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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
Chargers going with rookie after losing three centers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:54 am ET) The Chargers have lost three starting centers this season, including Rich Ohrnberger, who went on IR on Tuesday with a back injury. Rookie Chris Watt, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame, will start Sunday at Baltimore against the tough Ravens' front.

Watt played guard his entire college career.

"It's definitely very surreal," Watt told the team's website. "I knew I would have the opportunity right away to learn center, but who would have thought we would be down this many people this quickly. I'm happy I've been preparing the way I have and I'm ready to make the most of it."

Watt said he's learned from all three starters before him -- Ohrnberger, Doug Legursky and Nick Hardwick -- and has built a good relationship with quarterback Philip Rivers. Watt has played in eight games this season, but mostly at guard.


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(12:37 am ET) Justin Forsett played in nine games last season for the Jaguars, rushing for 31 yards. Jacksonville let him go in the offseason.

Now he's leading the Ravens -- his fourth team in four seasons -- to a possible playoff berth. Forsett ranks third in the NFL with 903 rushing yards and leads the league with 5.8 yards per carry.

"It's crazy, man," he told the Seattle Times. "You think about where I was this time last year, mostly doing a lot of scout-team work and coming in to play every once in a while. To just get the opportunity when I thought I would never get it again, it's a blessing."

Quarterback Joe Flacco said Forsett is "not letting the guy tackle him in the hole with his arms or anything like that. He's breaking those little things."

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Cowboys WR Terrance Williams says he'll play Thursday
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(12:08 am ET) Cowboys wideout Terrance Williams told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he'll play Thursday against the Eagles despite breaking his left index finger Week 12. He pointed out he once played at Baylor with a cast on his broken hand.

Williams will wear a splint and likely take a pain-killing injection before the Thanksgiving game, the report said. He was able to catch passes in practice Tuesday, though he told the paper his finger "hurts bad."


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(11/25/2014) Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy, who reportedly will start Week 13 at Indianapolis over Robert Griffin III, has been incredibly accurate in the two games he's played this season. McCoy replaced Kirk Cousins in Week 7 against Tennessee and completed 11 of 12 throws for 128 yards and a touchdown.

After leading that winning fourth-quarter drive, McCoy started Week 8 at Dallas and was just as good, hitting 25 of 30 throws for 299 yards with an interception and rushing for 16 yards. Washington won 20-17 in overtime. McCoy has completed 85.7 percent of his throws so far.

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Report: Redskins benching RG3 for Colt McCoy
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(11/25/2014) The Redskins are planning to start Colt McCoy over Robert Griffin III at quarterback Sunday at Indianapolis, reports ESPN's Adam Schefter. The move is expected to become official Wednesday when coach Jay Gruden meets with reporters, Schefter said.

McCoy went 2-0 while Griffin recovered from his dislocated ankle. Griffin threw for 106 yards, took five sacks and lost a fumble on his team's last offensive play Week 12 at San Francisco.

Over the last three games, all losses, Griffin has thrown for 564 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. He's holding the ball too long and not throwing with authority when he does let it fly.

Although Griffin is not part of Sunday's game plan, he remains "a significant part of the Redskins' long-term plan," Schefter said.


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(11/25/2014) Seahawks tight end Cooper Helfet, who caught a 20-yard touchdown pass Sunday, did not practice Tuesday due to an ankle injury. His status is uncertain for Thursday's game at the 49ers.

Two of Helfet's 10 grabs this year have gone for touchdowns.


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(11/25/2014) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told SiriusXM NFL Radio that wideout Larry Fitzgerald "finally felt some progress today" in his recovery from a sprained MCL. The injury forced Fitzgerald to sit out Week 12 at Seattle, his first missed game since 2007.

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Nick Fairley appears unlikely to return Week 13
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Bears LB Lance Briggs, CB Kyle Fuller miss practice
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(11/25/2014) Bears linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) missed practice Tuesday as the team prepared for the Thanksgiving game at Detroit. Both left the Week 12 win over Tampa Bay and did not return.

Both starters could be gametime decisions Thursday.


49ers DE Justin Smith misses practice with back injury
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(11/25/2014) 49ers defensive end Justin Smith did not practice Tuesday due to a back injury, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told reporters he'd be surprised if Smith missed Thursday's game against the Seahawks. Smith has 33 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles this season.

 
 
 
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