The 2013 season seemed like a year of a few surprises for the New Orleans Saints. Coming off of an uncharacteristic 2012 campaign in which they were only able to manage seven wins, Drew Brees and company resumed their usual form of domination in the NFC South.
Outside of puzzling losses to the Jets and the Rams, there wasn’t much to complain about for Who-Dat Nation.
From a fantasy football perspective, the Saints’ 2013 season gets a little murkier. An 11-win team is sure to have its own package of fantasy goodies, and New Orleans was no exception. However, there were a couple of players that caused their owners more pain than gain over the course of 16 weeks.
Without much surprise, the New Orleans offense was stellar this season. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, they had the second-best passing attack (only behind Denver) when adjusted for strength of schedule. It’s hard to have a spectacularly bad passing offense with Drew Brees at the helm, as he notched his sixth consecutive season as a top five fantasy quarterback.
Jimmy Graham continued his absolute domination of the tight end position. He not only led all Saints receivers in receptions (86), but he also had the eighth-best Reception NEP among all wide receivers and tight ends. The man is a monster, but you know that.
A very interesting, and surely often written about, development in 2013 was that of Pierre Thomas. While he’s been on the fantasy radar for most of his NFL career, he saw a healthy workload in 2013. In fact, he reached 147 carries for the second time in his career and managed to grab the most receptions out of the Saints’ backfield.
This could be attributed to shaky play and overall ineffectiveness (at times) by Darren Sproles, but I would also point out the Thomas has an extra four inches and 25 pounds on Sproles and was likely on the field during long drives in which he excelled both as a pass blocker and traditional running back. JJ Zachariason discussed Sproles in more detail here.
As far as our NEP data is concerned, Thomas had the 18th-best Reception NEP among all running backs and the 18th-best Rushing NEP among running backs with more than 50 carries.
As far as defense is concerned, New Orleans had a respectable secondary. They finished 2013 with the number seven Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. But that was the good part of their defense. The bad? Well, I’ll talk about that in the next section.
For how good Drew Brees was in 2013, there wasn’t an elite wide receiver that benefited from his arm. Granted, Jimmy Graham had another amazing season, but that’s not the point here. It’s quite common to see elite quarterback and wide receiver combos. So where was the Saints’ top wideout?
Marques Colston has been that receiver in past years, but 2013 was different.
Colston was kind of “meh” this season. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Colston was being drafted in the middle of the fourth round last August. This would slot him as a WR1 or WR2 on most rosters, and it seems that this preseason perception was off of the mark. Colston finished 2013 as the 27th-best fantasy receiver in standard formats.
That being said, our NEP data likes Colston a little more than traditional rankings. He had the 18th-best Reception NEP among all wide receivers as well as the 11th-best Reception NEP/Target metric among receivers with more than 50 receptions. So Colston might not have played as bad as what translated to your fantasy roster, but I’m sure that doesn’t make any of his owners feel any better.
What was missing from this receiver’s 2013 campaign was touchdowns. The statistic can inherently be very unpredictable (outside of a few legendary fantasy receivers, of course), and when you are teammates with Jimmy Graham, it’s hard to carve out a consistent red zone role.
As I mentioned earlier, the Saints’ pass defense was pretty solid. However, their run defense was considerably worse. This unit finished the year with the 12th worst Defensive Rushing NEP (adjusted for strength of schedule), and will likely be a focus for the Saints during the offseason.
What should they do next?
As I see it, there are a couple of areas that the Saints should focus on throughout this offseason.
They could benefit from adding some depth at wide receiver. With Colston well past the age that most receivers begin to decline, there isn’t necessarily another receiver to step up into that WR1 role.
The Saints could end up resigning Robert Meachem which would technically give them another receiver, but he’s not an elite talent and surely not a long term solution. While there are some big name receivers on the free agent market, I doubt the Saints make much pursuit while they are in contract negotiations with Jimmy Graham.
The other thing that the Saints should focus on is their defensive line. A couple of early mock drafts have New Orleans using their first-round pick on a defensive end or a defensive tackle. If some solid defensive players fall to the Saints on draft day, it would surely help them patch up some of the more glaring issues that they face, moving toward the 2014 season.
I have to believe that New Orleans is beginning to make plans for the future. Drew Brees is nearing retirement and if they don’t shore up their current weaknesses, they’ll be left high and dry when their prize quarterback inevitably calls it quits.