QB Drew Brees
With his record-setting passing performance in 2011, Brees finished the season as the top ranked fantasy quarterback, averaging 29.5 FPts/G. He eclipsed Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record with 5,476 yards while throwing for a career-high 46 touchdowns. Better yet, he cut down on his interceptions, going from a career-high 22 in 2010 to just 14 last season. Things couldn’t be looking rosier, right? Well, Bountygate has put a cloud over the Saints and Brees’ outlook for the 2012 season with head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire year. Payton’s absence has to have a negative impact on the team’s offensive production and let’s face it; it is folly to chase last year’s fantasy production so predicting 5,500 passing yards and 45 touchdowns for Brees is foolhardy. Brees will remain a fantasy stud in 2012 but 5,000 yards and 35-40 touchdown passes seems far more realistic. After Aaron Rodgers, Brees deserves consideration as being the number two quarterback on your draft board along with Tom Brady, Matt Stafford and Cam Newton.
RB Darren Sproles
The Saints signed Sproles to a multi-year contract during the 2011 offseason and the expectation was that he would serve as a pass catching threat out of the backfield as well as spice up the team’s return game. Let’s just say that for $14-million over four years, the Saints got an absolute bargain. Sproles set career highs in rushing yards with 603, receptions with 86, receiving yards with 710 and receiving touchdowns with seven while averaging 11.6 FPts/G. Is a repeat performance in 2012 in the cards? Why not? Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram figure to handle the majority of the work on rushing downs but when you chuck the ball around as much as the Saints do, there aren’t many rushing downs. Since Sproles hauled in an amazing 77.5% of his targets and averaged 8.3 yards per reception, a short pass to him beats a running play in most instances. While the Saints are unlikely to move Sproles into the starting lineup, he certainly ranks as their top fantasy running back entering the 2012 season. Sproles shapes up as a mid-tier RB2 in standard scoring formats and an upper tier RB2 in PPR leagues.
RB Mark Ingram
The Saints traded back into the first round of the 2011 draft in order to select Ingram, the top rated running back in that year’s draft. While big things were expected of him, knee and turf toe injuries limited his effectiveness as a rookie and caused him to miss six games. With just 474 rushing yards and five touchdowns, Ingram was a disappointment as he struggled to show much explosiveness. Off-season knee surgery and a crowded Saints backfield cloud his fantasy outlook for 2012. The biggest issue is whether Ingram is really as mediocre as he looked last season or whether injuries hampered his ability to show his true ability as a runner. While no one is predicting a breakout season, you could make the argument that he ranks as a worthy RB3 with upside provided he can stay healthy and become the Saints full time short yardage option, a role he shared with Pierre Thomas last season. Don’t reach for Ingram hoping he becomes a bell cow runner in the Saints explosive offense. However, he looks good as a lower end RB3 in standard scoring leagues. Knock him down further in PPR formats since he showed little ability as a pass catcher as a rookie and the Saints have one of the league’s top receiving backs in Darren Sproles.
RB Pierre Thomas
The Saints love Thomas and his versatility. Unfortunately, they didn’t like him enough entering last season to not draft Mark Ingram and sign Darren Sproles in free agency. Interestingly, it wasn’t the presence of Sproles that caused Thomas’ fantasy value to decline (he caught a career-high 50 passes), it was having to split goal line work with Ingram. Removing the 2010 season in which he appeared in just six games, Thomas’ touchdowns have declined from 12 to eight to six. He was worth owning as a low end RB2 in 2008 and 2009 while averaging double digit fantasy PPG despite averaging between 10-13 touches per game. That wasn’t the case in 2011 though, as his average PPG dropped to 8.4. With Ingram expected to be healthy in 2012 and Sproles coming off a career-season, not much is expected to change for Thomas. Basically, he needs Ingram or Sproles to be out with an injury to be a useful fantasy contributor but the presence of Chris Ivory even clouds that prognosis.
