Early 2016 Projections: The New Orleans Saints

Now that the draft is over we can starting doing some early 2016 fantasy football projections. Today: The New Orleans Saints. First things first, using our staff projection machine I set some baseline team-wide assumptions:

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For average scoring margin, I just went with the league median. Pass tendency is how often the team passes relative to expectation. Pace tendency is how many total plays a team runs1 relative to expectations. For those two numbers, I just took the team’s mean of their last three seasons.

Next up, quarterback Drew Brees:

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This projection was derived from the team level settings as well as setting sack rate and interception rate. I set Brees interception rate to 1.9 percent, a tad higher than it was in 2013 and 2015, but quite a bit lower than in 2014. Brees has six seasons with an interception rate between 1.8 percent and 2.1 percent, so I believe that is a very reasonable rate. I set his sack rate at 4.8 percent which is higher than his career rate of 3.9 percent but just slightly higher than his 2015 rate of 4.7 percent.

This projection is both optimistic and conservative. It has Brees throwing for almost 5,000 yards, as he is wont to do. But it also has him only throwing 30 touchdowns, and he’s thrown at least 32 TDs in every season going all the way back to 2008. Brees is currently being drafted as the QB6 according to the Best Ball ADP App,  and his high floor justifies that price.

Next, the wide receivers:

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I have Brandin Cooks projected to increase his PPR scoring by almost 40 points from last year, a difference of about 2.42 PPR fantasy points per game. That difference is mostly due to an increase in volume. I have Cooks projected to receive 23 percent of the team’s targets,  which is a significant increase over his 19.4 percent target market share in 2015. However, 23 percent would have only ranked 24th out of all WRs last season, so this estimate is still fairly conservative for a team’s WR1. This projection would have made Cooks WR10 in FPPG last season.

Note that players with Cooks’ mix of age and experience have increased their scoring going into their third year by 1.67 FPPG on average. If you just add that average to Cooks 2015 production he would have been WR12 in FPPG last season.

My projection for Willie Snead is fairly bullish. That’s because Snead is the real deal, and there’s really not much reason to doubt he’ll continue his NFL success. I have Snead projected for 18 percent of the team’s targets. Snead started playing at least 66 percent of the Saints’ snaps from Week 3 on last season, and he saw 17.3 percent of the team’s targets over that time. I have him projected for 18 percent of the team’s targets here, which is a fairly modest increase. This projection would have made Snead WR19 last season, and he is currently being drafted as the WR34.

My projection for Michael Thomas is very conservative. That’s a function of thinking Cooks and Snead are good enough to dominate the WR usage and also thinking that Thomas doesn’t look likely to be a very productive player long term, let alone a productive rookie. Of the 75 WRs drafted in the first or second round of the NFL draft from 2006 to 2015, 33 had 52 or fewer targets. 30 had fewer than 369 receiving yards.

Next, tight end Coby Fleener:

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I slated Fleener for 18.5 percent of the team’s targets.  Here’s how that stacks up to his own past usage as well as the usage of Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson:

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As you can see, it’s about halfway between Watson’s 2015 usage and Graham’s usage. That seems reasonable given Fleener’s own usage in Indianapolis when he was competing with Dwayne Allen. Our editor-in-chief recently explored Fleener in more depth, and found that Fleener seemed to be appropriately priced but agreed this amount of volume was in Fleener’s range of outcomes.

Next, the running backs:

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Mark Ingram’s projection works out to 16.9 PPR FPPG, which happens to be what he scored last year. So this projection definitely passes the smell test.

C.J. Spiller’s projection makes him largely irrelevant, which seems fair. He’s going to be 29 this season and I see no real reason to expect meaningful improvement over the last two seasons.

I have Daniel Lasco projected to be the Saints RB3, and also Ingram’s direct backup. Lasco was an incredible prospect, and his competition is a 30 year old Tim Hightower who averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry last season.

One final note is that I have the Saints offense to be more top-heavy in terms of usage than they’ve been historically. But that’s mostly because I think they’re more top-heavy in terms of personnel than they’ve been historically. Ingram is a good illustration of this. He used to not see very much usage. But then they lost Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas and this happened:

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So I expect Ingram to keep dominating the RB work like he has the last two seasons. Cooks is the best outside WR they’ve had in the Drew Brees era, and I believe Snead is the best WR2. So I expect they’ll see more usage than the players in those roles typically have. You get the picture. But it’s definitely possible that I am being overly optimistic and team’s distribution of targets and rushing attempts will be closer to what it has been historically.

  1. As in executes, not rushes  (back)