XpertSports Team report
Team Overview: New Orleans Saints
by Bob Stepaniak
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Even with some of the best talent in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints haven't made the playoffs since the 2000 season. Since then, head coach Jim Haslet has failed to lead the team to a winning record. He will enter 2005 on the hot seat, just as he has the previous two years, and a playoff appearance may be the only thing that would keep him around to see the 2006 season.
Many people forget that the Saints won their final four games last season to finish 8-8, and only missed out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker. The most noticeable change during that stretch was how the Saints finally figured out how to use RB Deuce McAllister effectively to help them win football games. A new commitment to the running game is coming, along with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Sheppard. This offense has been filled with underachievers the past couple seasons. More consistent play from the quarterback and receivers are a must in 2005.
But, as good as the Saints' offense was, the team will go nowhere if the defense doesn't improve from dead last in the league. They failed to address this problem in free agency or in last spring's draft. The free agents they did add are not the play makers they are in dire need of.. Thus, if the current personnel doesn't show dramatic improvement, the Saints could find themselves falling short once more.
While having outstanding weapons around him and unique physical tools, Aaron Brooks needs to reduce his terrible decision making if he wants to be considered one the league's standout quarterbacks. This will be the fifth year Brooks has been running the show in New Orleans, but many are growing tired of his tendency to cost the team games. Brooks has, however, proven to be durable. Not missing a start the past four seasons, Brooks can at least be counted on to stay healthy throughout the year.
Brooks was drafted as an early-round starter in most fantasy leagues last year, but frustrated owners with his inability to consistently have big fantasy games. Brooks only had four games in which he passed for two or more touchdowns, but he did manage 12 games where he passed for 200 or more yards. Rushing for four touchdowns last season, Brooks also showed he could occasionally earn some points on the ground as well as through the air.
In each of the previous four seasons, Brooks has managed to throw for at least 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. Although these totals make him one of the more consistent QBs over this stretch, his 2004 total of just 21 touchdowns was a four-year low. He has also been ranked in the top eight among fantasy quarterbacks the last three years. One concern, though, is the 38 fumbles and 39 interceptions he has had the past three seasons. If your league deducts points for turnovers, take that into consideration when reviewing your cheat sheet on draft day.
Being the backup in New Orleans has been an easy job for Todd Bouman the past few seasons. He didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t make an appearance in any games last year, and has only seen the field five times during the prior three seasons. Bouman possesses a very strong arm, and will be called upon should Brooks suffer an injury.
In the fifth round of the 2005 NFL Draft, the Saints chose the athletic QB from Florida State, Adrian McPherson. He played just one season with the Seminoles before getting caught up in a gambling scandal. He then headed off to the Arena League, where he became one its best quarterbacks. The thought is that eventually McPherson could end up the successor to Brooks, but that would be years down the road. If McPherson matures quite a bit this season, he could take over the backup role as early as next year.
The Saints will be handing the starting job over to Aaron Brooks again this season, but the team is growing tired of all the bad mistakes. Nevertheless, there is really no threat of any of the other quarterbacks earning any kind of real playing time, so Brooks is a lock to be the starter the entire year. Although he has the starting job, the drafting of Adrian McPherson is an indicator that the Saints may be looking to replace the inconsistent Brooks in a year or two.
All in all, you just have to take the good with the bad when drafting Aaron Brooks. He will have big games with all those talented weapons around him. But he has proven in the past, he just can't consistently put up good stats week in and week out. All though it is a stretch to trust him as a full time starter, getting him as a quality back up is great fantasy value. He would be a great bye week fill-in player, and could be a nice spot starter in favorable match ups. Early summer drafts have Brooks coming off the board as the eleventh quarterback chosen, which makes him a seventh round pick. This still seems a bit early, if you can get him in the ninth or tenth round it would be an ideal time to grab him.
Even with all the mistakes Aaron Brooks has made, the Saints still don't feel that Todd Bouman is any thing more than a second stringer in this league. Bouman has been a career back up in Minnesota and New Orleans, but has played well in his few opportunities. Although not the most accurate of passers, he does possess a strong arm. If Brooks were to go down with an injury, Bouman would be a great fill in. The Saints have some very speedy receivers, and he would take advantage of that with several shots downfield. With that said, he has no fantasy value until an injury is occurred, and will go undrafted in all leagues.
