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Offseason Primers: New Orleans Saints

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Between the fallout from Bountygate and a horrible defense, the Saints' chances to make the playoffs were slim before last season even started. The team started 0-4 and finished 7-9 -- good enough to finish tied for second in the division -- and also tied for last as the Bucs and Panthers finished with the same record.

Though the record was ugly the stats remained high, particularly for Drew Brees, who threw for over 5,000 yards and over 40 touchdowns for the second year in a row. Brees has proven to be the most consistent quarterback and the highest point getter in Fantasy over those two seasons, posting at least 20 points (standard-scoring leagues) in 25 of 32 games. That's the stuff owners crave to have on their rosters, and it's clear that Brees' production trickles down to other good players on the team.

2012 Touches Leaders
793 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Mark Ingram 162 (156 car., 6 rec.) 20.4%
Pierre Thomas 144 (105 car., 39 rec.) 18.2%
Darren Sproles 123 (75 rec., 48 car.) 15.5%
Jimmy Graham 85 rec. 10.7%
Marques Colston 83 rec. 10.5%
Lance Moore 65 rec. 8.2%
All Others 131 16.5%

Marques Colston finished as a Top 12 receiver, Lance Moore finished as a Top 24 receiver, Darren Sproles wound up as a Top 24 running back and Jimmy Graham was Fantasy Football's most productive tight end. Nothing to look twice at but there are some nuances worth noting. Colston, for example, was far more boom-or-bust despite racking up at least 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns for the sixth time in seven years. The typically reliable receiver had under 80 yards with zero touchdowns in half of his games, and he scored 10 times in all! That's hard to do. Lance Moore had a career-best 1,041 yards but had a very uncharacteristic 16.0 receiving average to help him get there. Graham was dominant at his position but should have been even better after a wrist injury hampered him in six of his last eight games. Sproles basically matched his receiving production from a year ago but wound up running the ball just 48 times over 13 games, so some might say he did worse than expected.

One thing's for sure: The Saints' pass-happy ways were obvious even without Sean Payton pacing the sidelines. Though New Orleans threw only 60.6 percent of the time in 2011, they managed to exceed that in 2010 and in 2012. In fact, over the first six games of last season, the Saints threw 69.1 percent of the time! Then interim coach Joe Vitt returned from his Bountygate suspension and knocked some sense into the offense. They still favored the pass but only at a 61.6 percent clip. A good portion of that, mostly in those first six weeks, had to do with playing from behind.

But it's that pass-first doctrine that will steer the direction of this offense, if not this team. The defense might only become messier with Rob Ryan coming on as the defensive coordinator and converting the unit to a 3-4 scheme. If past performance is any indication, Ryan's defense will put Brees & Co. in a position to throw a bunch while playing from behind. That's pretty much expected now anyway from a Saints team that is synonymous with "pass-happy."

2012 Target Leaders
671 pass attempts
Jimmy Graham 135 20.1%
Marques Colston 132 19.7%
Lance Moore 105 15.6%
Darren Sproles 104 15.5%
Pierre Thomas 53 7.9%
Devery Henderson 47 7.0%
All Others 95 14.2%

Mark Ingram -- Bust

Two years ago I liked the prospect of Ingram as the battering ram in a Saints offense flush with receiving threats. The potential for 10 touchdowns was there, or so the perception was. Ingram did score in half of his games his rookie year but only played in 10, getting 10 or more carries in six of those 10 games. It took a philosophical change in the middle of last season for Ingram to get involved, landing 10 or more carries in one of the Saints' first nine games before getting six with 10-plus carries in the last seven. His touchdown opportunities didn't come often; he only had five on the year and rushed for more than 70 yards once all season. For Ingram to do well for your Fantasy team he needs to score -- that much we've learned. Not getting those opportunities has hurt him and splitting reps with the likes of Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas have hurt him (Ingram never had more than roughly a third of the snaps in a game for the Saints last year). Being on a team that ultimately throws 60-plus percent of the time doesn't help either. If you're desperate for a running back and you take Ingram, you're going to be disappointed. Smart Fantasy owners shouldn't consider him anything more than good depth and not someone you could use as even a flex to start a season.

Lance Moore -- Draft Day value

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Drew Brees 10-20 overall
Darren Sproles 35-45 overall
Mark Ingram 75-85 overall
Pierre Thomas Late-round pick
Marques Colston 50-60 overall
Lance Moore 90-100 overall
Joe Morgan Late-round pick
Jimmy Graham 15-25 overall
Garrett Hartley Undrafted
Saints DST Undrafted

How's this for disrespect: Last summer a receiver coming off of back-to-back eight-score seasons was picked 115th overall on average. That's Moore, who didn't get eight touchdowns in 2012 but did score six times and record his first 1,000-yard season. What made Moore's year even more eye-opening was a career-high 16.0 receiving average with 14 of his 65 catches going for 20-plus yards. That's uncharacteristic for him but it's hard to argue with 105 targets and seven games with at least 10 Fantasy points (one more than Marques Colston). With Jimmy Graham and Colston drawing plenty of coverage, Moore will consistently be a candidate for single coverage and Drew Brees has shown a propensity for throwing to him. He's a tremendous get as a third receiver for your teams, though you might be able to snag him in Round 8 or 9.

Joe Morgan -- Late-round flier

You can't help but take notice anytime a receiver averages 37.9 yards per catch. That's Morgan, who had eight of his 10 catches go for at least 20 yards and four of those eight go for at least 40 yards with three touchdowns. Morgan has incredible speed in a thin but tall body and saw seven games in 2012 where he was on the field for at least 40 percent of the snaps, including each of the Saints' last four. With just a little bump in playing time he should see way more than the 21 targets he finished with last season. Knowing how often the Saints will throw, this is a gem of a sleeper receiver to stash on your bench with a late pick.

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
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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