Is There a Saints Receiver Worth Owning in Fantasy Football?
Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Chris Ivory, and Pierre Thomas all started their pro careers with the Saints after either going undrafted, or in Colston's case being a seventh round pick. The Saints have an impressive way of finding hidden talent and using it successfully.
This offseason, the Saints unloaded both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills while keeping an aging Colston. Naturally, the curiosities this offseason abounded about the Saints offense with everyone wondering where all the lost targets from Graham and Stills departing from the team would go to. Another question that begged was whether Colston would hold up despite his age or whether someone would begin to replace him as well.
Most expected that the Saints would use last year's first round draft pick, Brandin Cooks as their top wide receiver because they invested heavy draft capital in him. The rest of the target distribution was a mystery that everyone seemed to have a different answer for. The beliefs ranged from Colston keeping his role to different late round picks and undrafted free agents like Nick Toon, Josh Hill, Seantavius Jones, and Brandon Coleman.
Although he was a first round pick, Cooks, based on previous Saints history, should not have been assumed to take the majority of available targets. Additionally everyone expecting a bounce back from Colston, or an emergence from Toon, Hill, Jones, or Coleman all have had their guesses proven wrong.
Instead of all of the above options, the most unheralded options of all has come from nowhere to become the Saints receiver worth owning. Enter Willie Snead, a receiver cut from the Browns after the 2014 preseason who went undrafted last year.
Like Lance Moore, Snead was cut from the Browns and able to make his way on to the Saints practice squad before making his way on to the main roster. Moore profiled mainly as a small slot receiver at 5'9" and 190 pounds. Snead is bigger than Moore, checking in at 5'11" and 195 pounds.
Although Moore never fully ascended the Saints depth chart to become a top-two option in the offense, he did manage to produce two impressive campaigns. In 2008, Moore posted a stat line of 79 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns, and in 2012 he produced 65 catches for 1,041 yards and 6 touchdowns.
As is the case with lots of top quarterbacks, Drew Brees will spread the ball around when he does not have a true top option receiver. This was the case some of the time when Moore was around, which helps partially explain his inconsistent production. Although Brees looks like he is spreading the ball around due to not having a top receiver this year, he may have just found one in Snead.
Snead came from out of nowhere to ascend the Saints' receiver depth chart this year. In every game, Snead has seen his snap share improve.
Starting in Week 1, he played 24% of snaps. After seeing an uptick in play time each week, he played 72% of the snaps in Week 5. With this snap share increase, he has also seen a growth in his targets and target share. In Week 1, he saw 3 targets, which accounted for 6.2% of the total targets. In Week 5, he saw 11 targets, 25.6% of the target share.
The increase in snaps and targets speaks volumes to the amount of trust that Brees has in him. It also shows that Snead has a true opportunity to become the top receiver on this team.
With his increase in playtime and opportunity, we can see the overall impact Snead has made through his Net Expected Points (NEP) contribution, which indicates how a player performs relative to expectation-level.
In Week 1, Snead contributed a Reception NEP of 4.06. He followed that up with a less efficient game in Week 2, improving his Reception NEP to 5.89 (1.83 for the game). The next week he once again improved his Reception NEP to 10.41 for the season (4.52 for the game) against the Carolina Panthers and their second-ranked Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP.
In Week 4, he had his best Reception NEP to date, bringing his season total to 17.58 (7.17 for the game). Finally, he had his season-best Reception NEP this past week, making his season long total 30.42 (12.84 for the game).
Right now, Snead has the 24th ranked Reception NEP, placing him ahead of bigger names like Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, and Jordan Matthews. He also sits 9 spots ahead of his teammate Cooks, who is his only teammate in the top 50 for Reception NEP.
Snead is posting a 0.92 Reception NEP per target, which is on level with Antonio Brown. That ranks him 13th among 90 receivers with at least 15 targets.
Cooks' 0.63 per-target Reception NEP ranks 53rd.
The Saints' Adjusted Passing NEP per play sits in 14th place, and this is in large part thanks to Snead's impressive play with minimal help from those around him.
Week 6 and Beyond
Moving forward, Snead faces many teams in the bottom half of Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, giving him a very soft schedule for the rest of the year. Our projections rank him as the 34th-best fantasy receiver for the rest of the year, and this may be conservative based on the constant development he is showing.
It also would not be surprising to see him supplant Cooks as the teams leading receiver.
There is a Saints receiver you should own in fantasy football, and his name is Willie Snead.