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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
Titans receivers can thrive in YAC with Marcus Mariota's accuracy
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:02 pm ET) The Titans wide receiving corps could gain more yards after the catch this season because of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and his accurate throws, per ESPN.com.

The Titans were 24th in the league in yards after the catch last season, but with Mariota under center that can all change.

“If you have an accurate quarterback, it allows us to get more yards after that catch,” wide receiver Harry Douglas said. “And that’s one thing that makes a receiver dynamic -- first being able to catch the ball and then being able to do some things with it after you catch it. I feel like [to this point] Marcus has done everything he needs to do to get the ball to his receivers.”


Saints RB Khiry Robinson doesn't feel he's on outside looking in
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:55 pm ET) Saints running back Khiry Robinson might be the least known of his backfield counterparts, but he doesn't feel like the off man out, per ESPN.com.

Robinson knows the team is heavily invested in the likes of Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, but he's still confident he can thrive in whatever role the Saints put him in.

“I’m the type of person, I’m gonna get what I get and do what I do with it. So whether it’s 20 carries or one carry, I’m gonna do the best of my ability every play,” Robinson said.

Robinson has shown flashes of success during his three years in the league. Injuries played a key role against him last season, which can ultimately put him as the third back on the depth chart. He will use the offseason to continue to improve and challenge his counterparts for playing time.

“I just gotta keep working,” Robinson. “It’s all love in the backfield. We all work together, try to help each other. So I think it’s a good thing we’ve got a full backfield again. So if anybody goes down, we’ve got another player right up there to do the same thing.”


Browns OL Michael Bowie itching to compete for starting spot
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Browns offensive lineman Michael Bowie is not required to report to training camp until the end of July. But never mind that - he's heading out after the last Independence Day firework explodes in the sky.

Bowie is itching to get started. He missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury after starting for Seattle on its Super Bowl title team in 2013. He is seeking to stay in tip-top shape in an attempt to land a starting spot on a Cleveland line that is the strength of the team.

"It's up to them to decide who is the best five," Bowie told the team website. "All I can do is take care of my business. Hopefully I can get a shot. That's what I'm working for."

Bowie participated fully in the offseason program, working mostly with the second team at right tackle. That will likely be the spot at which he competes for a starting job. Incumbent Mitchell Schwartz has not performed particularly well there and Mike Pettine has vowed there will be competition all over the field in camp.


Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan nearly recovered from knee surgery
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan appears to be on target to join the team for training camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery that prevented him from participating in earlier offseason activities.

Kerrigan, who registered a career-high 13 1/2 sacks a year ago, had the operation to alleviate pain in the area.

"My leg feels really good and I'm glad I got the surgery - not just for football but it makes my everyday life feel better so I'm glad I got it done," he told CSN Washington. "Now it's just a matter of getting stronger and getting into shape."

Kerrigan added that he's been running and now only needs to regain strength to insure his place at training camp.


Texans waive DT Brandon Ivory
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) The Texans waived rookie defensive tackle Brandon Ivory on Thursday, according to ESPN.com

Ivory was arrested on first degree burglary charges in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just one day ago. Ivory's agent Jeff Guerriero said Ivory is not guilty of the charge. 

"I spoke to Brandon he is not guilty and his name will be cleared of all charges," Guerriero said. 


Chargers TE Antonio Gates suspended 4 games for PED use
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy, the team announced. 

It's unknown at this time what drug Gates tested positive for. Gates, in a statement, said he was unaware that he took a banned substance

"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL. In an effort to recover from this past season, I used supplements and holistic medicines, and unfortunately, I have now learned that those substances always present a risk because they may contain banned substances even if the ingredient list doesn’t reflect them.

"As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues. I take full responsibility for my actions. I’d like to express my sincere apologies to the Chargers, my teammates, coaches, fans and the league who have always supported me and expected and gotten nothing but the highest level of integrity from me."

With Gates out for four games, the Chargers will turn to Ladarius Green as the team's top tight end, though it was expected for Green to continue getting more looks in the passing game. Green is entering the final season of his rookie contract. 

The Chargers expressed disappointment in Gates for his suspension but plans to stick with the longtime veteran through the suspension. 

"We are tremendously disappointed for our team and our fans as well as Antonio, but no more disappointed than Antonio is with himself," the Chargers stated. "Antonio is a member of the Chargers' family and we will continue to support him 100-percent. We have the utmost confidence he will stay in excellent shape for the season and be ready to go when he returns in Week 5. While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the season, we have complete confidence our tight end group will continue to play at a high level."  


Packers' Datone Jones out 1 game for substance-abuse violation
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones will be suspended for one game for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, according to NFL.com. 

Jones will miss Green Bay's season-opener against the Bears. In 2014, Jones totaled 22 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in 13 games played. 


Cowboys LB Rolando McClain suspended four games for 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) The Cowboys announced that linebacker Rolando McClain has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

McClain hasn't been able to participate much in offseason workouts due to going under offseason knee surgery. McClain will be eligible to practice in training camp and is expected to be healthy by then. 

"I apologize to my family, the Cowboys organization, my teammates and Cowboys fans for my mistake. I will not break the rules of my profession in the future, and I regret my error," McClain said in a statement, via CSN Bay Area. "I look forward to returning to the field on week 5, when I hope to help my team beat the Patriots.

In 2014, McClain, who had previously retired twice before being traded from the Ravens to the Cowboys, totaled 81 tackles and a sack in 13 games played.


Jets DL Sheldon Richardson suspended four games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(7/2/2015) Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, the NFL announced Thursday.

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans," Richardson said in a statement via the Jets, per Fox Sports. "However, words aren't enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don't want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won't be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I'm able to return to the field.”

Richardson, who was a 2013 first-round pick, is entering his third season in the NFL. He was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2014.

He has totaled 84 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks in 32 career games. He also has one safety.


Texans DT Brandon Ivory arrested on burglary charge
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7/1/2015) Texans defensive tackle Brandon Ivory was arrested Wednesday morning in Alabama and charged with first-degree burglary, according to a Tuscaloosa Police Department report obtained by SportingNews.com.

Ivory and another man were allegedly involved in a home burglary when the two entered the residence by kicking open the back door and then demanding money from the residents. The two stole money and two Ipads from the residence. Ivory and the other suspect were arrested at their apartment shortly after the incident with the stolen money and property.


 
 
 
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