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Letter to the Editor: Drew Brees

Dear Editor,

Over the past few weeks I’ve started listening to fantasy football podcasts. The experts offer great tips on who to draft and who to avoid. Very rarely do I hear two completely opposite opinions on a high-profile player, but it seems like the fantasy industry is split on Drew Brees.

Brees has been a top 5 QB every year since 2007. He won’t have Jimmy Graham this year, so is he still going to succeed? How will Brees reach his 5,000 yard average if he doesn’t have a clear number-one target? Every analyst asks the same questions, but no one seems to have an answer. I want to draft New Orleans players, but I don’t know who to target. Please help me.

Sincerely,

Fantasy Noob

 

Dear Fantasy Noob,

I’ve scoured the databases, crunched the numbers, and here’s what I can tell you: Drew Brees will be just fine.

The New Orleans Saints have had the same starting QB, head coach, and offensive coordinator for the past 6 years. Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season, but the offensive system and overall team strategy remained the same during his absence.

Since the coaches and QB have remained constant, it is somewhat reasonable to create projections for 2015 based on previous years of performance. I broke down each year’s overall passing game and here are my findings:

Drew Brees’ Passing History:      
Year Att. Comp Comp % Yards TD TD %
2014 659 456 69% 4952 32 4.9%
2013 650 446 69% 5162 38 5.8%
2012 670 422 63% 5177 43 6.4%
2011 657 468 71% 5476 46 7.0%
2010 658 448 68% 4636 33 5.0%
2009 514 363 71% 4391 34 6.6%

Based on these numbers, one could offer a prediction for Brees’ passing stats in 2015 to be around 5,000 passing yards with 448 completions from 657 attempts – 34 TDs would be nice as well. However, I think we learn more from looking at the target distribution over Brees’ last 6 seasons:

2014 Target Distribution:           2011 Target Distribution:      
Player Pos GP Targ TD   Player Pos GP Targ TD
Jimmy Graham TE1 16 19% 10   Jimmy Graham TE1 16 23% 11
Marques Colston WR1 16 15% 5   Darren Sproles RB2 16 17% 7
Kenny Stills WR2 15 13% 3   Marques Colston WR1 14 16% 8
Brandin Cooks WR3 10 10% 3   Lance Moore WR2 14 11% 8
Pierre Thomas RB1 11 8% 1   Robert Meachem WR3 16 9% 6
Travaris Cadet RB3 15 8% 1   Pierre Thomas RB1 16 9% 1
Mark Ingram RB2 13 5% 0   Devery Henderson WR4 16 8% 2
Ben Watson TE2 16 5% 2   Jed Collins FB1 16 2% 2
Nick Toon WR4 8 3% 1   Mark Ingram RB3 10 2% 0
Josh Hill TE3 16 3% 5   Dave Thomas TE2 5 1% 0
Robert Meachem WR5 11 3% 0   John Gilmore TE3 14 1% 1
Khiry Robinson RB4 10 2% 0   Adrian Arrington WR5 4 1% 0
Joe Morgan WR6 5 2% 0            
Erik Lorig FB1 10 2% 1   2010 Target Distribution:      
            Player Pos GP Targ TD
2013 Target Distribution:           Marques Colston WR1 15 20% 7
Player Pos GP Targ TD   Lance Moore WR2 16 14% 8
Jimmy Graham TE1 16 22% 16   Robert Meachem WR3 16 10% 5
Marques Colston WR1 15 17% 5   Devery Henderson WR4 16 9% 1
Darren Sproles RB2 15 14% 2   Jeremy Shockey TE1 13 9% 3
Pierre Thomas RB1 16 13% 3   Jimmy Graham TE2 13 7% 2
Lance Moore WR2 13 8% 2   Dave Thomas TE3 15 7% 5
Kenny Stills WR3 16 8% 5   Reggie Bush RB2 8 7% 1
Robert Meachem WR4 15 5% 2   Ladell Betts RB3 8 5% 0
Ben Watson TE2 15 5% 2   Pierre Thomas RB4 6 4% 0
Jed Collins FB1 16 3% 0   Julius Jones RB5 10 3% 0
Nick Toon WR5 8 2% 0   Heath Evans FB1 16 2% 1
Mark Ingram RB3 11 2% 0   Adrian Arrington WR5 1 1% 0
Josh Hill TE3 14 2% 1            
            2009 Target Distribution:      
2012 Target Distribution:           Player Pos GP Targ TD
Player Pos GP Targ TD   Marques Colston WR1 16 21% 9
Jimmy Graham TE1 15 20% 9   Devery Henderson WR2 16 16% 2
Marques Colston WR1 16 19% 10   Reggie Bush RB2 14 13% 3
Darren Sproles RB2 13 16% 7   Jeremy Shockey TE1 13 13% 3
Lance Moore WR2 15 16% 6   Robert Meachem WR3 16 12% 9
Pierre Thomas RB1 15 8% 1   Dave Thomas TE2 15 9% 1
Devery Henderson WR3 15 7% 1   Pierre Thomas RB3 14 9% 2
Joe Morgan WR4 14 3% 3   Lance Moore WR4 7 4% 2
Dave Thomas TE2 15 3% 4   Heath Evans FB1 6 3% 2
Jed Collins FB1 15 2% 2   Lynell Hamilton RB1 9 1%> 0
Mark Ingram RB3 16 1% 0   Darnell Dinkins TE3 11 1%> 1
Travaris Cadet RB4 13 1% 0   Mike Bell RB4 13 1%> 0
Greg Camarillo WR5 5 1% 0   Kyle Eckel FB1 7 1%> 0

The target distribution tables give a solid baseline for Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael offenses. By looking at the past seasons, I’ve come up with projections for this year’s Saints team.

