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.
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 %|
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:|
|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|
|Erik Lorig||FB1||10||2%||1||2010 Target Distribution:|
|2013 Target Distribution:||Marques Colston||WR1||15||20%||7|
|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|
|2009 Target Distribution:|
|2012 Target Distribution:||Player||Pos||GP||Targ||TD|
|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|
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|
|Player||Atts||Comp||Yards||TD||INT||TD 4 pt||2014 Rk|
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.