QB Drew Brees
Last season, Brees wasn’t the same quarterback he was in 2008 and 2009, but he still produced another solid fantasy season, averaging 22.7 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues. He wasn’t as impressive in leagues that penalize interceptions, however, as he threw a career-high 22 picks. That can be blamed on two factors: the performance of the team’s receivers, and the situation at running back. Both Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson struggled last season, and injuries decimated the running back depth chart, with an undrafted rookie earning significant playing time. The rushing attack was addressed with the addition of Mark Ingram, and the team’s wide receivers should perform better in 2011, although lead receiver Marques Colston’s recovery from a knee injury remains a concern. No matter, as Brees and the Saints spread the ball around and Brees produces consistently, averaging 4,586 passing yards and 31 touchdown passes over the last five years. Hopefully he can cut down on those drive-killing interceptions in 2011. He’s a top-three fantasy quarterback, and that’s pretty much guaranteed if the past is any indication. He’s finished third, second, first, third, and second over the past five years.
RB Mark Ingram
After watching their rushing attack crash back to earth in 2010, the Saints addressed the issue by moving up in the first round of the draft to select Ingram. He was very productive in college at Alabama, helping lead the Tide to a National Championship and winning the Heisman Trophy in the process. He has been compared to Emmitt Smith as a tough, physical runner who lacks breakaway speed. In New Orleans, he joins a crowded backfield and figures to be part of a committee—along with Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles—given head coach Sean Payton’s preference for sharing the workload in the backfield. That limits his upside. However, he should get the short-yardage work with Thomas struggling in that area, and he will probably also be the team’s closer if he can avoid fumbling. He’s a RB3 entering the season, but one with upside if he can win the starting job outright, or if the brittle Thomas gets injured once again.
RB Pierre Thomas
When healthy, Thomas has been a productive running back ever since making the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2007. While he doesn’t excel in any one facet of the game, he is better than average in several areas, save for short-yardage work, where he has struggled. The issue for Thomas is that he hasn’t been healthy enough, playing in just 35 games over the past three seasons. With the Saints having determined that Thomas can’t stay healthy for an entire season as the lead back (and with plenty of evidence to support that conclusion), they traded up in the first round of the draft to acquire Mark Ingram. Ingram’s presence doesn’t exactly spell doom for Thomas’ fantasy value, considering that Thomas has averaged a healthy 10.8 fantasy points per game in two- and three-player committees, when he’s been in the lineup. However, it clearly limits his upside, and his injury history has to be a concern. Being a part of the Saints’ great offense increases his appeal and makes Thomas an RB3, though one with limited upside given Ingram’s presence.
RB Darren Sproles
Having traded Reggie Bush to the Miami Dolphins, the Saints acquired former Charger running back Darren Sproles to fill Bush’s role in the New Orleans offense. Sproles joins a revamped backfield that includes Pierre Thomas, rookie first-round pick Mark Ingram, and second-year player Chris Ivory. While Sproles is a dynamic player, he isn’t Bush’s equal. Furthermore, the Saints gave a long-term contract to Lance Moore, who essentially subbed in for Bush in the passing game when he was injured. That will limit Sproles’ touches on passing downs. In addition, Ingram and Thomas will get nearly all the work on running downs. Add it all up and it doesn’t seem likely that Sproles will earn enough touches to have much fantasy value in 2011. He is waiver wire material unless those above him on the depth chart get injured.
WR Marques Colston
Despite battling the injury bug, it was another good year for Colston in 2010 as the Saints top wide receiver hauled in 84 passes for 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns. Removing an injury-shortened year in 2008, he has averaged 1,084 yards and 8.8 touchdowns per season, numbers that scream WR1 for fantasy purposes. But don’t be hasty. Colston is coming off microfracture surgery on his right knee, and reports indicate that he has had three surgeries on that knee over the past year. He also previously had microfracture surgery on his left knee. That’s a lot of surgeries for a player who, while very talented, does not possess outstanding speed. On the plus side, you don’t need outstanding speed to be a great red zone threat, and Colston is clearly head coach Sean Payton’s preferred option in that area of the field, although talented second-year tight end Jimmy Graham could poach some of that work. Despite the injury history, you can comfortably use Colston as your WR2, but be wary of having him as your top wide receiver.
WR Robert Meachem
Meachem is arguably the most gifted of the Saints wide receivers, but he remains an enigma to both the coaching staff and his fantasy owners. Coming off a solid second half of the 2009 season, where he caught 37 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns over the final nine games of the season, Meachem was expected to become a great compliment to Marques Colston in the Saints’ starting lineup. However, an ankle injury and the inconsistency that has plagued him for his entire career were the defining issues of his season, as he caught just 44 passes for 638 yards and five touchdowns. Entering his fifth year in the league, Meachem remains a player capable of breaking out, but at this point that’s hardly likely. Draft him as a backup and hope he surprises.
WR Lance Moore
After several years of yanking Moore in and out of the lineup, the Saints finally seem committed to him, signing him to a long-term contract extension this offseason. Despite having modest speed and being on the small side, Moore was productive when called upon, often subbing in for Reggie Bush when he was out with an injury. Moore burst onto the scene in 2008, catching 79 passes for 928 yards and ten touchdowns, before becoming a non-factor in 2009. In 2010, he bounced back with 66 receptions for 763 yards and eight touchdowns. Clearly, Moore’s career has had its ups and downs, but he figures to get consistent work in 2011. Marques Colston is coming off another knee surgery, Devery Henderson is best suited as a deep threat, and Robert Meachem has never been able to fulfill his potential. That leaves the steady Moore often picking up the pieces. Consider him a solid fantasy backup in 2011, but one who will become starter worthy if injuries strike the Saints’ other receivers.
WR Devery Henderson
Despite his blazing speed, Henderson has caught just nine touchdown passes over the past four seasons, even though he has played 16 games in every one of those years. He doesn’t catch a lot of passes either, with a career-high 51 in 2009 while never topping 34 in any other season. He also doesn’t like going over the middle, so he’s not going to take a crossing pattern to the house. With Lance Moore having signed a long-term contract extension, there’s a good chance that Henderson will be fourth on the depth chart in 2011. The Saints are tight against the cap, so it won’t be a surprise if they decide against paying $2.25 million to a player so low on the depth chart. Henderson is recommended only in the deepest of leagues.
TE Jimmy Graham
With Jeremy Shockey having been released and David Thomas clearly suited to a backup role, the path has been cleared for Graham to assume the starting tight end spot in 2011. The Saints used a third-round pick last season to acquire the raw yet talented Graham, but he rarely saw the field early in his rookie year. However, he got more use beginning at midseason and quickly developed into another weapon in the Saints’ high-powered offense, particularly as an option in the red zone. By season’s end, Graham had caught 31 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns, with four of those scores coming in his final three games. He has good size and outstanding speed for a tight end, which gives him a high ceiling. Look for him to finish the 2011 season as a lower-tier TE1.
TE David Thomas
Thomas gets the job done when he gets an opportunity, but the Saints have determined that he fits them best as a backup. He played behind Jeremy Shockey for a number of years and now sits behind talented second-year player Jimmy Graham. He isn’t worth drafting in redraft leagues, but he gets a mention here because he figures to produce if Graham goes down.