WR Marques Colston
Due to knee issues, Colston wasn’t getting much love from either the Saints or fantasy football enthusiasts entering the 2011 season. However, after a solid season in which he caught 80 of his 107 targets (an amazing 74.8% completion rate) for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns, he got some love this off-season from the Saints in the form of a five-year, $40-million contract. After missing Weeks 2 and 3 with an injury and struggling in his Week 4 return, Colston caught fire over the Saints last 11 games, putting up 985 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, making him the 3rd ranked wide receiver over that period. Then he put up 256 receiving yards and a score in two playoff games. The evidence is there that it’s time to give Colston some fantasy love in 2012. It’s time to quit focusing on the lack of targets and start focusing on his consistent high level of production. Removing the 2008 season in which he missed five games due to injury, Colston has topped 1,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his five other seasons, averaging 1,096 receiving yards and 8.6 touchdowns in those years. Consider Colston a mid-tier WR1 in 2012.
WR Lance Moore
It has been three long years since Moore’s breakout season in 2008 when he came out of nowhere to catch 79 passes for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. He followed that up with an injury-plagued 2009 season and a pair of mildly productive seasons in 2010 and 2011, averaging 59 receptions for 695 yards and eight touchdowns in those years. In 2012, the 5’9”, 190 pound Toledo product will get a chance to replicate his 2008 success due to the departure of Robert Meachem and the likelihood the Saints will once again feature a pass happy offense. Moore will battle Devery Henderson for a starting spot opposite Marques Colston but the reality is that New Orleans is likely to continue spreading the ball around to many receivers. That limits Moore’s upside even if he opens the season as a starter. In addition, it is hard to imagine Moore continue to score a touchdown every 7.5 receptions as he has over the past four seasons. Moore should be drafted as a solid WR4 who will likely have a number of double-digit scoring weeks as well as a few duds in 2012.
WR Devery Henderson
On the surface, Henderson fantasy prospects for 2012 would appear to be on the upswing with the departure of Robert Meachem to the Chargers. However, after eight largely mediocre seasons, it is difficult to predict a breakout season at age 30 for Henderson. He has averaged 33 receptions for 484 yards and 1.5 touchdowns over the past two years and has just 11 touchdowns over the past five seasons, despite possessing outstanding deep speed. Henderson is bye week filler and not exactly one you want to rely on for anything more than a game or two.
WR Nick Toon
The Saints used a 4th round pick on the 6’4”, 218 pound Wisconsin product but the expectation is that Toon will have a marginal role as a rookie in 2012. His scouting profile reads that he has solid route running ability but lacks deep speed and being the son of a former NFL wide receiver (Al Toon) will help get acclimated to the NFL faster than most rookies. However, expected starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore both lacking upper tier deep speed, Devery Henderson is the odds of favorite to be the Saints third wide receiver. Toon will also need to surpass fifth year wide receiver Adrian Arrington to earn playing time. Toon is a lower tier prospect in dynasty leagues and a player with more value in PPR leagues.
WR Adrian Arrington
Entering his 5th year in the league, Arrington has frequently been mentioned as a player that the Saints like. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been backed up by his inclusion in the team’s game plans so “like” has turned into nine receptions in four years. Barring Arrington surprisingly unseating Devery Henderson and rookie Al Toon to win the third receiver role, you can drop Arrington from your cheatsheet.
TE Jimmy Graham
As expected, Graham enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2011, catching 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. The scary part is that his production last year might just be the tip of the iceberg given his relative inexperience as a football player. Graham emerged as quarterback Drew Brees’ preferred option in the passing game, finishing the year 149 targets, good enough for 6th in the league. Graham has solid hands and enough speed to get deep as well as excellent ability to adjust to passes, making him a great option in the red zone. While Rob Gronkowski was clearly a fantasy beast in 2011, there is a strong argument that Graham has more upside than the Patriots tight end. While Gronkowski will almost surely be the first tight end taken in most fantasy drafts, Graham may end up representing better value as the second tight end off the board.
TE David Thomas
A concussion limited Thomas to five games last season but he has proven to be reasonably productive given his inconsistent use. If Jimmy Graham were to go down, Thomas would likely be a viable TE2 given the lack of depth at the wide receiver position compared to previous seasons.