The Saints are coming off a magical Super Bowl championship season and have the potential to get back to the big game in 2010. Their 31-17 defeat of the Colts showcased their significant offensive talents as well as an opportunistic, play-making defense with its own scoring ability.
As with all Super Bowl champions, the Saints were faced with the prospect of losing several key pieces, and gone from last year’s squad are Jamaal Brown, Scott Fujita, Mike Bell, and Charles Grant. On offense, Jermon Bushrod played well with Brown injured for all of 2009, and Bell will be replaced by a promising young power runner in Lynell Hamilton.
While Saints head coach Sean Payton’s reputation is that of a play-caller who likes to feature the pass, the team finished sixth in the league in rushing last year while running the ball over 46 percent of the time.
Expect more of the same in 2010 with Drew Brees leading an offensive attack that is almost unstoppable. The Saints have a diverse group of skill-position players on offense, and Payton has shown a knack for creating mismatches with various formations and by spreading the ball around.
At running back, despite lacking game-breaking ability, Pierre Thomas has proven to be an above-average player in almost all aspects of the game, although his short-yardage running leaves something to be desired. Despite Reggie Bush’s inability to fulfill the potential most thought he had coming out of college, he has been productive when healthy, although he is not as durable as the team would like.
In the passing game, Marques Colston has proven to be a solid, consistent performer despite lacking top-end speed. Robert Meachem emerged from his slumber to be a key performer last year and could be ready to step it up a notch in 2010. Devery Henderson provides a deep threat, and the team is hopeful that Lance Moore can return to the form he showed in 2008.
With the team returning all of its key skill-position players except for Bell, the Saints should once again be the top offensive team in the league.
QB Drew Brees
Welcome to land of 2010’s top-ranked fantasy quarterback: The land of numerous, talented wide receivers; of tight end depth charts that run three deep; of running backs that excel in all areas of the game; and of offensive lines that, due to their incredible depth, can afford to trade former first-round picks coming off injury. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration—but not much of one. The Saints seem to find talented players in the draft, but they also have an ability to unearth players that weren’t drafted (Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, etc.), all to Brees’ good fortune. With Peyton Manning and Tom Brady advancing in age, Brees might be the surest thing at the quarterback position in fantasy football. All of the team’s skill-position players return, save for Mike Bell, who will be replaced by Lynell Hamilton. Brees is at the top of his game, playing in an offense that creates mismatches all over the field due to the talents of the players and the coaching of Sean Payton. Not much should change in 2010. The icing on the cake is that Brees is remarkably consistent (13 games with over 250 yards passing to go along with 12 games with multiple passing touchdowns). The Saints failed to take a running back in the draft, and the offensive line returns all five starters, so they figure to match their passing production from a year ago. That will make Brees the equivalent of fantasy gold. Think middle of the first round in re-draft leagues.
RB Pierre Thomas
While Thomas isn’t going to be confused with the most talented running backs in the league, his situation is about as good as it gets for fantasy purposes. He is the lead back on perhaps the league’s best offense that returns with all of its key pieces. In addition, his top backup (Mike Bell) left town and the team’s other backup (Reggie Bush) is an injury-prone player best suited in a receiving role. The committee backfield keeps the status of Thomas at RB2, but he has huge upside. The Saints lost Mike Bell but ignored the position in the draft, and Lynell Hamilton is no threat to eat into Thomas’s carries, other than perhaps taking some goal-line work. Low risk, high reward, great offense. What’s not to like? If he can win the short-yardage job, look out.
RB Reggie Bush
On the positive side, Bush matched his career high in touchdowns last year, and the Saints decided to keep him despite his outrageous salary. On the negative side, his touches have declined through three straight years, hitting 117 last year—and the Saints offense has not missed a beat. Granted, that trend of declining touches may reverse in 2010 with the departure of Mike Bell. Given that Bush has failed to live up to his lofty draft status and is coming off his worst year in the league, 2010 will be the first year in which he will not be drafted before he should be. That gives him the potential to be a value pick, especially in PPR leagues. While Bush has been injury-prone, he has produced when in the lineup (career average of 10.7 fantasy points per game). While he is worth taking a flier on in the mid-rounds, don’t reach too much given the risk his declining use in New Orleans presents.
RB Lynell Hamilton
Pierre Thomas owners better take note of Lynell Hamilton. With Reggie Bush better suited to take limited rushing touches out of the backfield, Hamilton figures to receive most of the team’s rushing attempts if Thomas were to get injured. The Saints thought enough of Hamilton to not match the modest restricted-free-agent offer sheet Mike Bell received from the Eagles, so expect Hamilton to carve out a role with the team in 2010. While he may not approach Bell’s 2009 production, he may eat into Thomas’s goal line work, and he is worth taking a flier on in the later rounds of re-draft leagues.
WR Marques Colston
Colston is a dynamite talent who suffers fantasy-wise from playing on a team with so many solid offensive skill-position players. On a lesser team, he would likely be in the top 10 in the league in targets, but playing for New Orleans he ranked 26th in that category. Despite the lack of targets, he has been productive when healthy, topping 1,000 yards three times in four years, only missing the mark in 2008 when he missed five games due to injury. He has also been a touchdown machine with 33 scores in only 57 career games. Colston’s solid, consistent production makes him a borderline WR1 in most leagues but leaves him with a lack of upside given the team’s other talented offensive skill-position players. It’s easy to like him, but hard to like him a lot due to his limited opportunities.
WR Robert Meachem
Meachem is coming off a solid year after struggling during his first two years in the league. The 2007 first-round pick proved to be a big play threat with 45 receptions for 722 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has all the tools and a major upside playing in the Saints offense but needs to be more consistent (eight games with five or fewer fantasy points last year) so that the coaches gain the confidence to make him a bigger part of the game. Entering his fourth season, maybe the light will stay on more frequently. He underwent surgery in May to repair torn cartilage on the second toe of his left foot, so that situation should be monitored, although he is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Look for an increased role for Meachem at the expense of Devery Henderson.
WR Devery Henderson
With Henderson, what you see is what you get. He’s fast and he plays on one of the best passing offenses in the league, but he doesn’t go over the middle. Because of that, his fantasy upside is dependent on touchdowns, and he doesn’t score many of those. He had two scores last year and has eight over the last three years. In six years, his highest fantasy points per game is 8.0. With Robert Meachem an emerging threat and Lance Moore and Reggie Bush both healthy, there’s no reason for him to surpass those numbers in 2010, but plenty of reasons why he won’t.
TE Jeremy Shockey
Shockey put up solid production when he was healthy, finishing with 48 receptions for 569 yards and 3 touchdowns despite battling injuries (missing two games and playing hurt in a number of others). It was a nice bounce-back season for Shockey, who was a disappointment during his first year with the team in 2008. Even though Shockey played well, the Saints chose to use their third-round pick on Miami University tight end Jimmy Graham. In addition, the Saints have former Patriot David Thomas who played well last season in his first chance at extended playing time. With a $3.8 million salary, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if the Saints decide that Shockey’s production can be replaced by Thomas and Graham. If he remains in New Orleans, he shapes up as no better than a fantasy backup.
TE David Thomas
Thomas showed surprising receiving ability last year in limited opportunities despite being a bust earlier in his career in New England. Thomas is a player that could be useful if given an opportunity. If the Saints were to save costs by chopping salary and going with Thomas and rookie James Graham, Thomas has the potential to be a useful fantasy option in 2010. On the flip side, if the Saints keep all three of their tight ends, Thomas’s playing time may decrease due to the presence of Graham and Shockey. The sword cuts both ways.