Fantasy Football: Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Coby Fleener will help Saints replace Brandin Cooks

PHOENIX -- Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t expect to be without receiver Brandin Cooks heading into this season. But after the Patriots made a “significant” offer, Payton said the Saints couldn’t refuse to part ways with one of their top playmakers.

That offer ended up being a first- and third-round draft pick for Cooks and a fourth-round pick. And now Payton has to figure out how to replace Cooks, who accounted for 215 catches for 2,861 yards and 20 touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Luckily, New Orleans already has a replacement No. 1 receiver in Michael Thomas, who had a standout rookie campaign in 2016 with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns. Fantasy owners are already well aware of Thomas, who was the No. 8 receiver in standard leagues (Cooks was No. 9). He should be drafted in Round 2 in all formats.

But Payton is confident the Saints will be able to replace Cooks without much of a drop-off. And the three main benefactors should be Willie Snead, Coby Fleener and free-agent addition Ted Ginn.

All three will be Fantasy relevant in some capacity this season.

Willie Snead WR / New Orleans (2016 stats)
TAR: 104 REC: 72 YDS: 895 TD: 4

Start with Snead, who was the No. 3 receiver on the roster last season and had 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns on 104 targets. He was the No. 35 receiver in standard leagues, and he scored at least eight Fantasy points in seven games.

He also played well in 2015 with 69 catches for 984 yards and three touchdowns on 102 targets, and Payton said Snead and quarterback Drew Brees have a solid rapport.

“He’s smart, we play him in a lot of different spots and I know Drew relies on him,” Payton said at the NFL’s annual meeting. “He has good football awareness and instincts.”

Snead is not going to be the direct replacement for Cooks in terms of running the same routes, but any increase in targets from Brees will help. And if he can go from about 900 yards and four touchdowns to 1,000 yards and six touchdowns then he’s in the range of a top-20 receiver, which could happen. He’s an easy No. 3 Fantasy receiver to target in all formats with a mid-round pick.

Fleener isn’t going to be popular on Draft Day in the majority of leagues, but he could easily rebound from last year’s bust campaign with Cooks gone. At least that’s what Payton hopes to see.

Coby Fleener TE / New Orleans (2016 stats)
TAR: 82 REC: 50 YDS: 631 TD: 3

He said Fleener will be needed this year more than last season, when he struggled in his first year with the Saints with 50 catches for 631 yards and three touchdowns on 82 targets. Payton said Fleener’s 2016 season had “mixed” results.

“He had games where he played exceptionally well, and there were some games early on where he didn’t,” Payton said of Fleener, who finished as the No. 16 Fantasy tight end in standard leagues. “I see definitely a tick up as we go into this season. He’s explosive. He runs extremely well. I know he’s training right now and working extremely hard on some of the things he can improve on. He’s a big target, and he’ll be a big part of what we’ll do.”

Fleener is someone to settle for in your draft with a late-round pick if you miss on a potential No. 1 tight end. And he’s definitely someone to scout because if he starts off the season playing well, you should scoop him off the waiver wire. It wouldn’t be a total shock to see him bounce back with his production this season, especially with Cooks gone.

As for Ginn, Payton seemed the most excited talking about his addition to the team, and he signed with the Saints on a three-year, $11 million deal. Payton said he has “a crystal clear vision” of how to use Ginn, who will line up at flanker.

“I see him being a guy that can take the top off of coverage,” Payton said. “I like what this guy does. I think this guy has played better in the middle to the back half of his career than the front. ... There’s a level of toughness that comes with him that I like. When he’s playing in each game he’s still the fastest player on the field.”

Ted Ginn WR / New Orleans (2016 stats (with Carolina))
TAR: 95 REC: 54 YDS: 752 TD: 4 RUSH YDS: 98

Ginn is the most likely replacement for Cooks, but he won’t see nearly the same level of targets. But Payton likes the way Ginn has played the past couple of seasons for Carolina when he had 98 catches for 1,491 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

In 2015, with Kelvin Benjamin out with a torn ACL, Ginn was a big weapon for Cam Newton with 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. Payton hopes he can do the same thing for Brees with Cooks gone.

“He’s a little different than Brandin, and yet he’ll do some of the same things,” Payton said. “He’s a little bigger. I have an exact vision to how he’ll be used, and that helps.”

Ginn is an excellent late-round flier in all leagues, and he should look great running routes on the turf in the Superdome. Don’t overvalue Ginn with his move to New Orleans, but his value definitely gets a bump being paired with Brees and Payton.

The Saints are going to miss Cooks and his explosiveness, but Payton is confident the Saints will manage just fine. And even though Brees takes a hit with the loss of Cooks, he should remain a standout No. 1 quarterback in all leagues.

We could also see someone like third-year receiver Brandon Coleman improve this season, but the three main guys to keep an eye on with the Saints are Snead, Fleener and Ginn. Their value is now on the rise with Cooks in New England.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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