McPherson will most likely just get his feet wet this year and remain the third-string quarterback. He may try to challenge Bouman as the backup, but he won't be winning that job over until next year. It is obvious the Saints have some interest in making him the starter in a few years, which makes McPherson an outstanding pick in dynasty leagues. His value this year will be zero, but holding on to a possible starter in an offense filled with young talent is something that could pay off big in a couple of seasons.
One of the biggest first round busts last year was Deuce McAllister. An early season ankle injury caused McAllister to miss two games, and slowed him for about a month. The ankle was fully healed by the end of last year, though, and is no threat to bother him again this season. In 2004, he was widely drafted as a top-five pick, but just did not produce enough to be worthy of such a high selection. Although it was too late for most owners that drafted him, McAllister ended the season with a tear. In the final four games, he had 440 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints won these four games, so this production could be a sign of things to come.
Even with the amazing drop off in yards from his previous two seasons, he still managed to have a nine-touchdown year. His weekly yardage totals were very inconsistent, having five 100 yard rushing games, mixed in with six games in which he failed to reach the 65 ard mark. Don't forget his receiving abilities, though. Averaging 365 yards the past three seasons makes him a threat to consistently score points through the air.
Brought in via free agency from Tennessee was veteran Antowain Smith. New Orleans signed Smith to a one-year deal, giving them a reliable back up should McAllister miss any time again this season. Smith had a productive year as the backup in Tennessee a year ago. He filled in for Chris Brown, who was always fighting injuries. Appearing in 13 games, he managed 670 total yards and four scores. Smith also rushed for 85 yards or more in three games.
Also making a splash on the New Orleans depth chart is a sixth year RB out of Western Illinois, Aaron Stecker. Stecker was in Tampa Bay for four years until he signed with the Saints prior to the 2004 season. When McAllister was out with the ankle injury, Stecker stepped in and did a nice job. As the year went on, however, he didn't see much time except for third down situations.
McAllister is one of the most talented running backs in the league: now the Saints need to learn how to use that talent to their advantage. New offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard wants to go into this season with more of an emphasis on running the football. Doing this will put McAllister back in the elite class runners in the NFL. With the rushing productivity of the Saints at an all time high at the end of 2004, they managed to win their final four games. This seems to be the winning formula they will try to use in the 2005 season.
With this new offensive scheme in place, McAllister should be valued as a top five pick in this year's draft. His miserable performance in 2004 will not sit well with a handful of owners, however, possibly making him a draft day steal. He has slipped down to the early teens in some leagues this summer, so jump on him with any picks after the top five. He will not only be the feature back in New Orleans, but he will also handle the red zone duties and is a double threat with his ability to catch the ball.
With everything looking up for McAllister in 2005, count on 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. Add another 300 yards and three touchdowns through the air, making McAllister an elite franchise fantasy back for any team lucky enough to draft him.
The Saints will have an open competition for the backup duties this season. Smith is the early favorite to win the job, as he has the most experience in a talented backfield. New Orleans liked how he handled his role last season in Tennessee, and will expect him to be a reliable source should the need arise. The Saints will also give Stecker a shot as a back up in training camp. It is possible for him to win the job, but he will need to clearly out perform Smith this summer. If there does become one clear standout for the backup job, that player would be worth a handcuff to McAllister in the draft, but let the battle play out before taking a chance on either one.
Another position where the underachieving Saints have a lot of talent is at wide receiver. Joe Horn is coming off an outstanding year, in which he set career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. The great all-around receiver has been the Saints' number one aerial target since coming from the Chiefs as a free agent in 2000. He is one of the most consistent fantasy receivers of the previous five seasons, and has averaged an amazing 87 receptions, 1258 yards, and nine touchdowns over that stretch. Last season, Horn had career highs with 94 receptions, 1399 yards, and 11 touchdowns. But his consistent game-to-game stats are what make Horn so valuable. He had at least 12 games with five or more receptions. Adding to that were five 100-yard games and 11 games with at least 75 yards, making Horn an easy weekly fantasy starter.
As a rookie in 2002, Donte' Stallworth had a great year with 594 yards and eight touchdowns. Since then, he has faced big expectations that he hasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t delivered upon. In 2003, leg and ankle injuries limited him to just 11 games and a career low 25 receptions. Stallworth was looking for a bounce back last season, and many fantasy owners drafted him as if he would. He did manage to avoid any injuries, and appeared in all 16 games. The stats he produced, though, were again below expectations for the value he was given in the summer drafts. His best was a six game stretch in which he caught 27 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns. If he could manage those numbers over a full season, Stallworth would exceed expectations and become a great secondary receiver for fantasy owners, but this is by no means certain.
