What can really be expected from a team the next year after a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback moves on? In recent years we have seen these teams be aggressively average. The 2016 Broncos, 2019 Colts, 2020 Patriots, 2020 Giants, and 2020 Chargers all hovered around a .500 record. None of them came close to the postseason. Can Sean Peyton and the 2021 Saints possibly vie for the postseason this year? If they stand any chance this year we are going to have to see Sean Peyton’s most magnificent coaching job ever. The most important and first decision the staff will have to make is the quarterback.
Last season we all got a taste of life after Drew Brees when he went out for multiple weeks with a slew of injuries including a torn rotator cuff, 11 broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. Brees somehow only missed 4 games with these injuries, but during that stretch, Sean Peyton decided to throw the entire fantasy industry into a frenzy. Instead of starting their newly signed backup quarterback Jameis Winston, the coach announced that Taysom Hill would be making his first start behind center. This move baffled many but the Saints were successful in these four games keeping their winning season intact by going 3-1. While we were all waiting for Peyton to show his hand on who would be running the offense the rest of the team started to slowly show some cracks.
If you are looking for drama down in New Orleans the first place to look would be with the pass catchers. The 'BMOC' and undisputed WR1 on the team Michael Thomas heads up this group that saw veterans Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook leave in free agency. The team did not really have the CAP space to bring in any veteran help for depth. The front office expects the homegrown talent they have acquired over the last few years to make a leap. Second-year WR Marquez Callaway and fourth-year WR Tre’Quan Smith were expected to help round out that position group with second-year TE Adam Trautman all taking a big step forward. As the season wears on, the leap these players are going to have to take feels bigger than ever.
In late July news broke that Michael Thomas underwent surgery to repair ligaments in his ankle back in June. This was a surgery needed after the injury he received back during the 2020 season which kept him out of the team’s last three in-season games. Although he was able to suit up and take the field in the NFC Wild Card game the injury seemed to have persisted and surgery was necessary. There has been chatter between the coaching staff and Thomas’ camp that shows a bit of a fractured relationship based on the timing of this second surgery. The team expects to be without Michael Tomas for at least the first half of the season so we should see an increased role for both Callaway and Smith moving forward. Where they are falling in the mid to late rounds of fantasy drafts is perfect value for your home league.
With all these changes in the WR room taking place the man to roster in your fantasy league still never changed. RB1 Alvin Kamera is poised for another top-5 fantasy season and the Saints are just going to have to rely on him even more. Working behind PFF’s 8th ranked OL from 2020, Kamara will be the number one weapon for the team and will see plenty of dump-offs no matter who is behind center. His ceiling may be capped around the goal line due to Sean Peyton’s knack for scheming up plays for Taysom Hill but his workload will more than make up for any touchdown vulturing. Kamara is an automatic first-round pick in any and all home redraft leagues.
The Saints are looking to build on their success from last year on the defensive side of the ball. Football Reference shows them as the 5th ranked team defense for 2020 but there were significant changes made to the roster. The greatest of these losses were Fredrickson, Janoris Jenkins, and Sheldon Rankins, so to keep building they will be expecting big things from the younger guys. One of those young guys they need to see a bit step from is Marcus Davenport. The fourth-year DE is looking to make things rough on opposing teams playing opposite DE Cam Jordan. These two alone can cause problems for the rest of the division, which is what the team is hoping for with so much youth filling out the rest of the defense.
Now onto the important things. Long-time starting kicker Wil Lutz had to have surgery which will sideline him for the start of the season. Lutz has been automatic in his 5 years with the Saints but now he is scheduled to miss at least three games before he can get back on the field. Can newly signed kicker Brett Maher make enough noise to win the starting job outright? Probably not, but the Lutz news will come into play at the end of your fantasy drafts. That is if you haven't already gotten rid of kickers like you should, but that's for another article.
At the moment I am writing this article the first preseason game is not far away and we still don’t have any clue who will be the starting QB for the Saints. I would like to think that who is starting and playing in the preseason will help us get an idea of where Sean Peyton’s head is at, but I fear that will give us nothing. The Cut’s own Brian Craighead envisions a scenario that will crush all fantasy managers’ dreams. As long as the defense is up to their standards and Kamara is healthy he sees a world where Taysom Hill may play the majority of snaps and will start. But as soon as the defense gives too much or the offense stalls out he wonders if Peyton will throw Jamiess Winston out there to try to spark some magic. This doesn’t seem too farfetched for a coaching wizard-like Peyton to attempt. After years of having the perfect game manager and team leader in Drew Brees who knows if Peyton will have the stomach to allow Winston to take the reins.
The betting line from DraftKings for season wins is set squarely on 9. Personally, I have them penciled in for 10 wins on the season based on wins over most of their division opponents and favorable matchups with both the NFC & AFC East on their schedule. Sean Peyton and Pete Carmichael Jr. will find a way to get efficiency out of this offense and with a defense that is just good enough I can see the team making a push for one of the three wild card spots in these newly expanded playoffs.