I wrote earlier about Marques Colston’s slow decline and since then I’ve been thinking a bit more about the Saints offense. Here’s the argument I’m about to make: you should get Pierre Thomas on your fantasy team. Here’s why.
- No More Sproles. Sproles is in Philadelphia. Over the past three seasons, Sproles accounted for 188 rushing attempts and 3041 pass targets. That’s 63 rush attempts and 101 pass targets per season if you’re mathing at home. Those touches have to go somewhere. Thomas seems the most likely candidate. Despite having a similar number of rushing attempts over the past three seasons,2 Mark Ingram has never been a part of the Saints pass game: he’s been targeted just 34 times in three seasons. The Saints have other backs, like Khiry Robinson, and a new pocket-sized dynamo in Brandin Cooks, but it still seems likely that the bulk of this opportunity is going to go to Thomas.
- Balance Schmalance. It’s been reported that the Saints will look to be more balanced on offense this year. As the singular Rich Hribar has reported, game script matters a lot for fantasy football purposes. Some players have value because their team is frequently trailing and they get a lot of targets in catch-up mode. Other players get a lot of rushing attempts because their team is frequently leading and trying to run out the clock. But if the game script flips, a player’s usage can too. But that’s probably not a big issue for Thomas. He’s been the most balanced New Orleans back in terms of game flow sensitive usage. From Mr Hribar’s article, here’s Thomas’ RB attempts and pass targets by situation:
Player Rush Att. Ahead % Att. Tied % Rush Att. Trailing % Pierre Thomas 80 54.40% 22 15.00% 45 30.60% Player Leading Tgts % Tied Tgts % Trailing Tgts % Pierre Thomas 36 42.90% 12 14.30% 36 42.90%
His pass targets are almost impossibly consistent. 36 targets when leading, 36 when trailing. So whatever is happening on the scoreboard, Thomas is involved in the pass game. He understandably gets fewer rush attempts when trailing, but consider this: the player being replaced is Darren Sproles. Sproles got over 54% of his rush attempts when the Saints were trailing last season. Therefore, Thomas is likely to see an uptick in rush attempts when trailing.
- Thomas is good. No really, it needs to be said. It’s not like he’s just some guy that happens to be on the roster. Let’s compare Sproles and Thomas using the AYA App. Data is for the past three seasons.
QB Player Att Rec Pct Yds TD INT AYA Drew Brees Darren Sproles 304 232 76% 1987 16 3 7.14 Drew Brees Pierre Thomas 196 166 85% 1296 5 0 7.12
That’s a dead heat right there. On a per attempt basis, Thomas was Sproles’ equal.
- Mark Ingram not so much. If you’re curious, Drew Brees averages an AYA of 4.21 when targeting Mark Ingram. This is the problem with trying to involve him more in the game. When Ingram is on the field, he’s almost assuredly running with the ball, not being targeted out of the backfield. And when he is targeted, good things don’t happen. Here’s how the two compare, from the Career Graphs App:
- The Price is Right. In redraft leagues Pierre Thomas is going ahead of Mark Ingram. But he’s not going until pick 125, or 10th round. Whose going ahead of Thomas? Lamar Miller, Bernard Pierce, Darren McFadden, Darren Sproles, and Marcus Lattimore. C’mon, really? None of those guys has the same combination of prior production, reliability, opportunity, and offensive fit. The RB Sim App gives Thomas a better median and high projection than any of those guys. And remember, the Sim App is situation agnostic, so it’s just looking at age, size, and past production. So in other words, all else equal, the App likes Thomas. Then factor in the great offense, favorable game script usage, and huge amount of opportunity, and Thomas rises to the top. Even if you like any of those guys, you can take them and still acquire Thomas later.
- What about the other backs? Again, Mark Ingram probably is what he is at this point. Unless he suddenly got good at catching the ball, or the Saints are going all out ground and pound, he’s not a factor. Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet may be more involved too of course. But I figure that the worse case scenario here is that Thomas’ usage stays the same as it did last year, in which case you’re getting about 13 PPR points/game.3 The best case scenario is that he gets the majority of Sproles’ vacated targets and puts up a monster year.