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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: New Orleans Saints

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Saints continued to pay dividends for Fantasy owners in 2013, though not entirely to the levels we would have liked.

New Orleans averaged 399.4 yards and 25.9 points per game, both in the Top 10 among all teams, but that was down from where they were in 2012. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham played to expectations, but no one else on the Saints was a game changer for Fantasy owners. In a sense, albeit a small one, the team became less effective.

Maybe the Saints recognized that as well, particularly after making the playoffs but crumbling in brutal fashion at Seattle. So this spring the team sent veteran running back Darren Sproles to Philadelphia for a draft pick, getting younger at the position while also saving valuable cap space. They also drafted Brandin Cooks, a 5-foot-10 burner from Oregon State who has drawn comparisons to DeSean Jackson and figures to be used in a number of ways right away.

The team is also planning to keep a close eye on Marques Colston's practice time, letting him rest more often so he can play more effectively and not miss time with nagging injuries. While these changes are meant for the best, it's not expected to change the overall philosophy of the Saints. Coach Sean Payton already said this spring that they're not going to become more of a running team, meaning that they should still be as pass-happy as expected.

What wasn't expected was the quality play from the Saints defense last year. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who had worked under that same title with three other teams (four if you count the Rams), had some of the best success he ever experienced when he led the defense to rank fourth against the pass, 19th against the run and most importantly fourth in points allowed at 19.0 per game. His unit got much better this offseason with the addition of safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Champ Bailey (who will likely play in a supporting role and not an every-down starter) and rookie corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste. With Kenny Vaccaro coming back from an ankle injury that cost the Saints big-time down the stretch and the pass rush getting a smidge deeper with Victor Butler finally healthy, the unit should continue playing well.

It all sets up for another playoff run for the Saints. If the defense can hold up, they just might have what it takes to get past the Seahawks if they get into a rematch come January.

Sleepers ... Khiry Robinson, Travaris Cadet

When the Saints needed a running back late last season and into the postseason to help in the run game, Robinson got the call. In his final three games -- one regular-season game and two playoff matchups -- Robinson totaled 152 yards on 33 carries (4.6 avg.) with a touchdown at Seattle. He got the opportunity because Pierre Thomas was out for the playoff run but could very easily take a lot off of Thomas' plate in the early going and potentially become the physical, tough back that Mark Ingram never really became.

Cadet was first mentioned by Sean Payton as a replacement for Darren Sproles back in March, and admittedly they have the same kind of skill set. The biggest problem both these guys have is that Thomas can do what they do, and the coaches might trust him out of the gate rather than these guys.

Think about drafting Thomas and Robinson with consecutive mid-round picks, or go with Robinson in the middle of your draft without Thomas. Cadet should be had with one of your last three picks ... assuming he doesn't pick up steam during training camp.

Bounce-back candidate ... Marques Colston

Colston dealt with a foot injury in the first chunk of the season but seemed to get over it by mid-November. Proof of that is in his numbers: In his final 10 games of the year -- including the postseason -- he caught 61 passes for 761 yards and five touchdowns. If you were to extrapolate those numbers over 16 games, he would have notched 97.6 catches for 1,271.6 yards and eight scores -- considerably strong numbers. Just as importantly, Colston showed he was still that same 70-yards-a-game guy that he had always been.

If Colston's healthy through training camp and into the preseason, it's probably worth taking him as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver. After all, if Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks are dragging defenders all over the field (and they'll get their numbers, too), it only opens the door for Colston to exploit single coverage. Just make sure you know the 31-year-old's status just before your draft.

Rookie sensation ... Brandin Cooks

2013 Touches Leaders
837 total touches
Pierre Thomas 224 (147 car., 77 rec.) 26.7%
Darren Sproles 124 (71 rec., 53 car.) 14.8%
Jimmy Graham 86 rec. 10.3%
Mark Ingram 85 (78 car., 7 rec.) 10.2%
Marques Colston 75 rec. 8.9%
Khiry Robinson 54 car. 6.5%
All others 189 22.6%

The Saints have averaged 661.3 pass attempts over the last four years -- there are enough passes to go around, even to a rookie. We've seen Sean Payton work wonders with uniquely-skilled players, guys like Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. Cooks is one of those guys -- not a behemoth but amazing sub-4.4 speed and dazzling quickness. And he's going to be in an offense that loves to pass and already has established weapons that defenses have to account for.

