2019 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,982 (9th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 48 (4th)
Offensive Plays: 1,011 (21st)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 606 (6th)
Rush Attempts: 405 (17th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 72 (22nd)
Unaccounted for Carries: 39 (18th)
Sean Payton called one of the more interesting offenses of 2019. He was the sixth-most aggressive coach with fourth-down decision making and passed the ball a ton. The Saints finished 2nd in pass rate while trailing and 3rd in pass rate in neutral situations, that’s why Payton ranked 5th in my analytics-usage column. At the same time, his offense was reserved, finishing dead last in deep-ball rate and 28th in play-action rate. It’s a testament to Payton, who has had to adjust the offense to hide Drew Brees’ declining arm strength and play to Brees’ strengths as a dangerously accurate passer underneath. The fact that Payton now has one of the top offensive lines and an established No. 2 receiver this year makes the Saints one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL, all assuming Brees doesn’t fall off a cliff as a 41-year-old. Payton has had a top-12 scoring offense in all 13 seasons as the Saints head coach, including four-straight years inside the top-four.
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WR: Michael Thomas, Austin Carr
WR: Emmanuel Sanders, Lil’Jordan Humphrey
WR: Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris
Drew Brees’ 7.1% passing touchdown rate was a career high (also read: is bound to regress). Overall, he’s still playing at a high level. Brees has just had to adapt now that his arm isn’t what it used to be, at least when it comes to pure arm strength. Brees’ 6.5 average depth of target last season was the second-lowest of his career. Despite his age, Brees remains a decent bet to finish top-10 in most passing categories if not solely for his surrounding talent and in-division schedule. The way he’ll get there will just be inconsistent. When he’s at home in the dome, Brees is a top-10 fantasy quarterback (21.4 FP/G at home in his career with the Saints). When he’s on the road, things get trickier (17.6 FP/G). Slightly complicating things in 2020 is red zone leach Taysom Hill, who played at least 25% of the offensive snaps in each of the last six games of last season including playoffs. Brees is rightfully being drafted on the QB1/2 borderline. He likely won’t win or lose your fantasy league as long you don’t reach too early.
Among players since 1992 with at least 75 targets, Michael Thomas’ 2018 and 2019 seasons rank first and second in catch rate, both seasons above 80%. Unreal. His length and ability to beat man coverage led to a 28-target gap between Thomas (185 targets) and the second-most targeted receiver, Julio Jones (157), last season. With Brees aging and Emmanuel Sanders around to steal a few looks away per game, Thomas is more likely to settle in as a 140-160 target receiver in 2020, but that’s still plenty high enough volume to confidently draft Thomas in the back half of the first round in PPR leagues. Another 100- to 120-catch season is well within Thomas’ range of outcomes. In fact, it’s likely. The real debate surrounding Thomas in fantasy drafts is if it’s optimal to spend a first-round pick on a receiver when that position is as deep as it’s ever been. I personally have been drafting running backs like Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, and Dalvin Cook ahead of Thomas for that reason.
Emmanuel Sanders averaged 51.1 receiving yards per game across 17 regular-season games last year, thanks to the mid-season trade from Denver to San Francisco. Sanders, 33 years old, doesn’t have as much juice as he once did, but he showed he had enough left in the tank to reliably project him as the Saints’ No. 2 receiver for 2020. His 11.4 average depth of target from last season may slide closer to the line of scrimmage, however, and he’ll probably only be a reasonable WR3/flex play at home where Brees has historically been far more productive. If Thomas and Alvin Kamara stay healthy, Sanders likely maxes out as a 5-6 target player in New Orleans, making him a WR4/5 in redraft leagues. Sanders would immediately become a weekly top-30 receiver if Thomas missed time.
Jared Cook ranked 14th in receptions (43) and eighth in receiving yards (705) among tight ends last season, yet finished second in receiving touchdowns (9). He didn’t get there with high red-zone usage either. Cook only had nine red-zone targets. This makes Cook an all-too-obvious negative regression candidate for 2020, and that’s not even throwing in the fact that Sanders is in town and that Cook is heading into his age-33 season. My expected receiving touchdowns model believed Cook should’ve only scored 4.2 touchdowns last season, making him the largest regression candidate in the NFL. I’m ranking Cook outside of my top-12 tight ends, but he will be a low-end TE1 option in most home matchups. Mathematics just screams to bet against his 43-705-9 receiving line from last season.
There are simply not enough touches to go around for the ancillary pieces to break into the standard-sized fantasy league mix. Tre’Quan Smith and explosive returner Deonte Harris figure to battle things out in training camp for the No. 3 receiver spot, but they’ll only be relevant in DFS tournaments as long as everyone in this offense stays healthy. Third-round TE Adam Trautman was wildly productive at Dayton, but rookie tight ends from D-II schools are worth betting against, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic. Here’s my Trautman scouting profile if you're considering him in dynasty drafts.
Alvin Kamara scored 18 total touchdowns in 2018, the second-best mark among running backs. Last year, Kamara scored six across 14 games. Taysom Hill played into that downfall, but the real culprit was Kamara’s ankle injury. Before he went down, Kamara averaged 0.32 forced missed tackles per touch. That number plummeted to 0.14 after returning from his ankle sprain. Kamara should be back to full health following the offseason, making him a positive regression candidate and strong top-six fantasy selection. Kamara, who is entering a contract season, likely sees around 12 carries and six receptions per game while playing behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL (more on this later). If things break his way, he could end up as a top-3 fantasy asset in 2020. Kamara currently is my No. 4 overall player.
Latavius Murray doesn’t have much, if any, flex appeal whenever Kamara is healthy. Last year, Murray only averaged 6.2 carries and 1.5 receptions in the 13 games Kamara played in, excluding the Saints’ meaningless Week 17 game. This doesn’t scare me away from his double-digit round price tag, however. Murray may be the most-valuable insurance back in fantasy because he totaled 18, 30, and 32 touches in the three games he actually operated as the lead back in last season. He’s a total boom-bust selection, but one I keep clicking on in fantasy drafts. Murray is a Kamara turned ankle away from being a league-winning top-eight fantasy back. I’d rather swing for the fences than draft the likes of Jordan Howard, Sony Michel, and Phillip Lindsay, all of whom have much lower ceilings.
The Saints just might have the best offensive line in the league. Their tackles, Ryan Ramczyk (PFF’s No. 1 OT) and Terron Armstead (No. 8), are both very strong in pass protection, in the screen game, and as run blockers. Andrus Peat provides experience on the interior with 2019 second-round C Erik McCoy and 2020 first-round C/G Cesar McCoy bringing even more athleticism to the line.
The Saints won 13 games last year and lost very little this offseason. In fact, the 2020 roster may even be better with offseason additions coming on both sides of the ball. It’s always best to be bullish on coach Sean Payton, particularly in the regular season where he’s won 11, 13, and 13 games across the last three seasons. Those wins weren’t fluky either. The Saints were leading on 66% of their second-half snaps last season (4th) even with Drew Brees missing time. I’m inclined to take the over on 10.5 wins despite the Saints’ 23rd-ranked schedule and Brees’ age. The defense and offensive line are good enough to make up for any slight to moderate decline in Brees’ game as a 41-year-old.