Juggernaut Index, No. 7: Brees, Thomas are the safest Saints in fantasy

Drew Brees, fantasy legend. If he’s the top QB on your board, we won’t fight you. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Just in case you weren’t clear about Drew Brees’ place in the NFL pantheon, here’s the full list of every 5000-yard passing season in league history:

1. Peyton Manning, 2013 – 5477 yards
2. Drew Brees, 2011 – 5476
3. Tom Brady, 2011 – 5235
4. Drew Brees, 2016 – 5208
5. Drew Brees, 2012 – 5177
6. Drew Brees, 2013 – 5162
7. Dan Marino, 1984 – 5084
8. Drew Brees, 2008 – 5069
9. Matthew Stafford, 2011 – 5038

It’s a mark that’s been reached nine times ever, and five times by Brees. That’s just absurd.

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Brees has led the league in passing in seven of his 11 seasons with the Saints, including five of the last six. He’s the all-time NFL leader in completion percentage (66.6) and yards per game (283.7). He also ranks third on the career list in total passing yards (66,111), touchdowns (465) and completions (5836) and he’s fifth in net yards per attempt (6.97).

He’s good, Brees. His collaboration with head coach Sean Payton has been among the most productive in the game’s history. Yes, Brees has benefited from extreme pass volume and a massively friendly home environment. But we should also note that he hasn’t been paired with a no-doubt Hall of Fame receiver since Antonio Gates, back in the San Diego years.

Brees is entering his age-38 season coming off another ridiculously productive year: 5208 yards, 37 TDs, 70.0 completion percentage, 7.7 Y/A. If you think he should be the first quarterback selected in fantasy drafts, you won’t get much of an argument from me. Brees is as good as any passer has ever been. He also remains the safest way to invest in the New Orleans offense for fantasy purposes, because this team continues to spread the wealth.

Michael Thomas is the No.1, then things get complicated.

While we’re pointing out historic seasons, let’s also mention that last year Thomas became only the fourth player to produce 90 catches and 1000 yards as a rookie, joining Anquan Boldin, Odell Beckham and Terry Glenn. Thomas led the Saints in targets (122), receptions (92), touchdowns (9) and yards after catch (436) last season, emerging as a bankable WR1 in any fantasy format. He saw 11 targets inside the 10-yard line, tied for third-most in the NFL. There are no glaring holes in his fantasy game. Think of him as Marques Colston with greater separation ability. Considering his talent and team context, he deserves to be among the first 7-8 receivers off the board in your fantasy league, a reasonable pick near the R1/R2 turn.

Don’t expect a sophomore slump from Michael Thomas, gamers. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Brandon Cooks was flipped to New England, of course, which leaves roughly 120 targets up for grabs — and these are not just any targets. We’re talking about 120 balls thrown by the most accurate passer in league history. These are the Glengarry leads, people.

Thomas will likely see a small uptick in opportunities, so we’re probably looking at 100-or-so pass attempts redistributed to this team’s supporting receivers. Willie Snead and free agent addition Ted Ginn Jr. are the No. 2 and 3 receivers on this team, and the order in which you choose to list them hardly matters. This team, as everyone knows, commonly uses three-receiver sets. (I am begging you not to get hung up on starting status in the NFL; this isn’t baseball.)

Over the past seven seasons, Brees has averaged an insane 662 pass attempts per 16 games, so this team’s passing game can certainly support three starting-caliber fantasy receivers. It’s not difficult to imagine Snead finishing with 1000 yards and Ginn finding the end-zone, say, eight or nine times. Payton and Brees have been effusive in their praise for Ginn. He’ll clearly remain a high-variance receiver, but the big weeks will be matchup-winners. I’m happy to take a guy like that as my WR3. To me, the gap between Snead’s Yahoo ADP (87.3) and Ginn’s (128.5) is nuts. Both offer profit potential, but Ginn is practically free.

Brandon Coleman was a well-hyped player during the team’s offseason program, and he’ll no doubt shine for a week or two. He’s a big dude (6-foot-6) entering his fourth season with Brees, but his path to fantasy relevance involves injuries to players above him on the depth chart.

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Tight end Coby Fleener is a plague. He’s likely to catch another 50 passes and drop another five or six balls that hit him in the face. He and I are on a break. If you want to own him in a two-TE league, fine. I’ll look the other way. Let us not speak of Fleener again.

Mark Ingram, coming off a big year, loses fantasy value. No one said the game was fair. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Mark Ingram, committee member.

Ingram had a terrific season for New Orleans in 2016, easily the most productive of his career. He rushed for over 1000 yards, averaged 5.1 YPC, caught 46 passes on 57 targets and scored 10 touchdowns. When all the numbers were in, he was a top-10 fantasy back. In appreciation of his efforts, the Saints rewarded him by signing Adrian Peterson to a two-year deal, then using a second-day draft pick on Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara.

So, um … thanks, Mark.

It’s clear at this point that Ingram and Peterson will run in committee, with Kamara in a cameo role. Peterson is 32 and nowhere near his peak, but the inner-circle great players occasionally defy our expectations for age and performance. He can be a dangerous man at 170-190 touches. Ingram seems likely to lead this backfield in receptions, but perhaps not in carries. The guiding principle of the Saints offense under Payton has been unpredictability, so don’t expect clear-cut responsibilities for these backs. Ingram and AP should both be targeted in the RB20-RB25 range in fantasy drafts; their current ADPs are understandably close (75.3 and 78.9). Give a small edge to Ingram in PPR.

Kamara had a good-not-great collegiate career, running as a committee back for two seasons with the Volunteers. He was an efficient back (6.2 YPC) who caught 40 passes last season, but he never handled more than 18 carries in any game. He was a star at the pre-draft combine, leading all backs in both the vertical (39.5 inches) and broad jump (131 inches). He’s had a few wow moments in the preseason, too. Long term, he has a shot at filling a Bush/Sproles role in the New Orleans offense. For now, we can expect him to run behind the established vets in this backfield.

The fun thing about this defense is that it’s terrible.

New Orleans ranked last in the NFL in passing yards allowed last season (273.8 YPG) and next-to-last in points (28.4 PPG). The team addressed the secondary in the early rounds of the draft, but this D still has a long road ahead to respectability. For the fantasy community, this is good news. The Saints are uniquely constructed to engage in weekly shootouts. Never stream this defense. Instead, just appreciate its contributions to league-wide yardage and point totals.

2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 29.3 (2)
Pass YPG – 317.1 (1)
Rush YPG – 108.9 (16)
Yards per play – 6.2 (3)
Plays per game – 69.1 (1)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) NY Jets, 31) San Francisco, 30) Cleveland, 29) LA Rams, 28) Baltimore, 27) Chicago, 26) Minnesota, 25) Detroit, 24) Denver, 23) Jacksonville, 22) Buffalo, 21) Philadelphia, 20) Miami, 19) Indianapolis, 18) Kansas City, 17) Washington, 16) NY Giants, 15) Tennessee, 14) LA Chargers, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Arizona, 10) Oakland, 9) Tampa Bay, 8) Cincinnati, 7) New Orleans