If you’re wondering what’s wrong with Drew Brees, the answer’s clear ...
He leads the league with the highest completion rate of his career. He’s working on his highest yards per attempt rate since 2011. He’s rocking the lowest INT rate of his career. He’s generating his highest passer rating since 2011. And he ranks 4th in the league in passing yards per game.
But he’s also throwing the ball a lot less than at almost any other time since he joined the Saints. And that’s the “problem” with his fantasy production.
Over his 1st 11 seasons in New Orleans, Brees dipped below 627 pass attempts just twice. He averaged 631.7 per season over that span.
His 276.8 yards per game are almost identical with his averages from his 1st 2 Saints seasons. But when Brees averaged 276.1 per game in 2006, that mark led the league. Including this year, he has averaged 306.9 per game for his New Orleans career.
The biggest thing keeping Brees’ changes from standing out more is that passing numbers are down around the league. Tom Brady is averaging nearly 30 more yards per game than anyone else, and each of the past 3 seasons had 5 QBs average more yards per game than current #2 Russell Wilson. (Carson Palmer’s the only other guy over 280.)
The biggest relative worry for Brees owners should be his decrease in TDs. Brees is working on his lowest passing TD rate (4.7%) since 2007. Blame his red-zone decline.
Brees is on pace for the 3rd-fewest red-zone passing attempts of his Saints career and his 2nd-fewest attempts from inside the 10-yard line. The 14 red-zone TDs he’s on pace for would be his lowest number since 2006. He’s on pace for 11 from inside the 10, which would be his 4th-lowest mark.
There’s room for positive regression on his overall red-zone TD rate. Brees has thrown for a score on 21.1% of his pass attempts in that range, compared with 25.6% for his Saints career. (Inside the 10, his 46.2% TD rate sits about 7.5 percentage points above his career rate in that range. It’s more in line with the past 7 years, though, after much lower rates over his 1st 4.)
It makes sense that Brees would have more trouble finding end-zone targets. His receiving options in general have deteriorated.
This is Year 3 without Jimmy Graham, and we saw a drop-off in red-zone passing performance back in the 1st post-Graham season (2015). Darren Sproles left after 2013 and 16 TD receptions in 3 years. This past offseason saw New Orleans replace Brandin Cooks with Ted Ginn. Even Willie Snead has yet to make it all the way back from a hamstring injury.
Brees has gone without a TD pass in the red zone for the past 4 weeks, after throwing 8 of them over the 1st 5 games. Week 9 against the Bucs marked the 1st time all year, though, that he didn't attempt a pass in the red zone. Brees bounced back to 3 attempts against the Bills. Just 1 other game has seen him throw fewer than 3 red-zone passes.
Don’t be surprised if we get a few more scoring tosses in that range from Brees soon. Just don’t hold your breath for the huge numbers we’ve gotten used to from Brees in the past. He has finished each of his past 3 games shy of 30 pass attempts. That matches his TOTAL number of sub-30 attempt games over the past 4 seasons combined.
All that said, of course, if Brees is actually anywhere close to the biggest problem on your fantasy team, then you’re in good shape. For what it’s worth, he narrowly overthrew Ginn late in the 1st quarter against the Bucs with what almost certainly would have become an 87-yard TD. Hit that 1 play, and we might be having a different conversation about Brees right now.
But if we do get such a line in the coming weeks, don’t let the fantasy numbers cloud the decrease in volume.