Is Drew Brees a Potential Fantasy Football Draft Value in 2015?

Brees lost a number of weapons this offseason. Can he continue to post elite production despite this?

Drew Brees has been a staple atop fantasy quarterback rankings for years now. That makes sense, considering his consistently elite production since he joined the New Orleans Saints in 2006.

To catch a glimpse of his dominance, take a look at these facts.

Since 2006, he has played in at least 15 games every season and not once finished outside the top six among quarterbacks in standard scoring leagues. His 4,952-yard, 33-touchdown season last year led to his lowest-ranked finish among quarterbacks since he joined the Saints.

Also, Brees is tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most top-three quarterback finishes since 2006, appearing among the top three a whopping six times. He has thrown for at least 33 touchdowns and 4,600 yards for the past five seasons, making his average numbers over that span as good as career-best seasons for guys such as Eli Manning and Matt Ryan.

Per, Brees was going among the top 15 overall selections in drafts last season. This year, he is going just outside the top 50.

Why is Brees sitting available in the fourth or fifth round in most drafts this season? Well, it can be chalked up to two main concerns people have about his 2015 outlook. First, the Saints lost a crucial member of their passing offense in the trade that sent Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks.

If that’s not enough, there is a general perception that the normally pass-heavy Saints will look to establish a more consistent ground presence in 2015. After signing Mark Ingram to a new contract this off season, spending a first round pick on an offensive lineman, and acquiring Max Unger in the Graham trade, it certainly appears to be a possibility.

The big question has to be whether these concerns warrant Brees’ dramatic decline in draft-day price from last year to now. Seeing as numberFire’s very own projections have Brees ranked as the second overall quarterback, it seems to be a topic worth investigating.

Let’s take a look.

By the Numbers

A good place to start with Brees is looking at whether there has been a tangible decline in his performance over the past several seasons.

Using a numberFire metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), we can see if there is any downward trend in his production that would be cause for worry about his 2015 production. For those of you who read numberFire often, you’re probably familiar with NEP by now. For those who are newer to the site, NEP is a measure of how many points a player is adding to his team over what was expected.

Here is a table showing relevant NEP figures for Brees since 2006.

YearPassing NEPRankPassing NEP/Drop BackRank

As you can see, Brees’ 2014 season marked his third-lowest Passing NEP since he joined the Saints in 2006, but it was still a highly-respectable sixth overall finish. Brees has essentially posted a top-shelf NEP figure every year during his Saints tenure, never once falling outside the top 10. While his 2014 number was certainly a good bit lower than his 2013 mark, there is no readily obvious downward pattern to observe from his Passing NEP numbers.

The Passing NEP per drop back metric is a measure of efficiency, taking a quarterback's Passing NEP and dividing it by the number of times he as dropped back to pass. Ideally, you want a quarterback who is both prolific in terms of raw Passing NEP but also very efficient while racking up that number. To date, Brees has clearly been that combination. However, his 0.17 figure from 2014 is tied for his second lowest since 2006, and matches his lowest league-wide finish in the category in that same span. Maintaining an elite level of efficiency will be vital for Brees in 2015, especially if the Saints do indeed employ a more balanced offensive attack.

Missing Pieces

Brees does not appear to be on a downward-trend metrics wise. However, he will have to deal with an abundance of missing weapons in the 2015 season. Graham is the most obvious first candidate to discuss, as even in an injury-riddled 2014 season he still managed to pull down 10 touchdown receptions. The Brees-Graham duo has been a terrific working relationship, and Graham has not finished outside of the top-three among tight ends since his rookie season. Over that four-year time period, Graham has two top finishes at his position and was a popular first or second round pick in fantasy drafts. The metrics love Graham too, as he has not finished outside the top-five amongst tight ends in Reception NEP in that same span.

However, Graham is not the only key offensive cog that Brees lost this offseason. The Saints shipped off promising young wideout Kenny Stills to the Dolphins in a move seeking to shore up their defense. Stills totaled nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2014 as a dangerous big play threat. Our metrics were absolutely smitten with Stills as well. He finished first among all receivers (who saw at least 20 targets) in Reception NEP per target last season, adding more than a point to the Saints’ expected scoring output every time he was targeted. That is a staggering figure, especially for a young player with room to grow.

Pierre Thomas left the team but was replaced by C.J. Spiller to fill a similar role as a pass-catcher and occasional runner in 2015. Spiller certainly appears to be a talent upgrade over the aging Thomas and should be a dangerous weapon for Brees out of the backfield. However, the combination of Ingram and Spiller could seriously eat into Brees’ passing attempts in 2015.

Head coach Sean Payton has always led a pass-heavy offense, with the Saints having called passing plays over 60% of the time since 2010. With an emphasis on offensive line upgrades and the money spent on the Ingram-Spiller duo, it seems possible that percentage will dip in 2015. Brees will need to rebound from a somewhat down season in terms of efficiency if this is in fact the case.

Josh Hill has received some sleeper-hype as a Graham replacement, and people have Brandin Cooks pegged to breakout in his second season, but there remains a lot of production left to be filled by unproven players.

Is Brees a Draft Day Steal?

Where does this all leave us on Brees in 2015? Our projections have him pegged for about 330 fantasy points this year. That mark would have been good for a QB3 finish last season, placing him ahead of Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning, both of whom are being drafted ahead of Brees this season.

We have his attempts set at just over 654, which would put him just five below his total from last year and in the ballpark of his attempts from each of his last five seasons. If he does in fact get that many attempts, then Brees becomes a pretty clear-cut value in 2015. That being said, with Ingram’s new contract and place and the ever-looming possibility that Spiller meets his previously demonstrated potential, Brees is no sure thing to throw that often.

I am not terribly concerned about Brees’ ability to produce with the weapons he has. Graham is a huge loss, and Stills was a nice piece to have in the offense, but I am willing to bet on Brees’ talent. He has not always had premier weapons, yet he has always posted premier numbers. The potential for a decline is passing-volume is definitely reason to think Brees may take a bit of a step back in 2015.

However, he is being drafted like his decline has already occurred. Even if he sees 550 attempts rather than 650, he still has a decent shot at matching his fourth- or fifth-round cost. The possibility of his volume not declining could lead to Brees having surplus value in 2015. Our second overall ranking may be aggressive, but Brees is the type of player you want to bet on.