The biggest offseason move that will affect this offense will be the addition of free agent speedster Az-Zahir Hakim. Signed to a one-year deal, he instantly becomes the third receiver for New Orleans. The other options the Saints have are young and unproven, but Hakim will have to play well to avoid giving the youngsters a chance to steal the third spot from him. In St. Louis, Hakim won a Super Bowl with the offense commonly referred to as, "The Greatest Show on Turf." But he was a big disappointment in Detroit, after they offered him a big contract to leave the Rams and become a top receiver in the Lions' system. Working alongside Horn, instead of being looked at as the number one or two receiving option, may help his numbers..
Behind these three on the depth chart are a bundle of young question marks that can't be counted on as yet. Nagging injuries and lack of playing time equaled a horrible rookie campaign for the Saints' second round pick last season, Devery Henderson. He also failed to catch a pass in his first year. New Orleans is looking for Talman Gardner to make a push him for playing time as well this season. Gardner is a physical wide receiver who has not yet produced at all. With only 52 career receiving yards, Gardner has to have an impressive training camp to get extensive playing time.
With their fourth round selection, the Saints chose the injury prone Chase Lyman. He is a big, strong, physical receiver that has already had gone through six surgical procedures. His injuries have included hip, hamstring, ankle, groin, and appendicitis. Lyman asked the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, but was rejected and joined the 2005 draft.
Michael Lewis is going to add depth, but will not get on the field as a receiver unless the youngsters really fall on their face. All of is value comes from kick and punt returns.
This season Horn will again be Brooks' number one man, but improving on last year giant totals may not be possible. With Sheppard's emphasis on running the football, Horn's numbers may dip a bit from last yearÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s totals. Even if his numbers dip, though, HornÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s fantasy value is a top seven WR, and he would be a great #1 receiver to get in the second or third round of your draft. Many early owners have been selecting Javon Walker and Andre Johnson over the proven Horn: don't make this mistake. Although, those guys would be outstanding picks in dynasty leagues, Horn is still more valuable this season. Producing another 1,300 yard and nine touchdown season will not be a problem. His average draft position has been in the tail end of the third round, which is a steal for such a proven and reliable player.
This year Stallworth could be the biggest "high risk, high reward" player in the draft. Fantasy owners have grown tired of his underachieving the past two seasons, but he did show signs of turning it all around at the end of 2004. The problem with trying to draft Stallworth is many owners will consider him a "sleeper" pick again this year. This will cause him to go much higher than he should, and he will go higher than other receivers with better draft value. Don't reach for him, unless you can afford to keep him on the bench as a number four receiver. A realistic projection for this year would be 900 yards and eight touchdowns.
As for the value of the newest Saint, Hakim, there is not much to get excited about. He is still just a track star in shoulder pads, and won't make any noise in the fantasy world this year. Even if he does lock down the number three spot, it will be tough to see him getting more than just a couple throws coming his way per game. With special teams star Lewis still handling return duties, Hakim doesn't have any value as a return man either. Just stay away from him all together.
Henderson needs just one catch this year to have a better statistical season than he did last year. He will be healthy going into training camp, and looks to challenge Hakim for the number three spot. But, like Hakim, he should not get any looks as a fantasy player.
The other receivers that the Saints are looking at have no fantasy value. Gardner and Lyman are two very raw and unproven talents that won't see the field this year and should be left undrafted in all leagues.
With a solid ending to the 2003 season, Boo Williams set many fantasy owners up for another Saints flop in 2004. He was horrible last season with only 362 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he had only one game with over 45 yards receiving, and failed to score in the second half of the season. By the end of the year, Williams had dropped off almost every fantasy roster.
The other tight ends the Saints will be inviting to training camp didn't exactly light it up either. Ernie Conwell only had 10 catches for 102 yards, and just one score. Newly acquired free agent Shad Meier comes over from the Tennessee Titans. He had career highs with 25 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in 2004.
The Saints were looking to trade Williams in the off-season, but didn't find much of a market for the tight end. Williams might find himself all the way down to the third string this season. His value has dropped to the point where he is not draftable for any type of league.
