*The 2014 Fantasy Football season is here, and Jake Ciely of RotoExperts.com will be providing exclusive expert fantasy coverage for NewOrleansSaints.com. Throughout the preseason and regular season, Jake will give you the expert deal on Saints players from fantasy perspectives, while letting you know which players will help you take home a championship. *
The Saints defense/special teams is a popular sleeper unit and for good reason. The unit (NFL.com ADP of 145.6) reached double-digit Fantasy Points four times, while only posting a negative score once. The best part is that their Top 15 finish came without a single defensive or special team touchdown. How is that the best part? Well, it's rare for a team not to score any touchdowns via defense or special teams. Just imagine what the Saints could have done with just a few touchdowns.
Not only did the Saints put together a solid season, they did so with Rob Ryan transitioning them into a 3-4 front. Cam Jordan broke out with 12 sacks (good for fifth in the league) and is a great defensive line target in Individual Defensive Player leagues. Keenan Lewis grew into a true No. 1 cover corner, and Kenny Vaccaro was in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year before his injury. With the addition of Jairus Byrd and another year in Ryan's 3-4 defense, the Saints can easily reach DST1 status this year. The team was fourth in the league in sacks last year and the addition of Byrd makes the unit more opportunistic. Byrd has 22 career interceptions and is a prime play-maker who can raise the unit's turnover totals and TD potential. In fact, the pre-bye week schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the unit to start hot.
In addition to Jordan, the aforementioned Vaccaro is a great IDP target and easily a Top Five safety given his ability to finish with 80-plus tackles and a handful of interceptions. Byrd in town means both starting safeties are worth drafting, as he won't be far behind Vaccaro in tackles or interceptions. At linebacker, Curtis Lofton is the top choice, as he should top 90 tackles while chipping in a few sacks and forced fumbles. David Hawthorne is a solid option at linebacker to round out your IDP group, as he'll provide consistent tackle numbers.
Even thought the Seahawks (NFL.com ADP of 49.2) dominated last year and are the consensus No. 1 DST, don't overdraft your defense. There is too much change in outcome each year, and the last defense to repeat as the top unit were the 1993-94 Steelers. The Ravens (138.3) are moving back into the DST1 group with promising youngsters. Another DST outside the Top 10 worthy of your attention is the Texans (143.4). They have a scary duo in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
With the preseason wrapping up, it's time for a "what we've learned" breakdown.
Owners aren't shying away from Jimmy Graham in the first round (10.8), nor should they be. Graham gives you a tremendous edge at tight end, and after the first 5-6 running backs and 1-2 receivers are drafted, Graham is the best pick you can make. Drew Brees has an ADP of 16.2, and like Graham, it's deserving. Brees is the other Saint besides Graham that can finish as the top player at his position.
All of the Saints running backs are undervalued even late in the preseason. Pierre Thomas is a RB2 lock in PPR leagues and he is an RB3 in standard formats, yet he'll cost you just an ninth-round pick at 109.3 (RB34). Mark Ingram has looked impressive this preseason, and he's even cheaper in the 11th round at 137.4, while Khiry Robinson brings PPR upside and just a 12th-round price at 145.7.
As with the running backs, Marques Colston warrants a higher draft pick, which means more value for you, as Colston has WR2 potential yet again, and is a gem of an eighth-round pick at 98.6. Brandin Cooks was one of the biggest risers in the preseason due to his enormous upside and big-play ability. Cooks' ADP is 117.7 (9-10th rounds), and that will look like a steal when he starts putting up WR2-3 numbers. Kenny Stills is arguably the best value of the bunch, sitting as the 58th wide receiver off boards with a 148.5 (12th round) ADP.
Le'Veon Bell has seen his ADP fall thanks to concerns over LeGarrette Blount's share of the snaps, and he is a fine value in the second round. Likewise, Benny Cunningham's usage for the Rams, plus Sam Bradford's torn ACL, has cause Zac Stacy's ADP to slide, and he can be a nice bargain in the third round. Meanwhile, Doug Martin and Roddy White have seen their ADPs rise as owners are expecting rebound campaigns. Drafters are obviously concerned with the quarterback depth, as Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and a few others have started going earlier, while Cam Newton, Robert Griffin and Colin Kaepernick are falling back to the points where they can be nice value plays. Don't panic. If you miss on the big three of Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, you can still double up with high-upside options such as one of the sliders and a Jay Cutler or Tony Romo.
As we enter the final week of Fantasy Football drafting, stick to your guns and rankings. The preseason answers questions about position battles, but it can also cloud your judgment. Draft smart, and remember value is key.
Jake Ciely is a Senior Fantasy Writer at RotoExperts.com. For more in-depth Fantasy Football analysis from Jake and the team at RotoExperts.com, click here to register for the Xclusive Edge Fantasy Football Package* and take advantage of a very special discount offer for Saints fans!*