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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
Union challenges Goodell on Adrian Peterson's counseling requirement
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) The NFL Players Association filed a legal brief saying Commissioner Roger Goodell's requirement that Adrian Peterson attend counseling was unlawful, reports ESPN.com. The union claims Goodell's disciplinary powers don't extend past suspensions, fines and contract terminations to counseling, the report said.

In November, Goodell suspended Peterson without pay for the rest of the season and said the Vikings running back cannot be reinstated until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May.

In his letter to Peterson, Goodell set several requirements for reinstatement, including counseling.

"In order to assess your progress going forward, I will establish periodic reviews, the first of which will be on or about April 15, 2015," the commisssioner wrote. "At that time, I will meet with you and your representatives and the NFLPA to review the extent to which you have complied with your program of counseling and therapy and both made and lived up to an affirmative commitment to change such that this conduct will not occur again. A failure to cooperate and follow your plan will result in a lengthier suspension without pay."


Bucs QB Mike Glennon on the move?
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:03 am ET) With the Buccaneers holding the No. 1 overall draft pick, the team has its choice of quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. The Tampa Tribune says "some around the league" believe other teams will try to trade for quarterback Mike Glennon, and that Glennon could net the Bucs a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Glennon played in six games this season, throwing for 1,417 yards and 10 touchdowns with six interceptions. The team's refusal to play Glennon "even after their slim playoff hopes faded" has many observers believing the Bucs are ready to move on from him, the paper said.


Lions see plenty of upside in WR Corey Fuller
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:38 am ET) The Lions are looking for a solid No. 3 receiver to supplement Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, and converted track star Corey Fuller could be the guy, reports the team's website. Fuller was Johnson's backup in 2014 and played in some multi-receiver sets, catching 14 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.

“I think I had a big improvement coming in from last year to this year,” said Fuller, a sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft. “If I just keep on progressing, who knows where I can go.”

Fuller, who brings a unique combination of speed and strength, said his main focus this offseason is improving his route running.

“The whole (route) tree,” he said. “Being able to expand the routes they throw me.”


Steelers not expected to re-sign Ike Taylor
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) The Steelers likely won't re-sign impending free agent cornerback Ike Taylor, reports ESPN.com. Taylor, 34, dealt with multiple injuries this season and finished with 16 tackles in five games.

Taylor has spent his entire 12-year career with Pittsburgh. He said this month he's OK with 2014 being his last season.


Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart looking to build off strong finish
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:37 am ET) Over the last five weeks of the regular season, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 486 yards, second only to Dallas' DeMarco Murray. Stewart followed that up with 123 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over Arizona.

"I'm really excited for next year," Stewart told the team's website. "You have to find your zone throughout the offseason. It starts now."

Stewart got the chance to be a workhorse when DeAngelo Williams fractured his hand Week 13. ESPN.com reports there's a "strong possibility" the Panthers will release the 31-year-old Williams this offseason, leaving Stewart, 27, as the unquestioned starter.

"It's just part of the journey," Stewart said of the individual success he had toward season's end. "The moment you start focusing on that, you miss out on other things along the journey."


Report: Patriots hoping to sign Darrelle Revis to long-term extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Patriots are reportedly looking to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to a long-term extension, according Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

However, New England has not ruled out paying Revis the $20 million team option in 2015, Rapoport reports. The decision needs to be made by April 1, when a $12 million roster bonus kicks in for Revis.

Revis totaled 47 tackles in 16 games for the Patriots, grabbing two interceptions and forcing one fumble.


C.J. Spiller expecting 'March Madness' style free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Bills running back C.J. Spiller is getting healthy again. Spiller, who has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, just ended the final season of his contract and is looking at his options for next season.

"Physically, I’m back to 100 percent, back to doing normal activities," Spiller told The Post and Courier on Friday. "As far as football, free agency will start in March, and I’ll get with my people next week and get a game plan together."

Spiller has played five seasons for the Bills, only playing two full years. He ran for 1,244 yards in 2012 with six touchdowns.

"I guess you could say it’ll be March Madness," Spiller said with a smile. "It’ll be a fun March."


Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


Seahawks' Sherman disappointed he won't receive gifts from Pro Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) In case you missed Sunday's Pro Bowl, Team Irvin knocked off Team Carter, 32-28, thanks to a second-half rally, which included touchdown catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Graham.

While many Pro Bowl players that made the original roster were absent from the game due to injuries, Pro Bowl players from the Patriots and Seahawks also did not play due to preparations for next Sunday's Super Bowl.

One player who seemed upset about missing the Pro Bowl was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, it was for a reason you probably wouldn't suspect.

“Only thing I’m disappointed in is they won’t give us our gifts from the Pro Bowl, which is kind of dumb,” Sherman said, per The Boston Globe. “The NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the All-Star game by not giving them their gifts. It’s supposed to be watches and some other stuff, but we don’t get them so I couldn’t tell you.”


 
 
 
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