New Orleans finished No. 2 in points per game in 2011 and 2012. Last season the Saints dropped to No. 10 in the league in that category. Should fantasy owners be worried? Not at all.
Notable offseason additions: Brandin Cooks
Several key offensive players struggled with injuries. The offensive line took a step backward. The Saints looked more vulnerable offensively at times in 2013, but with the roster back to full health and a few young faces bringing new life to this side of the ball, fantasy owners need to invest a fair share of stock in the Saints for 2014.
Quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin, Logan Kilgore
Brees is a model of consistency. He's been the No. 2 fantasy quarterback in standard leagues for three straight seasons. His touchdowns have decreased each year as well, but that hasn't affected his end of year ranking.
The Saints offensive line regressed last season, as Brees was sacked 41 times. There's no promise that number will improve in 2014. Terron Armstead is inexperienced at left tackle. Tim Lelito looks like he'll start at center, a year after going undrafted as a guard.
Brees still has three other solid linemen, though, and a dangerous receiving corps to work with. Even with an improved defense last year, the Saints still attempted the second most passes in the league. They took 59 percent of their offensive snaps in 2013 with a lead or tied. Sean Payton's aggressive nature will keep Brees at the top of fantasy rankings for a few more years.
Running backs: Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, Mark Ingram, Travaris Cadet
The Saints committee approach at running back leaves owners frustrated often, but there is some unseen value here. Thomas finished No. 28 among running backs in standard leagues last season, averaging 8.5 points per game. He led all backs with 77 receptions, which speaks even more to his PPR value.
With Darren Sproles out of the picture, Thomas will continue to be a major factor in the passing game. He may have hit his ceiling as an RB3 last year, but his efficiency as a receiver continues to put him in the RB3 range for standard leagues.
Ingram is going to be a free agent after 2014. His numbers last season were actually impressive, but missing fives games caused fantasy owners to overlook his progress. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Ingram forced 23 missed tackles in just 78 carries, ranking No. 26 among all running backs. He also had seven carries of 15-plus yards.
Despite the improvement, Ingram's value is capped a bit with Robinson in the mix. As a rookie, Robinson forced 10 missed tackles on 54 carries. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry in two playoff games, and he's now pegged as a breakout candidate by several writers following the Saints.
The Saints have to produce more on the ground, as became too one-dimensional early in 2013 and realized a change was needed. Ingram should lead the backfield in rushing, and he's worth a late-round flier. Unless Robinson is out of the picture, though, I can't see either back providing enough value to start regularly. Thomas is the only one who warrants starter status at the moment.
Wide receiver: Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Robert Meachem
Colston finished as the No. 11 fantasy wideout in 2011 and 2012. Last year he dropped to No. 27 at his position. A foot injury has been hindering his performance, but Colston says the injury fees completely different now.
The veteran wideout picked up his pace as 2013 progressed, but he still put in a few duds. I would Colston to bounce back with WR2 numbers if he can stay healthy. His upside is limited as he's getting older.
Lance Moore is gone, leaving Cooks and Stills to see a good amount of targets after Colston. It's somewhat of a guessing game at the moment to predict which young receiver will outperform the other. Stills' average depth of target (aDOT) was 16.8 in his rookie season, and he still caught 32 of his 46 targets. He's a downfield threat who can improve on the five touchdowns he scored in 2013.
But the Saints traded up to grab Cooks in the first round. I don't expect a move like that to be followed by little playing time. Cooks is going to be a factor from Week 1. He's a burner with great upside for dynasty leagues. Given the adjustment period rookie receivers need, Cooks will probably be boom-or-bust every week. Stills seems like the safer bet week-to-week, but Cooks is worth owning. Monitor his performance as the season goes.
Tight ends: Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson, Josh Hill
There is no question who the top fantasy tight end is in today's NFL. Graham finished second, first and first respectively over the past three years at his position in standard leagues. He'll repeat as the No. 1 tight end again in 2014.
Graham posted a career-high 16 touchdowns last year. He'll likely come down from that mark, but double-digit scores should be easy to reach once again. Look at his numbers on plays the Saints started from 10 or fewer yards from the end zone.
Those numbers are staggering. All three stats ranked first in the NFL over the last three years. Graham is a monster in the red zone. Brees will continue to look for him often.
Watson is a veteran will decent receiving skills, but he won't make an impact unless Graham is out. Even then, he probably isn't worth starting.
The Saints up-tempo offense provides a ton of fantasy points. Sometimes there are too many mouths to feed, though. Brees and Graham are among the elite at their positions. The backfield and receiving corps are both crowded, putting a ceiling on everyone's potential breakout numbers for now.