Cooks might be best used as an underneath target for Brees, someone who can cross the middle of the field and take a short pass a long distance. At Oregon State last season, he caught 120 passes for over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. You'd be foolish to think he could pull off that much in his first season, but half of that? Legitimately possible given his skills and the offense he's in.

He's our favorite rookie receiver to draft this summer beginning with a pick around 80th overall in seasonal leagues. It goes without saying he's also worth a pick between fifth and 10th overall in rookie-only drafts.

Schedule analysis

Look for the Saints to get off to a very good start thanks to their early season schedule, even if they don't play at home until Week 3. In fact, they could potentially be 6-0 heading into their Sunday night game vs. the Packers in Week 8. After that, things get ugly: Four days after the Packers they play at Carolina and then host the Niners, then the Bengals, then the Ravens (arguably the toughest three-game homestand any team will have this year), then at Pittsburgh and home to face the Panthers again. That's brutal, particularly on the run game.

If you do get off to a hot start with Pierre Thomas or Khiry Robinson, bail out by Week 9. The Week 16 matchup home against the Falcons should be a biggie, helpful for Fantasy owners late in the year. They're going to make the playoffs again.

Training camp battles

Will Jimmy Graham be there?! This battle is between Graham and the front office. As of now, Graham has been franchised by the Saints as a tight end (he lost his battle to get tagged as a receiver and thus get paid an additional $5 million guaranteed). As Fantasy fans, we just want Graham in training camp on time. This is because we've seen a number of players hold out of camp, come back and do too much too soon and underperform. Fantasy owners who spend a first-round pick on Graham can ill afford such a scenario. The Saints open camp on July 24 -- if Graham is not there soon after the gates open up, we'll all have to take a step back on him.

How will the running backs shake out? The Saints have a do-it-all back in Pierre Thomas, but he'll turn 30 in December and is starting to slow down judging by his rushing average. They have a young power back in Khiry Robinson, who came through for them last winter but doesn't have experience. Mark Ingram is a power back who does have experience but not a lot of big games (11 touchdowns and eight games with 10-plus Fantasy points in 37 career outings). Travaris Cadet keeps getting mentioned as a replacement for Darren Sproles, which puts him in play as a possible Fantasy sleeper. It'll take the summer to get a good grip on what to expect from the Saints' backs -- Thomas has the pedigree but Robinson and Cadet have the upside.

Bold prediction

Kenny Stills is a pretty prominent sleeper in Fantasy circles, but it's hard to get behind him. The metrics on him from last season were great: He caught 62.7 pct. of his targets, averaged 20.0 yards per catch and had five plays of 40-plus yards. And while everyone expects him to get more than the 51 targets he had last year, there's still the reality that the Saints have plenty of other mouths to feed, such as Graham, Colston and Cooks, the rookie they traded up to get in the draft. The call here is that Stills will be better, but not to the point where Fantasy owners will feel good starting him, as he'll likely be inconsistent. Last year he had four games with 10-plus points and 11 games with four points or less. If the Saints felt great about him, why did they move up in the draft for Cooks?

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Player News
Dolphins might move Dion Jordan to outside linebacker
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:38 pm ET) Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan got his first sack of the season Sunday against Minnesota. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle told the Palm Beach Post the team needs more production from the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft and will consider moving him to outside linebacker next season.

"We have got to find ways to utilize him more," Coyle said.

Miami has a bigger need at outside linebacker than defensive end. Since returning from a six-game suspension to start the season, Jordan has played 34 percent of the defensive snaps. He has 16 tackles and a sack in nine games.


Rams CB E.J. Gaines going through concussion protocol
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:27 pm ET) Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines is doing better Monday, according to coach Jeff Fisher, and is going through the league's concussion protocol. Gaines took a knee to the helmet and had to be carted off the field during Sunday's loss to the Giants.

