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2020 Player Outlooks: New Orleans Saints

By Kevin Scott | 8/4/20 |

QB Drew Brees
2019 QB Rank - No. 25, 23.9 FPts/G

Brees was actually the 6th-ranked quarterback in 2019 according to fantasy points scored per game (23.9) tied with Russell Wilson. His rank was pushed down because of time missed due to a broken hand. He was remarkably efficient, completing 74.3% of his passes (after completing 74.4% in 2018). He also had an impressive 7.1% touchdown rate and continued to avoid interceptions, throwing only 4 in 378 attempts.

Brees may not have as big of an arm at 41 years old as he did when he was younger, but that has not stopped him from being effective. He had the Saints within a whisper of the Super Bowl, and with an overall great roster and the coaching staff intact, they have another good shot to get there this season.

The Saints’ offensive line has been a strength, and they drafted Cesar Ruiz in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Ruiz could start at center or guard and likely replace Larry Warford in the starting lineup, who was released this offseason. The unit does a good job of keeping Brees from getting hit. In addition to that potential upgrade, the receiving corps added Emmanuel Sanders, who could be the long-needed second option at the position. This should help Brees not depend so heavily on Michael Thomas and simply find the open man – which could lead to an even better 2020 season.

The biggest red flag when it comes to Brees is his age, and all indications are that this is his final season under center. If his body breaks down, or if the Saints decide to use Taysom Hill more in 2020, that could hurt Brees statistically. But in all likelihood, he will be a steady, reliable option once again.

Alvin Kamara

RB Alvin Kamara
2019 RB Rank – No. 9, 17.9 FPts/G

The potential improvement along the interior of the offensive line would benefit the running game more than anything else. Kamara could use a few more wide-open holes so he could bust some longer runs. During his rookie season, Kamara averaged 6.1 yards per carry, but in the past two seasons that has fallen to 4.6 and 4.7, respectively. The main difference seems to be tied to his inability to break off long runs, which ties back to his number of opportunities to get into wide open space.

The improvement in the passing game that could come with Emmanuel Sanders in town could also help to provide Kamara with some extra room to work. Despite the decrease in his efficiency, Kamara has still been quite effective, finishing with 1,592 and 1,330 total yards from scrimmage the past two seasons. But along with his decrease in rushing efficiency, he has also seen his receiving efficiency fall. His yards per reception has gone from 10.2 to 8.8 to 6.6 over the past three seasons. Since it does not look like he has lost explosiveness, it is up to the Saints’ coaching staff to find ways to get him in the open field so he can produce big chunk plays more often.

Because he has regular involvement in the passing game (he has posted exactly 81 receptions in every season of his career), his floor is very high and he is a very safe pick, as long as he can stay healthy. He is going in the middle of the first round of fantasy drafts right now, so drafters agree that he is very safe and also has huge upside. I am also comfortable taking him there, and believe he will see some positive regression in 2020, leading to both more efficiency and to more trips to the end zone.

RB Latavius Murray
2019 RB Rank – No. 29, 9.8 FPts/G

Latavius Murray had a very fine season in 2019, putting up 637 yards on the ground and 235 yards through the air, to go with six total touchdowns. He was only slightly less effective than Kamara, enabling the Saints to remain effective on offense yet not overwork Kamara.

In Weeks 7 & 8 Murray got the start, and produced like a stud (245 all-purpose yards and 4 touchdowns). The fact that he showed he can produce as the starter in this system makes Murray an intriguing back to draft in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. He is within an explosive offense and the back in front of him has dealt with injuries off and on during his career. On top of that, Murray showed himself to be very good around the goal line. In both 2018 & 2019, he received 3 carries inside the 5-yard-line; in both seasons he scored on two of those attempts.

Murray is not just a handcuff to Kamara, either. Because he will consistently get 8-12 touches even with Kamara on the field, he is a back who can be plugged into your fantasy lineup weekly as a flex option. And if Kamara were to get injured, Murray’s upside is huge.

WR Michael Thomas
2019 WR Rank – No. 1, 23.4 FPts/G

Michael Thomas is on a G.O.A.T. pace among wide receivers. In his first four seasons, he has produced 92, 104, 125, and 149 receptions. His yardage totals have climbed from 1,137, to 1,245, to 1,405, to 1,725 in 2019. He has scored 9 touchdowns in three of four seasons. On top of those ridiculous stats, his catch rate has been over 80% in each of the last two seasons, which is an incredible stat in and of itself.

