What Should You Do With Drew Brees in Fantasy Football?
As a parent of two young children, I often find myself being the silly one, the one who is brought in to make them laugh or calm the kids down when they are freaking out. Often this happens after they've gone to bed, and sometimes you have to dig deep into your playbook to find what works. For me, sometimes it is music, and one of the favorites of my son is "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley. Ever the literalist, the message of not worrying about a thing, and that every little thing is going to be all right resonates with him.
At this point in the fantasy season, antsy owners, like my son when he can't sleep, want to make sure that everything is all right with their players heading into the stretch run and with the playoffs looming in a few weeks. One such owner in my home fantasy league, and a good friend of mine, is the most frequent trader in the league, and in spite of having a super talented team found himself on the wrong side of the playoffs heading into his week 11 matchup with yours truly.
Our league implemented a rule this year in which the last playoff team gets in on total points scored and not record. (Try it sometime; it is awesome.) So, this friend still has a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in spite of his losing record. So when he was approached by an owner who was at the top of the standings on Sunday morning about trading Drew Brees for a package highlighted by Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler, he asked my opinion of the deal.
Of course I considered the circumstances of both teams and our league scoring system and came to the determination that this owner needed Brees with the thought that you can't really rely on Cutler in a playoff game, and I liked Brees' upcoming schedule. The trade didn't happen. Both Cutler and Marshall had great games and Brees had his second straight middling game in which his under-performance against his projection cost my friend the win against me. This morning I awoke to news of these two teams making a similar deal, except the price of Brees came down from Marshall to DeAndre Hopkins.
The reason I bring up that fantasy league trade is because it spawned the idea for my article this week basically investigating Brees' recent performances and whether everything will really be all right with Brees for fantasy owners expecting him to be their signal caller for their playoff run. As our Brandon Gdula recently wrote about the Saints quarterback, I won't reinvent the wheel with what Brees has done in his first seven games, but rather focus now on what Brees has done through ten games, and particularly what he has done in his last three games.
Drew Brees: Mere Mortal?
As fantasy owners, we have come to expect 300-yard, 3-touchdown games from Brees on the regular because he's spoiled us in the past. However, since dismantling the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football, Brees has not thrown for more than 300 yards in a game and is 1-2 over that stretch.
|Opponent||Completions||Attempts||Passing Yards||Comp %||Avg Per Att||TD's||Int|
Several things are troubling from the past three games. First, Brees appears to be dinking and dunking. For instance, against the Bengals, the longest completion Brees had on the day was for 17 yards. Superstar tight end Jimmy Graham disappeared after a big hit by Bengals safety George Iloka, which while it resulted in a personal foul may have made Graham skittish and unable to get open. Graham's shown similar play in the past in Seattle when early physicality has taken him out of his game. As a result, Brees' top receiving option finished last Sunday with 3 receptions for 29 yards.
Additionally, Brees had the turnover bug in the San Francisco game where he threw two picks and had a crucial game changing fumble in overtime that led to the 49ers win. On the year, Brees already has 10 interceptions, compared to 12 total for the entire 2013 season. His yards per attempt in the last two home games of 6.21 and 6.22, respectively are considerably lower than his season average of 7.37 yards per attempt.
Further, and what matters more in real football circles, is that the Saints have lost two home games in a row to the 49ers and Bengals, two games that were projected as wins. By contrast, the Saints went undefeated at home in 2013. So the optimism earlier in the season about a bevy of home games and an easy schedule has not resulted in an uptick in Brees' numbers at least the past few weeks.
In the fantasy playoffs, you want to make sure that those you are counting on to be studly perform like studs. Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can assess how Brees performs in key football scenarios and what his expected contribution to the Saints offense is, as well as how he performs against other quarterbacks. So how does Brees stack up using our metrics?
|Player||Drop Backs||Pass NEP||Pass NEP/Dropback||Success Rate|
|Brees||430 (3rd)||82.93 (7th)||0.19 (8th)||54.2% (1st)|
In spite of the Saints being a more balanced offense with the increased prowess of Mark Ingram, Brees still is third in drop backs among 31 quarterbacks with over 200 attempts. His Passing NEP of 82.93 ranks seventh among quarterbacks, which is well below where you drafted Brees or expect him to be (because most saw him as a top-three preseason quarterback) and his Passing NEP per drop back of 0.19 ranks eighth among quarterbacks. To his credit, Brees' success rate of 54.2% is highest among quarterbacks, meaning his favorable plays lead his peer group.
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
In spite of playing like a fringe playoff quarterback so far this season (sixth in quarterback fantasy points in the league I was mentioning earlier) and losing a key offensive weapon for the season in Brandin Cooks, as our Leo Howell pointed out there are still plenty of options in the Saints offense. That will continue to benefit Brees. Additionally, when determining whether to target or trade Brees, consider that he plays versus Carolina, at Chicago, and versus Atlanta in Weeks 14-16, which is the fantasy playoffs for most leagues. Those are porous fantasy defenses to put it lightly.
The other good news is that in spite of the Saints middling play, they are in the putrid NFC South and a .500 record could win the division, meaning the Saints have something to play for the rest of the season. All of these things are significantly favorable for Brees.
Our Week 12 Projections peg Brees as the third ranked quarterback in Week 12, expecting the Saints signal-caller to finish with 296 yards passing, 2.13 passing touchdowns, and 0.74 interceptions against the Ravens on Monday Night Football at home. For the remaining year projections, our stats team agree with my sentiment about the cupcake schedule, projecting Brees to perform as the second-ranked fantasy quarterback with 1,837 passing yards and 14.33 passing touchdowns against 4.18 interceptions.
As a Brees owner, your job right now is to use his playoff schedule to your advantage. If you think everything is going to be all right, you hold him and believe in our rest-of-season projections. If you think that he is performing like a middle-of-the-pack QB1 and will continue to do so, let your playoff standing determine your course of action and sell his schedule to get as much value as possible for your fantasy team in return. As for my friend, only time will tell whether the Cutler and Hopkins side or the Brees side got the better end of this deal.