Draft Kit Sneak Peek: New Orleans Saints

by Ben Gretch ·

This New Orleans Saints Team Preview is an excerpt from PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit. Pre-order for access to all 32 of Ben Gretch’s Team Insights here: Fantasy-DraftKit.com

Season Review

After seven consecutive seasons throwing the ball more than 650 times, the 2017 Saints offense was an entirely different animal thanks to an improved defense and strong positive game script. Drew Brees put the ball in the air just 536 times for a team that finished with the sixth-highest average point differential (+3.61). Brees’ trademark efficiency wasn’t impacted: he led the league in yards per attempt for the first time in his career, and also in completions thanks to an NFL-record 72 percent completion percentage as well as led the league in numerous advanced throwing stats, metrics, and analytics. Still, reduced volume and a dip in touchdown rate left him as just the QB11 after 11 straight top six seasons.

Though Brees completes plenty of short passes to RBs, he was phenomenal at all depths in 2017. He tied for the third most deep attempts with 64 and had easily the highest completion percentage among all QBs with at least 10 deep tries, checking in at 56.2-percent on a throw type where the league average is 32.7%.

In an era where teams are spreading the ball around to more targets than ever, Brees and the Saints curiously went the other way in 2017 after years setting that trend. Michael Thomas tied Jimmy Graham for the most targets by a Brees pass-catcher with 149, while Ted Ginn (70 targets) was the only other non-RB to eclipse 40. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram were both heavily utilized in the passing game, but tight end production was almost nonexistent and Willie Snead never recovered from an early suspension and subsequent hamstring injury, completely falling off the map after back-to-back 100-target seasons in 2016 and 2017.

Thomas repeated his outstanding rookie season despite a drop in touchdowns from 9 to 5, again finishing comfortably amid the top 10 WRs. The lack of passing touchdowns could be directly attributed to rushing efficiency, as Ingram scored on 8 of 18 rush attempts inside the 10 and Kamara added 5 on 12 behind an offensive line that posted the league’s second-best run-blocking grade. Both backs finished in the top 12 in red zone touches, with Ingram pacing Kamara 43 to 39. He was the clear goal-line lead, notching 12 rushes in close to Kamara’s 4, but Kamara’s ability to score from anywhere allowed him to finish with more offensive touchdowns than Ingram, 13 to 12 (he also added a kick return score).

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Those 25 touchdowns were more than half of the Saints’ offensive scores, and the backs’ scoring efficiency certainly contributed to Thomas having a down year scoring-wise. Still, Thomas posted a strong 30-percent share of end zone targets, and Brees completed a league-high 68.3-percent of red zone attempts. That Thomas finished with just five scores was something of an upset.

Many will note Kamara is due for efficiency regression this offseason, but it’s easier to overlook how his end-of-season opportunity numbers were stunted a bit both due to under-utilization in the first quarter of the season and a concussion on the first drive of New Orleans’ Week 14 game that was killer for fantasy owners. Removing that game, Kamara went from 3.8 carries per game to 9.5 before and after the Adrian Peterson trade. He also had double-digit rush attempts in both playoff games.

Signature Trend

Since Drew Brees and Sean Payton came to New Orleans in 2006, the biggest constant has been RB involvement in the passing game. The Saints finished top five in RB targets in each of those 12 seasons and led the league seven times, including each of the past two seasons.

Of course, they’ve also thrown the most passes in that span. But while they have thrown 3% more passes than the next highest team, their 175 RB target average is a full 30% more than anyone else. In the NFL, that kind of usage consistency over that long of a timeframe is absurd!

Because of the decrease in pass attempts, looking at this in terms of share displays a pretty hefty spike in 2017, but regression shouldn’t be a concern here. First, the team is likely to add some pass attempts in 2018 to get more in line with their multi-year average. Second, their personnel in 2018 is as suited for this strategy as it’s ever been, with the only possible exception being Darren Sproles’ three-year run in the Big Easy.

Kamara’s rookie season featured the second most RB receptions and most RB receiving yards in the NFL. They also used him as more than a dumpoff target – his 283 air yards were second most among RBs despite the Saints frequently throwing to RBs behind the line of scrimmage. (Ingram, by comparison, posted -80 air yards on his 71 targets. It probably goes without saying that was the lowest figure in the NFL.)

The 180 RB targets from 2017 are right in line with a more-than-decade-long positional average, and since the Saints have an established baseline is in that range, a strong argument could be made that we see them eclipse that number in 2018. With Ingram out for the first four weeks, Kamara is in a great position to actually build on his 100-target rookie season, and that passing game involvement gives him an exceptionally strong floor. His efficiency will likely come down, but as a good bet to maintain a high-value passing role and also increase his rush attempts, there’s little bust risk outside major injury.


Evaluating the 2018 Saints comes down to recognizing their long-term trends, identifying the factors that led to their notably different 2017, and determining where along that scale you think things will fall.

For example, Michael Thomas had a target share of 28-percent after no Saint had eclipsed 23-percent in 11 years with Brees under center. On the flip side, Brees attempted fewer passes per game than any season in his Saints career, and nearly 6.5 fewer than his 11-year average leading into 2017. It wouldn’t be too hard to build a case that the 25-year-old, third-year WR should eclipse 150 targets with the expected bump in passing overall, nor would it be difficult to point to the additions of Cameron Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith, and Ben Watson — along with the team moving on from Snead and Coby Fleener — as evidence the 0.28 target share wasn’t planned, and the team would like to at least trend back toward spreading the ball around.

Similarly, the backs present an interesting quandary, especially after the announcement of Ingram’s suspension. How do we deal with the efficiency? Kamara led all backs with a 6.1 YPC while his 10.2 YPR was second. He also led backs with 100 or more touches with a TD rate of 6.4-percent of his touches. Ingram was no slouch finding the end zone himself, and also posted a hefty 4.9 YPC. The two combined to average more than 1.5 TDs per game. Surely they can’t repeat all of that, can they?

The safest answer is somewhere in the middle, an expectation that the Saints throw more in 2018 (they almost certainly will over the first four weeks), that the backs aren’t as efficient but are still upper echelon at making the most of their touches, and that more players get involved than the four core skill position guys from 2017. Ginn fit nicely into his deep threat role and will likely be utilized similarly, while Meredith and/or Watson will likely exceed the 40 targets none of Snead, Fleener, or Brandon Coleman could hit. That might mean a smaller share for Thomas as the WR1, but he’s also likely to steal some touchdowns from the RBs. The plus offensive line is in tact. The end result is an offense primed to put up big fantasy numbers, either through efficiency or volume.