*The 2014 Fantasy Football season is here, and Jake Ciely of RotoExperts.com will be providing exclusive Fantasy coverage for NewOrleansSaints.com. Jake will give you the expert deal on Saints players from fantasy perspectives with his in-depth game previews every week. *
The New Orleans Saints open the season within the division and on the road. It's not the most envious start, but Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints should have no trouble putting up points – on the scoreboard and for fantasy purposes.
Brees will contend for top honors at quarterback to open the season. Not only did the Falcons allow the fifth-most FPPG to quarterbacks last year, but Brees averaged 318 yards, two touchdowns and 23.7 Fantasy Points in the two matchups last year. In fact, the last time Brees didn't throw for a touchdown was Week 13 in 2012 against the Falcons, when he still managed 17.1 Fantasy Points thanks to 341 passing yards. The Falcons allowed the third-most passing touchdowns in last season (31) and second-highest QB rating of 102.4, which carried into the preseason, as they gave up the ninth-most passing yards and a 4-to-1 TD:INT ratio.
The offensive line continues to be strength and will give Brees plenty of time to pass and open up nice lanes for the running backs. Jonathan Goodwin seems to have won the starting gig at center, and fans should take that as a positive and not a knock on Tim Lelito. Goodwin seemingly found a fountain of youth this preseason and won out in a close battle. With Terron Armstead, Ben Grubbs, Jahri Evans and Zach Strief back in the fold, fans and Brees should have little-to-no concerns about the offensive line.
There have been plenty of fantasy choices in the Saints backfield for years, and 2014 is no different. Pierre Thomas continues to be one of the most underrated options, proven by his 23rd and 16th rankings in non-PPR and PPR leagues, respectively. Mark Ingram looks to be on the verge of a breakout year after tearing up the preseason with a 7.1 yards per carry average, which included two 20-plus runs on just 22 attempts. Khiry Robinson will be a good change-of-pace and passing down option. Given Thomas' past success and the Falcons allowing the 10th-most FPPG to running backs last year, he is a solid RB2 play in Week 1. Given the aforementioned preseason play of Ingram, you can consider him a RB3. Robinson is a nice deep-league play, especially if the Saints get ahead early and look to keep Thomas' usage in check.
Kenny Stills is the only current injury concern for the Saints, as he is questionable with a quad strain. If he suits up, Stills' big-play potential makes him a WR5 and worth a start in most deeper leagues. If Stills misses Week 1, Nick Toon's value jumps a good amount, and he would be a nice flier in Daily Fantasy Football formats. At the top of the depth chart, Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks are excellent options. In limited preseason action, Colston looked fresh, healthy and good as ever. Consider him a WR2 lock after totaling nine catches, 108 yards and a touchdown in the two games against the Falcons in 2013. This preseason, Cooks had viewers dropping their jaws with his big-play ability and athleticism. The Saints will have Cooks offset Darren Sproles' departure, and that gives Cooks WR1 upside with a WR3 floor in both non-PPR and PPR leagues, as Sproles led the Saints in receptions and yards in Week 1 last year.
Not only is Jimmy Graham the top fantasy option at tight end, he's primed for a huge day with the Falcons having allowed the seventh-most FPPG to tight ends last year. If you needed any more proof (you don't, but I'll tell you anyway), Graham racked up 110 yards on nine catches with two touchdowns this preseason. He's more than ready for the start of the season.
As mentioned when we talked defenses previously, the Saints team is a nice sleeper unit for the 2014 season. They improved in the second half last year, and with the addition of Jairus Byrd and return of Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints not only boast the best safety duo but have DST1 potential. The Falcons' offense has a good amount of firepower, so you may want to wait until after Week 1 to roll out the Saints DST.
Outside of the obvious names at QB elsewhere, Colin Kaepernick could get off to a good start despite the 49ers ranking 22nd in preseason points and 27th in yards for the preseason. The Cowboys' defense allowed the second-most Fantasy Points Per Game (22.0) to quarterbacks last year, and their defense gave up the second-most points and third-most yards in the preseason. Cam Newton will be tested against an underrated Buccaneers defense. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton has a tough opening matchup against the division rival Ravens on the road, while Hue Jackson's offensive gameplan should feature a run-focused attack.
There are a couple of high-upside plays in the RB2 tier. The Bucs sound more confident in Doug Martin's pass-catching skill this year, which brings potential with a high touch count. Speaking of a high amount of touches, Toby Gerhart will get all the work he can handle this year, and that alone gives him a high floor. The Giants' offense isn't fully on track in Ben McAdoo's system yet, but Rashad Jennings is, and he's been involved in the passing game plenty. Consider him another high-ceiling/high-floor RB2.
As mentioned with Kaepernick, there is potential with the 49ers passing game against the Cowboys, and Michael Crabtree could open the year with a WR1 performance. Julian Edelman posted one of his best games against the Dolphins last year with 13 catches, 139 yards and a touchdown in Week 15. It's also a game worth your attention to see the usage of Edelman with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson on the field. Geno Smith has taken a nice step forward this offseason, and Eric Decker remains a must-start given his target level alone. With Wes Welker out Emmanuel Sanders becomes a WR3 play.
It sounds as though Rob Gronkowski is healthy enough for Week 1, and if so, you have to put him in your lineup. Gronk has more upside than anyone not named Jimmy Graham. Jordan Cameron has plenty of promise with Josh Gordon suspended for the season, but pay attention to how the Steelers defense treats him. Cameron will likely see more bracket coverage, which could give him a high variability this season. Dennis Pitta is a lock for TE1 status this week and all season given Joe Flacco's comfort with him and Gary Kubiak's tight end usage. Don't forget that Heath Miller was a Top Five tight end just two years ago, and this preseason points to a return to his high usage.
The Seahawks are the obvious top unit, and while the Packers are an offensive threat, they are still DST1 worthy. Consider using the Jets against the Raiders, as Derek Carr makes his first start, or the Texans with the J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney duo until you roll out the Saints next week. Stephen Gostkowski returns at the top choice for kickers, but don't forget about Dan Bailey or Blair Walsh. The Cowboys offense will lead to plenty of scoring chances, and Walsh was a Top Five kicker just two years ago.