Willie Snead Can Be a League-Winning Flex Play

After putting together a solid rookie season, Willie Snead should again benefit from a high-volume Saints' passing attack, making him a nice value in the middle rounds.

Fantasy teams revolve around running backs and wide receivers. Because you have to start multiple players at each position -- sometimes as many three or four, depending on your league settings -- it's critical to load up on wideouts and running backs.

Given the single-player starting requirements for the other positions, along with the inherently volatile nature of fantasy football, you should be targeting receivers in the flex spot in both standard and point per reception (PPR) leagues.

As our own Brandon Gdula noted in that piece on the flex spot, once we move past the top-20 running backs taken in standard leagues, receivers become more valuable in the flex. It's an even more stark contrast in PPR formats.

With that said, one player who should be on your radar come draft day is New Orleans' Willie Snead, who could become a sneaky league-winning flex play if he can claim a piece of the high-volume target pie and continue improving as an ascending talent.

High-Volume Offense

Last season, the Saints owned not just the worst Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) in the league, but the worst we've ever recorded at numberFire dating back to the year 2000. NEP is our signature metric, and it quantifies the number of points a player (or defensive unit in this case) adds to their team compared to expectation, thus giving a true measure of efficiency.

The Saints' poor defense often leads to the team playing from behind, subsequently forcing the offense to become one dimensional and throw the ball out of necessity.

New Orleans' poor defense last year led to the Saints spending 65% of the time either tied or trailing. This resulted in New Orleans being forced to pass 66.5% of the time in these situations, compared to just 55.5% when they held a lead. On the year, the Saints attempted 667 passes, which tied for the second most in football.

This year, Vegas projects the Saints for a 7-win season -- their win total from 2015 -- while making them at least 3-point underdogs in 8 of their games. In other words, we can expect a similar volume and pass ratio from New Orleans in 2016.

Over the past 3 years, New Orleans ranked 7th, 5th and 6th in passing play percentage. There should be little reason to see much deviation from their pass-happy ways this upcoming season.

Brees the Point Guard

From an X's and O's viewpoint, Drew Brees is often a challenge for opposing defenses due to the way he distributes targets throughout the offense. In the past, when teams took away Jimmy Graham, Brees had no issues throwing to Marques Colston. Cover both of those options, and Brees could drop a pass down to Darren Sproles.

That spread-the-wealth mentality is evident in the market share numbers.

Year WR1 Tgt MS % WR2 Tgt MS % WR3 Tgt MS % TE1 Tgt MS %
2015 19.3% 15.3% 10.0% 16.3%
2014 15.0% 12.9% 10.6% 18.8%
2013 16.9% 8.3% 7.8% 22.1%
2012 19.7% 15.6% 7.0% 20.1%
2011 16.2% 11.0% 9.2% 22.5%

It's quite notable that there hasn't been a wide receiver that commanded over a 20% market share of the targets. However, when there's on average 660-plus targets going around per year, even a modest market share makes for fantasy relevance.

The departure of Graham last year from the offense saw a redistribution of targets among the offensive skill players. The Saints added Coby Fleener to their receiving corps, but the inconsistency throughout his career leaves question marks if we can expect Graham-like targets or if it'll be more like Benjamin Watson's numbers from 2015. Fleener's best mark with the Indianapolis Colts was a 13.9% target market share back in 2014, so it stands to reason 16.3% could be on the high end of his range of outcomes, although it's difficult to tell with Fleener entering a new offense.

The top two receivers were the biggest recipients in targets following Graham going to Seattle. Both saw a sizable target increase in their direction, which is certainly notable for Snead, who figures to slot in behind Brandin Cooks on the target totem pole. Rookie Michael Thomas is slated for the third wide receiver role, but it's been a position that has been capped at about 10-percent of the team's targets. Thomas' 6'3" size could make him a viable red-zone weapon, but he might not see enough volume as a rookie to warrant redraft fantasy consideration outside of DFS purposes.

Going back even further, the departure of Sproles is also noteworthy as the running backs collectively saw 27.7% of the targets from 2011-'13, and the position saw only 17.9% over the past two seasons.

Saints' coach Sean Payton has already expressed his expectations to see Snead take a step forward in 2016 in his offense.

Snead saw 101 targets last season, hauling in 69 passes for 984 yards and 3 scores. With New Orleans expected to attempt close to the same amount of passes they did last year (667), Snead is a safe bet to see 100-plus targets again from one of the game's premier passers in the team's second wide receiver role .

It's dangerous to invest heavily in summer coach speak, but if Snead's role does grow at all, we're looking at a WR3 who could flirt with WR2 numbers. After all, he finished as WR35 as a rookie.

In that rookie campaign, Snead showed great rapport with Brees, so he should be able to take advantage of any increase in the amount of balls thrown his way.

According to the RotoViz AYA App, Snead outperformed Cooks by a fairly decent margin when targeted by Brees. numberFire's metrics arrived to the same conclusion, with Snead's Target NEP (50.57) outpacing Cooks' (49.45) despite Snead seeing fewer targets.

While Cooks should command the lion's share of the targets in 2016 -- he lead the team with 129 looks last season -- Snead's efficiency cannot go unnoticed.

Snead the Player

Despite putting up some incredibly impressive statistics his final year at Ball State, Snead went undrafted, testing poorly in just about every way.

Here's a look at his numbers on

Looking at these, it's no wonder most people had Brandon Coleman pegged as the potential breakout receiver in New Orleans.

Despite the poor athleticism,'s Matt Harmon -- who is known for his in-depth work on receivers -- declared earlier this offseason that Snead is a player whose talent we simply cannot ignore. Noting his pristine route running due to exceptional timing and clean breaks, Harmon said Snead is able to overcome his athletic shortcomings and surpass expectation.

Echoing Harmon's sentiments, Saints beat reporters believe Snead could have an even better season this year if he can capitalize on some missed opportunities from last campaign.


Facing a similar schedule to that of 2015, the Saints should once again rank near the top in passes attempted this year, making them an offense to target.

Our projections currently have Snead at WR39 in standard formats and WR35 in PPR. He's being drafted as the WR45 on FantasyFootballCalculator and WR42 at MyFantasyLeague.

He's a nice value that can be had in the middle rounds of your draft, and Snead represents an upside play that could outperform expectations in what looks like it'll be a high-octane offense, especially after adding Fleener and Thomas this offseason.

Combining a historically poor defensive unit with a high-volume offense, Snead enters 2016 fresh off a good rookie year with the advantage of likely seeing a positive game script in several contests, making him a potential league-winning flex play for your fantasy team.