The battle for the starting spot looks to be between Conwell and Meier in training camp. Either way, the position will have little value, and neither should get any looks on draft day as well.
Trading up to the 13th spot in this year's draft, the Saints acquired the rights to Jammal Brown, the athletic RT from Oklahoma. He was an All-American in 2003, and will become an immediate starter. In his previous two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown only allowed one sack. New Orleans is banking on him to give Brooks good protection from the right side while still being a productive run blocker.
Another addition for the line this season will be Jermane Mayberry. Starting 12 games for the Philadelphia Eagles last season, he will become the starter for the Saints at right guard. He has been a primary starter with the Eagles since 1997, but has missed 15 games over the past two years due to injuries.
Back at center again this year will be three-year starter LeCharles Bentley. He started all 16 games for the Saints in 2004, and gives them a solid blocker in the middle of the line. Kendyl Jacox has been a key contributor to this line since he came over from the Chargers in 2002. He will enter the year starting at the left guard position, but he also has the ability to play center should the need arise. This flexibility gives the Saints some real depth on the line when injuries come up during the season. Wayne Gandy is a 12-year vet who has only missed one game since 1995. The ever reliable Gandy has the left tackle position wrapped up and will again provide the Saints 16 games of quiet leadership from the left side of the line.
The fantasy outlook for this line is very good in 2005. With the additions of first round pick Brown and veteran free agent Mayberry, the Saints have the best line they have had in years. The question mark of Mayberry's ability to stay healthy, though, could be something they have to deal with all season long.
With the new commitment to the run, the line could be responsible for a 1500-yard rusher in McAllister. If the team is this successful with the run, the team may not throw the ball as much, thus cutting down the number of sacks they will allow. The upside to this line is enormous, but they must prove they can run the ball effectively early in the year to avoid another pass-happy season.
If you are looking to draft this offensive line, you will be happy with the results. New Orleans should be able to turn into an effective running team, and will have one of the better offenses in league. Don't be afraid to go and get these guys right away.
As underachieving as the offense has been, the defense was the worst part of the Saints' 2004 season. They are a mess at linebacker, and need improved play in the secondary. Ranking 30th against the pass and 27th against the run in 2004 made this defense dead last overall in the NFL. They were also in the bottom half of the league with just 13 interceptions and only 37 sacks. Even worse, the defense allowed 25.3 points per game in 2004. Furthermore, the additions made this past offseason will not overturn these numbers. But in spite of the terrible stats, they did have a couple positive things happen on the defensive side of the ball. They caused 23 forced fumbles, which was good enough for second in the league. They also tied for ninth with 33 turnovers all together.
This defense needs to take some steps at getting better as a unit this season. A full season from Mike McKenzie will help, not to mention the free agent signing of safety Dwight Smith from Tampa Bay. On the defensive line, the Saints will be all over opposing teams QB's with some great young talent. Darren Howard, Charles Grant and Will Smith may emerge as one of the best defensive end trios in the league.
The real problem of this defense is the linebackers. Up and down, the list is a mix of young and old players who wonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t be stamping a ticket to Honolulu any time soon. This is the main reason the Saints' defense will not make a huge improvement over last year's product. The only way you should draft this horrible defense is if your league combines the special teams with the defensive unit. The kickoff and punt return could produce up to three touchdowns by itself. Otherwise, the defense won't produce many touchdowns, and will give up large yardage and scoring totals all season long. Even with the nice turnover total from a year ago, there are many better options to look at on draft day.
Kicker and Special Teams Unit
Saints' kicker John Carney had 104 points last season, which ranked him 15th among kickers. Carney excelled at being accurate from long range, however, going five of six from 40-49, and kicking two of three from over 50 yards. The 16-year vet will be entering his fifth year in a Saints' uniform. He has been a very accurate kicker in his long career, with an 81.5% career average.
Michael Lewis was again counted on for most of the return duties last season. The fifth-year return specialist is still considered one of the league's premiere return men. Lewis is very valuable in leagues that award points for return yardage. In 2003, he set an NFL record with 2,432 combined return yards on kickoff and punt returns. He occasionally will get in at receiver, but don't count on any points coming from him when the Saints' offense is on the field.