First, there’s no Jimmy Graham and reports out of Saints camp are that Josh Hill will split TE responsibilities with Ben Watson. If that’s the case, I don’t see either TE demanding a large piece of the passing pie.

Second, Brandin Cooks is younger, faster, and more likely to be the Saints number one option. History shows that the top receiver for Brees has received 19 to 23 percent of the targets, so I penciled Cooks in for 20 percent.

After Cooks the receiver pool gets a little murky, but by thinking like an NFL coach and examining the team’s updated depth chart, courtesy of Ourlads.com, two main prospects emerge: Marques Colston and C.J. Spiller.

Even though Colston only had 15 percent of the targets last year, he’s been with Brees for a long time and the rapport is there. With Graham in Seattle and last year’s WR2, Kenny Stills in Miami, there are more targets to go around and fewer players competing for touches. I believe Colston finishes with his career average 17 percent of the targets.

Sean Payton brought in Spiller to play the Darren Sproles role in the offense. By looking at the previous years with Sproles, we see that he averaged 16 percent of the team’s targets during his 3 years with the Saints. If the same holds true for Spiller, then we can reasonably expect him to get 16 percent of this year’s targets.

There’s a little more guess work involved with the remaining 2015 targets: Nick Toon, Josh Hill, Ben Watson, Khiry Robinson, Joe Morgan, Mark Ingram, Orson Charles, Erik Lorig, and Brandon Coleman. Based on the previous seasons and taking into account what Payton has said about each player so far, these are my projections for this year’s target distribution:

Player % of Tgts
Brandin Cooks 20%
Marques Colston 17%
C.J. Spiller 16%
Nick Toon 10%
Josh Hill 10%
Ben Watson 9%
Khiry Robinson 8%
Joe Morgan 4%
Mark Ingram 2%
Orson Charles 2%
Erik Lorig 1%
Brandon Coleman 1%

Attempts x Target percentage = # of Targets

By taking Brees’ yearly average of 658 attempts and multiplying by each players’ projected target percentage, I formulated an approximate number of targets. I estimated each players’ catch percentage based on a variety of factors including past performance levels, their role in the offense, the type of targets they’re likely to get, and overall catching ability. Each catch percentage is a conservative estimate and was rounded down to the nearest 5 percent.

Total targets x Avg catch % = Total receptions

The next step was figuring out the total yards each player would get in 2015. In order to do that, I looked at each players’ average Yards Per Reception or YPR. Since some players like Cooks don’t have a large enough sample size, I used data from the previous years’ Saints players at similar positions to calculate an estimated YPR. Skill sets and whether the team plays on turf or grass are not factored in.

Total receptions x Avg YPR = Total yards

I threw in some TD projections based on the previous 6 years of data along with reasonable expectations when factoring in scheme, game flow, and overall red zone strategies. TDs are unpredictable and could be distributed entirely different than these projections, so feel free to adjust players’ TDs accordingly.

Finally, I added up all the receptions, yards, and TDs for each player so I could apply all this research to the fantasy landscape. Below are my projections for the Saints players and where they would have ranked last year with these performances:

 

Player TAR % TAR Catch % Rec YPR Yards TD Pos PPR Pts 2014 Rk
Brandin Cooks 20% 131 75% 98 14.4 1415 6 WR2 276 WR9
Marques Colston 17% 112 65% 73 12.1 883 7 RB2 203 WR25
C.J. Spiller 16% 105 80% 84 9.4 790 5 WR1 193  
Nick Toon 10% 66 65% 43 14 601 3 WR3 121 WR61
Josh Hill 10% 66 50% 33 9.5 314 5 TE2 94 TE23
Ben Watson 9% 59 40% 24 8.2 194 4 TE1 67 TE32
Khiry Robinson 8% 53 90% 48 7.5 358 2 RB3 95  
Joe Morgan 4% 26 60% 16 20 312 0 WR4 47  
Mark Ingram 2% 13 90% 12 5 59 0 RB2 18  
Orson Charles 2% 13 65% 8 7.5 63 1 TE3 21  
Erik Lorig 1% 7 90% 6 3 19 0 FB1 8  
Brandon Coleman 1% 7 40% 3 17 48 1 WR5 14  
                     
Player   Atts   Comp   Yards TD INT TD 4 pt 2014 Rk
Drew Brees   658   447   5053 34 18 320 QB6

These projections match up with perfectly with the earlier estimates for Brees. However, these are based on a full 16 game season from each player, so C.J. Spiller may not be this year’s Justin Forsett, but that’s already factored in to his Round 3 PPR ADP. Regardless, it appears Brees is perfectly capable of putting up 5,000 yards this season as long as he averages his usual 658 targets and his teammates can continue to perform at their previous paces.

To answer your question, I’d suggests Brandin Cooks anytime in Round 2 or 3, C.J. Spiller as a low-end RB1 in PPR leagues and a solid RB2 in standard scoring in Round 3 or 4, Drew Brees as an elite QB after Round 5, and Josh Hill/Ben Watson as low-end TE2s in the last rounds of the draft.

Hope this helps!

TC the Editor

Agree? Disagree? Want to know more about how I got these numbers? Let me know on Twitter @mysleepers. The statistics and historical data represented in this article are courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.