The preview on the Rams pointed out that they led the NFL in scoring and yardage three straight years to solidify them as one of the greatest offenses ever. The Saints had a chance to match that streak last year but ended up finishing 11th in point and 6th in yardage, their lowest yardage ranking since Drew Brees and Sean Payton arrived in 2006.
That's still pretty remarkable.
The Saints are hoping the offense can bounce back in 2011 and erase the foul taste of an embarrassing loss in the playoffs to 7-9 Seattle. They're going to have to do it with some new faces on the offensive line and needing young players to step up for released veteran Jon Stinchcomb. That's always a scary proposition for any offense that has been working so well for so long.
Will the Saints return to being the league's top scoring offense? Which players are on the verge of a potential breakout?
It doesn't seem like so long ago that Brees was drafted to be the franchise QB of the Chargers, and then was benched after a poor 2003 season and seen as a stopgap to the true franchise QB, then broke out again and wound up in New Orleans where he's manufactured a sure-fire Hall of Fame career. And at only 32, he's got plenty of time left in his prime.
An attempt to predict Brees 2011 season after the jump....
Brees threw a career high 22 interceptions last season, but also had a career high in attempts, completions and led the NFL in completion percentage. He had a very similar season in 2007, then followed that up with a 5,000 yard season in 2008. Don't put it past Brees to put up MVP-caliber numbers if his wide receivers and favorite tight end can stay healthy all season. He's neck and neck in average draft position with Tom Brady. You can't go wrong with either one and Brees is a good third round pick and a steal if you can get him after that. Conservative estimates are 30 TDs and 4,500 yards at the very least.
It would be really interesting to see what Daniel could do if anything happened to Brees. He was great at Missouri.
This years rookie running back to watch is obviously Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram. It's still kind of unbelievable that he was the first player in Alabama history to win the Heisman, but Ingram was very deserving. He's got the size, speed, and ability to be one of the better all-around running backs in the league, and Sean Payton has already hinted that he'll get the lions share of touches for Saints RBs.
Chris Ivory led the Saints in yards last season, but starts the year on the PUP list. I don't like putting too much stock in rookies who haven't proven anything in the NFL yet, and the Saints are still a passing team first, but he's great if drafted as your third running back. It's a risk to make him your RB2, but the reward could be that he's a RB1 right out of the gates. Many running backs to peak early. I'll put him at around 1,000 yards and 6 scores. He does have PPR value as well.
He was an undrafted rookie in 2007 that managed to make the team in a crowded backfield who lucked into making his first career start that year in December in Chicago. Against the Bears defense, he became the first player in Saints history to rush for 100 yards and receive 100 yards in the same game. Though he's been a fantasy favorite ever since, Thomas has started just 15 career games and his career high in rushing yards for a season is 793. Thomas has a knack for putting up big games, especially in PPR leagues, but at this time he's not reliable as an every week starter. Especially with Ingram in the fold. He'll get his carries, but you have to pick your spots with Thomas.
Don't be fooled by the fact that Sproles really is one of the most exciting players in the NFL. He can break it off at any moment. But at 5'6, he won't get as many moments as your average NFL running back. He's got more value in return leagues and PPR leagues, but only in deep leagues.
This years version of Pierre Thomas is Bell, an undrafted player who won Division II's version of the Heisman trophy at Wayne State after he rushed for over 2,000 yards. Bell was on 3 teams last season as he bounced around from practice squad to being the last man on rosters for Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Buffalo. Danny Woodhead was in a similar situation and is now one of the most interesting players in the NFL who can put up fantasy points. Could Bell make some noise for the Saints?
Four games into his rookie season after nearly going undrafted, Colston was a nearly completely unknown "tight end" who had 20 catches for 336 yards and 3 TDs. I can remember thinking at the time "fluke" and a lot of owners decided not to drop an established player for Colston. His response? 27 catches for 455 yards combined through weeks 7-9. The biggest problem for Colston is that he has dealt with injuries throughout his NFL career, but he's still topped 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons. If healthy, he's a consistent fantasy stud, but the question is how many games he'll actually play in. He's a solid WR2, but wouldn't rely on him as your number one option. He's going 50th on average.
Moore is another example of the Saints amazing ability to find late-round and undrafted talent. He got his first major opportunity to contribute in 2008 and ended the season with 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 TDs. If he's the solid #2 option in New Orleans, that makes him a great late round steal in fantasy. Currently, Moore's groin hurts and he missed practice this week. Will he be ready for Thursdays game? It could open the door for another WR to have a big game.
The Saints do sometimes use first round picks on wide receivers, and Meachem was the 27th overall pick in 2007 out of Tennessee. He missed his rookie season with injury, but that hasn't been a problem for him since. What is a problem is that he's very inconsistent, which may be his fault or may just be a product of the system and him being a "big play" receiver. If you play Meachem in the right week, you could torch your opponent with big points. If not, you're S.O.L. He's a spot starter.
See Meachem, Robert.
Fantasy owners are drafting Graham as a top tight end this season. He flashed some great ability in his rookie season last year and the Saints have only kept 2 TE on the roster to start the season, so Graham is the unquestioned TE target for Brees this season. Is Graham an elite tight end in the making, or something closer to the Chris Cooley kind of production? There are a LOT of passing options in New Orleans, but that won't stop Brees from leading the league in attempts this year. I don't like to overpay for Graham, but I'd take him if he was the best TE available after I filled out my WR and RB spots, but I wouldn't use anything higher than an 8th round pick on him.
follow me on twitter @casetines to hear me curse Devery Henderson's name for randomly putting up 25 points against me.