No matter what defenses do to try to stop him, he finds a way to get open enough to make the reception. His catch rate shows his strong hands and great length, along with the fact that he is a fierce competitor. He truly wants to be the best receiver, and he puts in the work to get there.

After his historic 2019, Thomas is the first receiver off the board in 2020 drafts, going in the middle of the first round. That is the case despite the dearth of options at running back after the first couple rounds. Thomas is simply too valuable, particularly in PPR leagues, for him to slip much lower than that.

Nothing has changed in his situation much in 2020, aside from two things that have the potential to hurt his fantasy stock. First, Drew Brees continues to age. Although that has not negatively affected his play yet, sometimes age can cause a sharp and sudden drop-off in the quality of a quarterback’s play, as we saw with Peyton Manning in his final season. Were that to happen, Thomas could take a big hit. Much of his success has depended on his connection with Brees and on Brees’ accuracy.

Second, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders to the team should help them overall, but there is a chance we could see Thomas’ target share fall a bit. If his targets go from 185 in 2019 to 140 in 2020, that would certainly knock his production down a few pegs. I doubt the impact will be that dramatic, but it’s something to keep in mind.

WR Emmanuel Sanders
2019 WR Rank – No. 33, 10.8 FPts/G

I was among those who thought Emmanuel Sanders’ career might be over after his Achilles tear in 2018. To tear your Achilles when you’re over 30 years old, at a position that requires such quick cutting and change of direction, seemed to be the end of the road. Sanders proved me and many others wrong by coming back only 8 months later, showing the same speed and explosiveness he has built his career on.

He played half of 2019 with the Broncos and the other half with the 49ers, and produced 66 receptions for 869 yards and 5 touchdowns (despite having to switch teams and learn a new playbook halfway through the season). He is now 33 years old but all the Saints need him to do is be a dependable second option who can make defenses pay if they dedicate too much attention to Michael Thomas. That is something this team has been missing, and if he can provide even similar numbers to last year, the offense should be helped considerably.

Sanders is an excellent route-runner who specializes in running routes from the slot. That should be a perfect addition to this offense, and I look for him to be a very steady contributor. Even though I don’t see him producing 1,000 yards or 8 touchdowns, he should provide a solid floor and be a great weekly flex option for fantasy teams.

WR Tre’Quan Smith
2019 WR Rank – No. 91, 7.1 FPts/G

Despite his first two disappointing seasons, Smith still figures to have the best shot at being the third receiver for the Saints. In 2019 he received only 25 targets in 11 games, and produced 18 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns. The five touchdowns stands out, and he also scored five times in his rookie season. Since he has shown the ability to be useful in the red zone, I anticipate he might see quite a few opportunities to use his 6’2” frame.

It is likely also that the Saints will run 11 personnel quite often (3 wide receivers), using Thomas and Smith on the outside with Sanders in the slot. Although his role will likely be small, getting plenty of snaps should lead to a decent number of opportunities. He is not an option to be considered for fantasy except in very deep leagues, and he is even a difficult hold in dynasty leagues due to his lack of production. But he is a talented player and could produce nicely if needed (perhaps due to an injury to Michael Thomas).

TE Jared Cook
2019 TE Rank – No. 7, 12 FPts/G

Cook is another 33-year-old with a long and successful career under his belt. He entered the league as a physical freak, with incredible speed, power, and quickness. That profile has been accurate, as he has been difficult to stop wherever he’s been. Many thought his career was over a few years ago; in 2016 with the Packers, he only had 30 receptions and struggled to stay healthy. But he saw a resurgence with the Raiders, notching 101 receptions in 2018.

2019 was his first year with the Saints, and they struggled to involve him in the passing game. Much of that has to do with the fact that the Saints have several better options. But despite only 65 targets, Cook produced nicely – finishing with 43 receptions for 705 yards and 9 touchdowns. That equated to a 16.4 yards-per-reception mark, a ludicrous number for a tight end. When he did catch the ball, he often was catching a long touchdown or was wide open and could show off his still-intact speed.

Cook figures to get even fewer targets this season with Sanders in town, and it is likely his touchdown percentage will regress. This makes Cook a very risky fantasy option in 2020 leagues. The upside is clearly there, but because he has to score often to reach that upside, it is best to avoid Cook unless he falls into the later rounds.

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