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.
We're midway into the preseason, and that means Fantasy Football drafts are in full swing. NFL and fantasy fans alike are eager with anticipation as they await the first official snap of the 2014 season.
For the fantasy players, now is the prime time for drafting and the crucial period for ensuring your knowledge is top notch if you want to reach that Fantasy Super Bowl. Week 3 of the preseason provides great insights into teams' plans, but we already know enough to say which players are good bets. In fact, preseason performances are too often overrated. We'll kick things off with an offensive outlook, followed by defenses, special teams and a preseason wrap-up next week. Once the regular season arrives, we'll have weekly outlooks every Wednesday.
If any Saint other than Jimmy Graham is going to finish as the top fantasy player at his position, it's Drew Brees. In fact, Brees has three No. 1 and three No. 2 fantasy season finishes at QB. The Saints run as many offensive plays as anyone, and Brees has averaged 659 pass attempts over the past four years. Peyton Manning will still be great, but likely won't set records again this season. With defenses keying on the passing game, you can expect some regression… just don't attribute it to Denver's schedule. The main comparison point between Manning and Brees is that the Saints schedule is much easier than the Broncos schedule. Don't get pulled in by that reasoning. The Lions supposedly had the second toughest strength of schedule last year but finished with the third easiest. Conversely, the Texans had the sixth easiest before the season but finished second toughest.
The opportunity for Brees to be the top QB in fantasy will come from his own play and the Saints' offensive firepower. Brees is the second quarterback off draft boards at NFL.com with an overall Average Draft Position of 16.9. Since his start with the Saints in 2006, Brees has finished with an average ranking of fourth overall and 310 Fantasy Points. I always say wait on quarterbacks, as there is plenty of value late in drafts, especially this year. But if Brees is hanging around at the end of Round 2, you need to consider going with a passer early, as those numbers can win you a title and secure your quarterback position weekly.
If you do wait on quarterbacks and don't grab a Manning (ADP of 9.9), Brees or even Aaron Rodgers (20.1), you should let others take the middle tier options such as Andrew Luck (33.3), Matthew Stafford (50.8), etc. You should be one of the first to take a quarterback or one of the last. Value quarterbacks start with Matt Ryan (80.4), who will be passing aplenty this year. A full season of Julio Jones and Roddy White has the arrow pointing to the sky. Don't dismiss Tony Romo (100.1) either. Romo is a lock for 4,000-plus yards and 30-plus touchdowns with that offense. Jay Cutler has the most upside for any quarterback outside the Top 100 (118.3) this year.
The Saints have never been shy about using multiple running backs and sharing the wealth. Just last year, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles both finished as Top 35 running backs, and they improved to Top 23 options in Point Per Reception leagues. Even with the shared touches, both backs had RB2 value.
Don't look for things to change this year. Thomas is my favorite underrated running back. Not only did Thomas check in as RB23 in non-PPR leagues last year, he was the 16th-best RB in PPR leagues! Sproles is now in Philly, and Thomas is the veteran presence who is more than comfortable in the offense and has Brees' trust. Thomas' ADP of RB34 and 109.8 overall and will have you reaping terrific value.
Mark Ingram only has a few carries through the preseason, but he's looked impressive with the potential to capitalize on the talent we saw at Alabama and what made the Saints trade up in the draft to grab him. With a nice 10.4 yards per carry and only a long of 22 (showing that the number isn't skewed by an extremely long run), Ingram is a great RB4 to stash in hopes of a breakout campaign. The best part is that Ingram only costs you a mid to-late round pick with an ADP of 141.2. The same goes for Khiry Robinson, whose ADP is 144.9. For deeper leagues, remember Travaris Cadet (150.9 ADP). As we know, any player can provide value in the Saints offense, and Cadet would have immediate value if pressed into more action at any point.
After the big four at running back – Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte – you have a nice second tier that I'd be happy with as my RB1, including Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, DeMarco Murray and Marshawn Lynch. If you miss on those eight, as mentioned with taking Brees, don't be afraid to wait a round or two on your running backs. Rashad Jennings (48.8) is a high-upside grab in the RB2 range. The yardage and catches will offset the shared touchdowns with Andre Williams. All Jennings needs is a full season to reach the Top 15. Toby Gerhart (60.4) is another great RB2 value, as he will near 300 touches with the Jaguars feeding him touches buffet style. Take advantage of the Ben Tate ADP of 72.4. He is the best option for the Browns, and will be a rock-solid RB2 when he's out there.
Some good players to gamble on include Devonta Freeman (149.5), Terrance West (131.8) as a great grab, especially for Tate owners and Carlos Hyde (145.0). Bobby Rainey (150.8) is sitting behind Doug Martin now as the handcuff.
Saints fans have seen plenty of what Marques Colston can do. Colston still finished as the 27th-best receiver last year. Colston is only 31 years old and is ready to show his better form, easily providing WR2 numbers and terrific draft value, as he is the 31st WR off the board at 100.7 overall.
Kenny Stills gave us glimpses of his upside, as he was the 47th best receiver on just 50 targets and 32 receptions. You can thank his amazing 20.0 yards per catch and five touchdowns. If Brees is looking for the big play, you know he's turning to Stills. Even though there are plenty of mouths to feed in the Saints offense, Stills will provide at least WR4 value again, and that is why he is such a great draft bargain. Teammate Brandin Cooks – more on him in a second – has an ADP of 123.9, only eight receiver spots behind Colston. Meanwhile, Stills is at WR58, 148.3 overall. Now, Cooks is oozing potential, and will also help offset the Sproles loss given his explosiveness and propensity for big plays after the catch. That doesn't mean you should forget about Stills, though. If anything, why not grab both options, as we already covered the fact that Brees could throwi more than 650 times again.
After Calvin Johnson and big names in the top tier, you can find a good amount of receivers who have a great chance to outperform their draft cost. The concerns over Eric Decker (93.2) going from Denver to New York are valid, but it's not enough to knock him from WR3 value. He will see around 130 targets. With Cecil Shorts (136.5) back to health, there is great mid-to-late round value given the number of targets and receptions he'll see.
The high-upside late-round fliers include Jordan Matthews (147.8), who brings an envious size/speed combo, Robert Woods (150.2) with Sammy Watkins primed to draw defensive attention and Dexter McCluster (150.2) if he is WR eligible. Ken Whisenhunt loves passing to RBs, and McCluster is seeing plenty of use already. At worst, Dex will get you 4-5 Fantasy Points per week in a PPR league.
It starts and ends with Jimmy Graham in the first tier, and rightfully so. Graham has finished second, first and first in fantasy scoring at the position since his rookie season, and there is no stopping him from three-peating as the tight end champ. Graham is averaging an amazing 90 catches, 1,169 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past three years. His ADP of 11.1 is warranted, as after the top two tiers of running backs, there is no better guarantee for top production in Fantasy Football. You could easily argue that Graham is safer than a few of those running backs in Tier 2.
There is a wide open debate for the No. 2 spot behind Graham, Rob Gronkowski (29.3) is a big difference-maker as well. Gronk is the only tight end that can possibly approach Graham's output, but Julius Thomas (38.4) has a case for No. 2 status given his production last season.
Jordan Cameron (64.8) has more upside than anyone after the big names. Both Kyle Rudolph (100.9) and Zach Ertz (136.1) present potential galore. Rudolph now has the genius tight end creator in Norv Turner, and Ertz is on breakout alert with a chance for 60-plus catches, and plenty of touchdown opportunities.
RotoExperts.com Staff Sleepers/Values
Nando Di Fino
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!*