The fantasy football juggernaut that is the New Orleans Saints has finally undergone a remodeling. Darren Sproles and Lance Moore are gone, and younger talent threatens to replace the production of the wide receivers and running backs who remain. At a minimum, the 126 targets and 108 catches that both Sproles and Moore combined for will be distributed elsewhere.
According to Pro Football Focus, last season Drew Brees attempted 650 passes on 699 drop backs. In the two seasons before that, he attempted 670 and 657 passes on 699 and 694 drop backs, respectively. Although the Saints defense took a major leap from 2012 to 2013, in 2011 they struggled and yet Brees had almost identical numbers in both pass attempts and drop backs.
The Saints are an attacking offense that takes advantage of mismatches in the passing game. Their defense should be even better in 2014 following the additions of Jairus Byrd, Champ Bailey, and the progression of their younger talent, but it won’t slow this offense down.
For this piece, we will take a look at two options in the passing game whose ADP hasn’t quite caught up with them yet.
Stills Being Drafted Too Late
Please disregard my awful attempt at a Kenny Stills pun, but he’s still being undervalued in early drafts and mock drafts. Using our ADP Arbitrage App, we can see that Stills is coming off the board right on the edge of WR4/5 territory. Stills’ combination of situation, talent, and potential for an increased role make him a better bet to best his ADP than any of the four wide receivers listed below.
Making the Most Of Limited Opportunities
Using the AYA App, we can see that since Brees joined the Saints in 2006, he has a higher AYA when throwing to only one WR other than Stills. Of course, with just 50 total attempts we’re looking at a small sample size, but the production is certainly there on a per-play basis.
The Saints used Stills as a situational deep threat during his rookie season. Stills finished the regular season with just 708 snaps, 46 targets, and 496 snaps in route, per Pro Football Focus. Those numbers were good for the 56th, 88th, and 41st most among WRs, respectively. Stills made the most of his limited opportunities, finishing with a 32/641/5 line, averaging 20 yards per reception—the third-most in the NFL.
As Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus pointed out, Stills’ 70 percent catch rate was impressive because he had an average depth of target of 16.9, and because 15 of his 50 targets had a depth of at least 20 yards. Stills only dropped one catchable pass all season long.
Set To See Opportunity Increase
The biggest thing that held back Stills’ production was his role in the offense. According to Pro Football Focus, despite running 496 snaps in route—41st among WRs, Stills finished with just 46 targets—89th among WRs. This disparity prevented him from breaking into the WR3-range from a production standpoint and it can be blamed on his role within the offense. Last season, the Saints used Stills primarily as the X, or split end. In Sean Payton’s scheme, the X is often used on “clear out” routes to open up the middle of the field for other players. This is a position Stills found himself in often.
The good news is that his role is going to change in 2014. During OTAs, Stills worked in the slot and as the flanker, or Z receiver. This puts Stills in a position to be featured on different route combinations aside from the vertical go routes.
It’s not wise to put too much stock into minicamp practices, but Stills ended the Saints’ three-day minicamp by rising up to grab a four-yard touchdown pass on a fade from Brees. More importantly, Stills pointed to Brees’ trust in his ability to go up and make a play for him as the biggest difference from last offseason to this one.
His Ceiling Is High, But his ADP Will Stay Low
It seems like easy money that Stills will outperform his current ADP, but to project his true value we need to figure out his ceiling first. Jon Moore does an excellent job gauging Stills’ ceiling using his phenom index here. He points out that his speed score of 105 is in line with outstanding players like Torrey Smith, Santonio Holmes, and Percy Harvin. That’s simply the highlight though, check out the link above for a full breakdown.
Although there’s plenty to like about Stills heading into 2014, I expect his ADP to remain fairly stagnant. Because he was a fifth-round pick who finished just outside the WR4 range in 2013, he will continue to be overlooked. Not to mention, Brandin Cooks is set to steal most of the training camp and preseason headlines. The Saints traded up for Cooks and the fans want to know why, so I expect the beat reporters to be all over his every move this summer.
A Not So Steep Hill To Climb Over
My puns and titles just seem to get worse as I move on–I’ll just get right to it. Put tight end Josh Hill on your dynasty radar right now. Although many, including myself, believe that the Jimmy Graham saga will end with him re-signing a long-term contract, there are no guarantees in this league. Graham’s camp reportedly wants an average of $12 million per-season, while the Saints would prefer to pay him less than $10 million per-season.
Even if the Saints can come to terms with Graham, Hill makes for an intriguing dynasty prospect in Payton’s scheme—one that is less concerned with position and more with isolating matchups.
The Saints signed Hill as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State last season, and he boasts an impressive combination of size, speed, and leaping ability. At 6’5” and 239 pounds, he ran a 4.66 40-yard-dash and logged a 36.5-inch vertical jump at his Pro Day.
Last season he earned a roster spot after an impressive summer, and he went on to play 179 snaps in the regular season as the team’s third TE. What struck me was the fact that his role expanded as he played another 67 snaps in those two playoff games. He caught my eye with a 23-yard reception against the Seahawks in the postseason—he went up for the ball and high-pointed it, Graham-style.
According to DLF, Hill’s ADP was not even in the top 40 at TE during the month of June. Prospects such as Brandon Bostick, Levine Toilolo, and Vance McDonald are being drafted ahead of him. I’ll take a gamble on Hill who brings better athletic measurables, and has a better quarterback throwing him the ball in a creative offensive scheme. The playing time will come.
Dan Schneier writes for PFF Fantasy, Sportable, and Fox Sports SW. You can continue to the conversation with him on twitter or google+.