Chuck Pagano: We'll play to win, need to 'build some steam'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:18 pm ET) Colts coach Chuck Pagano told the Indianapolis Star his team will play to win Week 17 at Tennessee despite the fact Indy has little to gain in terms of playoff seeding. The Colts will be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed and host a first-round game. They cannot earn a first-round bye.

Pagano said the Colts need to "build some steam" after being embarrassed 42-7 at Dallas on Sunday. Look for quarterback Andrew Luck, top wideout T.Y. Hilton and the rest of the Colts' starters to play until the game is decided.

Vegas sportsbooks installed Indy as a 6.5- or 7-point favorite.


Chargers place Johnnie Troutman on IR, sign Kenny Wiggins
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:37 pm ET) The Chargers announced a pair of roster moves on Monday, per U-T San Diego. The team placed right guard Johnnie Troutman on injured reserve with a knee injury and re-signed offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins to the 53-man active roster.

Jets' Percy Harvin 'extremely sore' with rib injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:10 pm ET) Jets wide receiver Percy Harvin is dealing with a rib injury he suffered in Sunday's game against the Patriots and coach Rex Ryan said he is "extremely sore."

Harvin was forced to leave Sunday's game because of the rib injury and was unable to return. He was dealing with an ankle injury prior to the game, but was able to play through it.

Harvin registered four catches for 44 yards before exiting.


Jets coach Ryan: Nick Mangold has 'bad' ankle sprain
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:07 pm ET) Jets coach Rex Ryan told reporters Monday that center Nick Mangold is dealing with a "bad sprain" on his ankle, according to the team's official website. Mangold was carted off Week 16 after rolled up by Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. Ryan said Mangold will play Sunday against Miami if he can. If he is unable to play Dalton Freeman will likely get the start.

49ers dealing with litany of injuries heading into final week of season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:04 pm ET) The 49ers have already placed 16 players on the injured-reserve this season and could be without a few more for the season finale in Week 17 against the Cardinals.

"We've kept the doctors busy," coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Safety Eric Reid will see a neurologist for his third concussion in the last 16 months. Cornerback Perrish Cox suffered an AC joint injury Saturday and his status in unknown for Week 17.

Defensive end Aldon Smith suffered a head injury on the final drive of Saturday's game against the Chargers and Harbaugh had no update on his status.

The 49ers are currently 6-point favorites against the Cardinals, according to Vegas Insiders.


Pettine: Embattled Browns rookies broke new rules
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:03 pm ET) Mike Pettine has explained that Browns forgotten running back Terrance West and disappointing cornerback Justin Gilbert were not benched in Week 16 due to team rules violations.

He stated that both rookies had issues in practice and off the field, per the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.

West has lost his job as the featured back while Gilbert, the team's No. 8 overall draft pick, has been bypassed by undrafted rookies such as K'Waun Williams and Pierre Desir while being accused of a poor work ethic.


Colts TE Dwayne Allen listed day to day with 'dinged-up' knee
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters Monday that tight end Dwayne Allen will be listed as day to day moving forward with a "dinged-up" knee, per the team's official website. Allen left Week 16 against Dallas in the first half after dropping all three of his targets. If he is unable to play, Coby Fleener will get the start.

Indianapolis is currently a 6 1/2-point favorite at Tennessee.


Bears' Marshall: '[Raiola]'s a dirty player and worse human being'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:39 pm ET) Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall had some harsh words for Lions center Dominic Raiola Monday. 

"This guy's a dirty player and he's a worse human being. He has no respect for himself," Marshall said.

Raiola, who was suspended one game for stomping on the leg of Ego Ferguson in Sunday's game against the Bears, was said to also poke fun at Marshall's history of mentall illness two years ago in pregame warmups.

"I'm just warming up, just standing there. He's like, 'Go take your medicine. You freaking weirdo, you freaking crazy guy.'" 

Marshall was unable to play in Sunday's game after suffering broken ribs and a lung injury and being placed on the injured-reserve.


 
 
 
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