By Alex Levin
With the draft complete and the bulk of the free agency rush over with, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2020 season! And with that, I’m back with year 2 of my Opportunity series.
For those who didn’t see this series last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill rankings. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.
As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.
Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.
Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.
New Orleans Saints
Last Year’s Accuracy
*Taysom Hill has been counted as a TE for the purpose of counting targets
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.
The Saints entered the postseason as a Super Bowl favorite for the second consecutive season only to have their Lombardi hopes dashed by the Vikings for the second time in three years. Still, consecutive 13-3 seasons makes for a secure job. Head coach Sean Payton isn’t going anywhere, and neither are his offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael nor defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
Long known as a pass-happy outfit, Payton has taken the Saints offense in a different direction in recent years. The 60%+ pass rates of Drew Brees’s prime gave way to run rates of 44.4% and 46.6% in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Payton also slowed down the offense considerably, reducing the number of plays per year from an astonishing 1100 to a much more typical 1000.
While the total plays run remained just above 1000 again last year, the run-pass ratio leaned rather pass heavy (59.9%) compared to the previous two years. The most likely catalyst for this change was a series of events that shook up the backfield New Orleans had leaned on the previous two years. Mark Ingram left for greener pastures and was replaced by the less versatile Latavius Murray. Star running back Alvin Kamara, meanwhile, was hobbled much of the season by a high ankle sprain. Faced with an all-around weak year for his running backs, Payton leaned back into his passing game.
The extra targets were not distributed as we’ve come to expect, though. Payton frequently shifts target shares around based on his personnel, but usually we can expect the wide receivers to see a target share in the low 50% range, the running backs somewhere around 25%, and the tight ends somewhere in the teens. Last year, however, no one really stepped up behind superstar wide receiver Michael Thomas. The result was a 47.7% target share for the wideouts, the 5th lowest share in the league. With the backup receivers not stepping up, the running backs continued to command a 26.5% target share despite their troubles. Perhaps more importantly, the tight ends were finally featured again, something that hasn’t happened since the days of Jimmy Graham. Led by newcomer Jared Cook, the tight ends saw a healthy 21.7% target share last year, making it the first time since 2015 that they topped 17%.
This was a pretty quiet offseason for the Saints. Nobody of critical importance was lost, nobody was drafted who we should expect to make an immediate fantasy impact, and the only notable addition in free agency was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. It follows then that Payton will likely continue to run plays at right around the same pace. The run-pass ratio might get a small nudge toward the run side, but it shouldn’t change much from last year either. Yes, Kamara is now fully healthy again, but the Saints are slowly accumulating pass-catching weapons and Murray just isn’t Mark Ingram. Plus, there’s now another Hall of Fame QB in the division that should add to the fireworks.
Where things probably won’t match last year is in the positional target shares. As noted above, the Saints’ wide receivers struggled to find any sort of consistency behind Michael Thomas. Adding Emmanuel Sanders to the mix should fix that issue. With a viable WR2, the wideout target share should rise back into the low 50% range like it was the previous two years. In order to accommodate that rise, another position’s share must come down. The most likely candidate for regression is the tight end group. The Saints tight ends saw an increase in target share between 2018 and 2019 that almost perfectly mirrored the loss the wideouts saw, which means they were the ones who benefited the most from there being no established WR2. Sure, part of that was that starter Jared Cook was a talent upgrade over the previous years, but Sanders represents an equivalent talent upgrade at the wide receiver position. With little reason to suspect any decrease in the running backs’ target share, the tight ends are the path of least resistance.
Alex Levin – Projections/Redraft
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