given Green Bay’s offensive capabilities, he’s still a decent start even against the best Fantasy defenses. 


Aaron Rodgers taking on a tough task Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:02 pm ET) Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has his work cut out for him Week 1 against the Seahawks.

Rodgers entered the season as one of the top Fantasy options at quarterback, but will take on the best defense in the league. Last season, Seattle held Fantasy quarterbacks to just 10.89 points per game. That was the lowest rate in the league. The Seahawks DST ranked tops in the league in limiting points and yards last year. On top of that, the team forced the most turnovers.

While Seattle lost three members of the defensive line during the offseason, the club is still expected to have one of NFL’s best defenses. If Seattle struggles to get to Rodgers, that could open things up for the Packers offense.

Given the cost to acquire Rodgers, in a snake or auction draft, he’s probably going to start for most Fantasy teams despite his tough Week 1 matchup. While there are better quarterback options for this week, Rodgers still has a strong potential for dominance. He’s healthy and still has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. It might not be Rodgers best game of the season, but he’s shown that he can put up numbers against even the best defensive clubs.


Percy Harvin looking to start the year on the right foot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:37 pm ET) Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin is looking at a strong matchup Week 1 against the Packers.

A quiet preseason was a good preseason for Harvin. After missing nearly all of last season due to a hip injury, Harvin was able to play in all but the final game of the preseason. He missed the fourth game due to a personal issue, and not because of an injury. Harvin caught seven balls for 92 yards in August.

The Packers didn’t boast a strong pass defense last season. The team allowed opposing wide receivers to average 22.94 Fantasy points per game. That wasn’t one of the worst rates in the league, but it was below-average. The team attempted to address this during the offseason, taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round. Despite that, there’s no guarantee the team will perform better in the defensive backfield.

Despite the fact that Harvin is a five-year veteran, there are questions about how he’ll be used with the Seahawks. While Harvin was able to play during the club’s playoff run, it was unclear whether he was actually fully healthy last year. Harvin has shown the ability to be a game-changing wide receiver, so it’s assumed the Seahawks will find ways to get arguably their best playmaker the ball. The club has been been incredibly run-heavy over the past few seasons, but a healthy Harvin could make them more balanced. 


Marshawn Lynch ready to roll Week 1
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:35 pm ET) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is looking to get off to a good start Week 1 against the Packers.

Lynch had an abbreviated preseason, carrying the ball just three times for 16 yards. That’s probably not a bad thing considering his high workload over the past couple years. Lynch also had a brief holdout during the offseason, but reported to camp in shape, and should be ready to roll.

The Packers weren’t particularly strong against the run last season, giving up 19.18 Fantasy points per week to running backs. That was the eighth worst figure in the league. While the team tried to shore up things defensively during the offseason, the loss of B.J. Raji should make it easier for teams to gash the Packers up the middle. 

With that in mind, Lynch should be a strong start. The Seahawks modus operandi the past couple years has been the run game, and that probably won’t change now. There are concerns about Lynch’s workload and lack of preseason reps, but his pedigree and matchup make this a strong start Week 1. 


Russell Wilson ready to shine Week 1?
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:33 pm ET) Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson begins his post-Super Bowl year with a strong matchup against the Packers Week 1. 

Wilson performed well during the preseason, completing 78.6 percent of his passes. He threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Wilson also managed three rushing touchdowns to cap off a strong preseason.

His ability to put up solid Fantasy numbers should be tested Week 1. The Packers did not boast a great defense against the pass last season. The team allowed quarterbacks to score 20.65 Fantasy points, which was the seventh worst clip in the league. Green Bay has been proactive in resolving the issue, drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round, but it’s unclear how much better the team’s defensive backs will perform. 

The bigger question will be whether the Seahawks open up the offense for Wilson this season. With Marshawn Lynch out for much of the preseason, Wilson showed the ability to carry the team with his arm. Now that Lynch is back, the team could opt to get back to conservative play-calling with the franchise quarterback. Wilson has all the makings of a strong matchup here, but could get the short end of the stick if the Seahawks pound Lynch.


Matt Forte should live up to billing in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:25 pm ET) Bears running back Matt Forte was ranked as a top five Fantasy running back going into the season, and he falls in the top five in both weekly running back rankings from CBSSports.com experts. After setting career highs in rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns, receptions and receiving yardage in 2013, will Forte get this season started off on the right foot in Week 1 against the Bills?

While Buffalo put together a strong defense last season, the team's particular strength was against the pass. Rushers were able to gain 4.4 yards per carry against the Bills, leaving them 23rd in the league in the category. While the Bills did a good job defending against pass-catching backs last season, they now have to play without linebackers Kiko Alonso (season-ending injury) and Nigel Bradham (suspended for Week 1) as well as safety Jairus Byrd (signed with New Orleans).

New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense was just average defending passes against running backs in Detroit last season. Forte has been excellent against Schwartz, who was the head coach of the Lions from 2009 through 2013. He has rushed for 1,005 yards and averaged 4.74 yards per carry while catching 38 passes for 360 yards in 12 career games against the Lions. Ten of those contests came with Schwartz at the helm, and Forte should be able to continue giving the Bills defensive coordinator nightmares this Sunday.


Martellus Bennett worth starting in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:09 pm ET) Bears tight end Martellus Bennett posted career-best numbers in 2013, catching 65 passes for 759 yards while matching his career high of five touchdowns. Three of those five scores came in the first two weeks of the season, and he could be on the verge of starting off hot for the third straight season.

Bennett is in danger of getting lost offensively on a week-to-week basis, as there are only so many opportunities to go around for Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and the tight end. He faces a plus matchup in Week 1, with the Bills dealing with a depleted linebacker corps and the loss of free safety Jairus Byrd. While the one thing new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense did well in Detroit last year was defend the tight end, the Bills don't appear to have the personnel to match up with the imposing Bennett.

Bennett falls inside the top 12 in the weekly rankings of both CBSSports.con Fantasy experts, designating him as starter material in standard leagues. We could see a similar line to his opener against the Bengals last season: three receptions, 49 yards and one touchdown.


 
 
 
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