In the past five seasons, Lewis has produced four special team touchdowns. He was 12th in kickoff returns and 4th in punt returns last season, while also returning one kickoff for a touchdown. Back up running back Stecker also showed he has some special teams skill, by returning a kickoff back for a touchdown. Overall, the Saints rank in the top-10 in both kick and punt return yardage.
With such a strong offense this season, Carney should have plenty of opportunities to score. He will be the only kicker the Saints will be looking at in training camp, so there is no threat of anyone else winning the job before the regular season begins. With a new offense in place, you can expect the kicker to get 110 points this season, which would place him just outside the top ten. This will make him draftable in some leagues and not in others. If you are drafting two kickers, Carney would be a great kicker to have as a backup, maybe starting him when the Saints play teams with bad defenses.
Saints' special teams will again be among the best in the league with return specialist Lewis handling the all the return duties. Another thing that makes the return game so strong is the depth they can go with after Lewis. Stecker and Hakim both have proven they can be strong return men, and will produce well if they are asked to take a few returns. If you are drafting your special teams unit separate from a team defense, consider the Saints a top-five return team. On the other hand, if your league combines defense with the special teams, then the Saints' stock drops like a rock. The defense will not produce points, and is among the league worst. In this situation, stay away from the Saints.
Individual Defensive Players
Up front, the Saints have two defensive ends that would not only be great for drafting this season, but in dynasty leagues as well. While starting every game the past two seasons, Charles Grant has accumulated 20.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and 135 tackles. This makes him one of the best defensive linemen in fantasy football, and he should be taken as a top-five lineman on draft day. On the other side, Will Smith had a great rookie season while splitting time. He managed 40 tackles and 7.5 sacks, but may not start because of the depth at the spot. Failing to grasp a starting spot, makes him a middle-to-late round pick. He will still be one of the best young prospects for dynasty leagues. Outside the two youngsters, Darren Howard is the third defensive end that makes this group complete. He led the team in sacks with 11, and will begin the season as a starter along with Grant. There have been trade rumors surrounding Howard all offseason with the Cowboys. If he stays in New Orleans, he will be splitting time with Smith and would be worth a middle-to-late round pick. If dealt to Dallas, or another team, his value would go up to the early rounds because he would then be a full-time starter. This trade would also boost Smith's value to an early round pick, so keep an eye on this situation.
Inside at the defensive tackle spots, Howard Green and Brian Young are going to be the starters. Their fantasy value is low even in leagues where you must draft defensive tackles.
As far as the linebacking group, there is little talent and not much fantasy value anywhere. Courtney Watson was a second round draft choice in 2004, and will start in the middle. He is still unproven, and shows no indication of become anything more than just another average middle linebacker. On the outside it gets even worse: Penciled in as starters will be James Allen and Derrick Rodgers, neither have any value and should be left off every draft board. Also fighting for playing time on the outside will be Colby Bockwoldt, but expect nothing from him either. Finally, Alfred Fincher was the Saints' third round pick in 2005, but will not play much defense. He will make a living on special teams, and wouldn't be a safe pick for dynasty league either.
This past offseason the Saints said goodbye to the man that led them in tackles in 2004, Tebucky Jones. He was a great tackler, but the Saints grew tired of his blown coverages. To replace Jones, the Saints brought in the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Dwight Smith. Smith has had some off-field issues, but is now the best fantasy prospect in this secondary. He was outstanding last season with 83 tackles and 3 interceptions, and those stats should improve considering the horrible linebackers in front of him. Starting along side Smith will be 12-year vet Jay Bellamy. His productivity hasn't slipped a bit, averaging 91 tackles the last four seasons. He will be a good backup to get on draft day.
Mike McKenzie came to New Orleans mid-season after a long hold out in Green Bay. By seasonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s end, he finally caught stride and look liked the cover corner of two years ago. With a full training camp and season upcoming, look for him to play the way he finished last season. He should be drafted as a starter in most leagues. The corner on the other side will be Fahkir Brown, but he will not be worth anything, so look at other options. Second round pick Josh Bullocks will back up the two safety positions. He set Big 12 records his junior season with 10 interceptions and 154 return yards. So this Jim Thorpe Award runner-up should get a look in dynasty leagues.
Nice article. I think I will take Brooks as my back-up in the 9th or 10th round. :wink:
But seriously, good read. One error I did see was them saying Haslett has not posted a winning record since the year we won the playoff game, which isn't true. We were 9-7 the following year.
...and you really don't post a losing record at 8-8
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