Can Cameron Meredith Be a Fantasy Football Stud in New Orleans?
The former Chicago Bears wide receiver is recovering from a horrific knee injury, tearing his ACL, MCL, and meniscus during a 2017 preseason game. Meredith had enjoyed a nice breakout campaign the year prior, posting a 66-catch season for 888 yards and 4 touchdowns.
There are valid concerns surrounding the 25-year-old's health, but the Saints do not seem troubled, as they signed him to an offer sheet of $5.4 million in guaranteed money with incentives to reach $9.6 million. The key point in this transaction is that the terms are for two years, suggesting that the Saints have interest in him beyond 2018.
At first sight of his 2016 statistical output, some might scoff at the idea that such a receiver is worth discussing in fantasy communities. However, there plenty of reasons as to why Meredith is a prime double-digit-round target in fantasy drafts.
Entering the 2016 season, Cameron was an unknown commodity within NFL circles. He entered the league in 2015 as an undrafted free agent and made little contribution for the Bears, as he played only 136 offensive snaps.
He was not announced as a starter coming into the following season and didn't embrace a full complement of snaps until Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Cameron made a productive 2016 season with the likes of Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Barkley rotating at quarterback. The Bears were often playing a new quarterback each week, but Meredith's 95th percentile catch radius (per Player Profiler) buoyed his fantasy season and relevancy.
With the Chicago quarterback carousel, Meredith was able to post 157.5 PPR points, good enough to be WR16 from Week 5 onward (excluding Week 17). There's no doubt that departing a John Fox offense, which often lacked big plays and resorted to Meredith on designed plays, will elevate his fantasy stock.
The Perfect Puzzle Piece
Over the past two seasons, the Saints have lacked production out of their primary slot receivers, perhaps in part due to Willie Snead's drop off and the combination of Coby Fleener and Brandon Coleman not filling in as hoped.
Meredith profiles eerily similar, at least in terms of stature and workout metrics, to his current teammate Michael Thomas (courtesy of Player Profiler).
|Player||Cameron Meredith||Michael Thomas|
|Height||6' 3"||6' 3"|
|Arm Length||32 1/8||32|
In three-wide receiver sets, we can expect Meredith to get the majority of slot snaps, but he shouldn't be pigeonholed as a slot option because he can also play as a perimeter receiver.
With Thomas drawing primary coverage and with safeties respecting Ted Ginn Jr.'s deep-play ability, there will be a lot of opportunities in the soft area of the field for Meredith to take advantage.
Head coach Sean Payton has never been hesitant with giving new receivers playing time or heavily featuring them in the offense.
Over the past three years, Snead, Thomas, and Ginn Jr. have produced super efficient debut seasons in featured roles, by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how a team or player impacts expected scoring on a drive. (For reference, the league-average Reception NEP per target from 2015 to 2017 was 0.66.)
|Player||Season||Targets||Reception NEP||Per Target||Fantasy Rank|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||2017||70||63.46||0.91||WR36|
All three posted top-36 fantasy seasons and outperformed the league-average wide receiver Reception NEP.
Further, although not meeting the criteria of first-year role player in the New Orleans offense, Kenny Stills also had a very impressive second season (2014) and is very comparable relative to this group. He notched 1.05 Reception NEP per target on 83 targets and finished as the WR41 in fantasy football. His per-target Reception NEP led the 62 receivers with at least 75 targets in 2014, and no other receiver managed even 0.95 Reception NEP per target that season.
Of this group, only Snead posted below a 70% catch rate (and 68% is nothing to sneeze at) while Stills, Thomas, and Ginn Jr. caught more than 75% of their intended targets in their respective seasons. With Meredith's catch radius and smooth hands mentioned earlier, he should have no problem being a catch magnet for Brees.
Buying the Brees Dip
The last time a New Orleans Saints team threw for fewer than 600 pass attempts was nearly eight seasons ago, when they were Super Bowl champs. Since then, the offense has averaged 692 pass attempts per season.
JJ Zachariason has found that touchdown percentage is one signal to look at for potential regression candidates. Brees posted a 4.3% touchdown rate in 2017, his lowest since 2007. Prior to last year, Brees had -- at minimum -- a 5.0% touchdown rate.
Despite the quarterback's disappointing fantasy season, he set career marks in completion percentage (72.0%), interception rate (1.5%), and yards per attempt (8.1). In terms of Adjusted Passing NEP per play, Brees has led the Saints to a top-10 passing offense in every season since his 2006 arrival, and New Orleans has had the second-best passing offense in three straight season by our metrics.
Brees has enough in the tank for at least another elite season, and there is enough potential pass volume and touchdown regression for Meredith to get a nice slice of the pie.
His depressed ADP could be attributed to a combination of recency bias, his injury recovery process, and the fear that the Saints are now a run-first team.
When looking at late-round receivers in fantasy drafts, we should be looking for either potential volume or receivers tethered to elite quarterbacks, especially in best ball formats.
Meredith fits at least one of those criteria and has a chance for greater volume than what early projections currently have him at, making him a nice flier at the end of your drafts.