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Offseason Primers: New Orleans Saints

by | 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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