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What You Need to Know:
- Brees ranked 10th among QBs in fantasy points last year after posting 11 straight top-6 finishes.
- He set a career high in completion rate and led the league in yards per attempt. But his 536 pass attempts were his 2nd fewest in 12 seasons with the Saints.
- HC Sean Payton’s history — plus Mark Ingram’s 4-game suspension — make Brees a good bet to see a significant uptick in volume this season.
Brees’ 10th-place fantasy finish last year was his worst in 12 seasons with the Saints.
Don’t blame him, though. Brees actually set a career high with a sparkling 72.0% completion rate. His 8.1 yards per attempt was his 3rd-best mark as a Saint. Brees’ 103.9 QB Rating ranked 2nd league-wide behind only Alex Smith.
A volume problem
So what went wrong? Volume. Brees’ 536 pass attempts were his 2nd fewest in 12 years in New Orleans — and a whopping 96 fewer than his average from 2006 to 2016.
The Saints leaned on a dominant ground game, running it on 44.4% of their offensive snaps. Only 12 teams finished with a higher run rate. That was a massive shift for a Saints squad that had run it less than 40% of the time in each of the previous 7 seasons.
Expect a bounce back
The last time the Saints posted a run rate north of 40% was 2009. They came back the following year and chucked it 64.4% of the time. A pass-heavy approach is in HC Sean Payton’s blood. So while New Orleans might not kick all the way back to a pass rate in the mid 60s this season, we are expecting a shift back in that direction.
RB Mark Ingram’s 4-game suspension to open the season only makes that more likely. RB Alvin Kamara isn’t meant to play a workhorse ball-carrying role. And the depth behind him is almost completely unproven: Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams and rookie Boston Scott.
Brees’ volume should also get a boost from an uptick in total play volume. The Saints’ 1,000 offensive snaps last year were their fewest ever in the Brees/Payton era. Their average over the previous 11 seasons: 1,076.
So Brees is a good bet for increased volume this season. If the Saints run 1,075 plays and even lean back to a 60% pass rate, we’d see him attempt 75-85 more passes than he did last year. That’s a big deal. Especially for an uber-efficient QB like Brees.
Great QB, great supporting cast
Despite turning 39 this past January, Brees has shown no signs of decline. Two of the best 4 completion rates of his career have come over the past 2 seasons. He’s ranked top 6 in yards per attempt in 3 straight seasons, including a 1st-place finish last year.
Brees’ supporting cast also remains loaded. Losing Ingram for 4 games hurts — but Kamara will soften that blow. He led all RBs with 826 receiving yards as a rookie last year. And he was extremely efficient doing it, hauling in 81% of his targets and averaging 10.2 yards per catch.
The Saints return young stud Michael Thomas and deep threat Ted Ginn, who finished 1st and 2nd in targets among the team’s WRs last year. And they added Cameron Meredith as a restricted free agent and Tre’Quan Smith in the 3rd round of the draft.
The TE depth chart looks a bit weak with 37-year-old Ben Watson sitting atop Josh Hill. But it can’t be any worse than last season, when Coby Fleener led the group with a 22-295-2 receiving line. (Fleener was cut in early May.)
Brees will be working behind an offensive line that returns all 5 starters after finishing 2nd in Football Outsiders’ 2017 Adjusted Sack Rate. Brees took just 20 sacks last year — 30th most league-wide — despite attempting the 9th most passes.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Brees’ 10th-place fantasy finish last year was relatively disappointing. He’d ranked top 6 in each of his first 11 seasons with the Saints, including 8 top-3 finishes.
He remained 1 of the most efficient QBs in the game, though. He was simply a victim of reduced volume — a product of a dominant Saints ground game.
Expect New Orleans to lean back at least a bit toward the pass in 2018, especially with RB Mark Ingram suspended for the season’s first 4 games. And the overall play volume is a good bet to spike after the Saints set a 12-year low in offensive snaps last season.
Simply put: Brees figures to chuck it significantly more in 2018. That makes him a safe QB1 bet with the upside to move back into the top 6 at the position.