The offensive machine that is the New Orleans Saints has been a boon to many a fantasy football player over the last eight years. Ever since Sean Payton and Drew Brees rode into town in the aftermath of a dismal 2005 season plagued by Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing fallout of unfortunate events, the Saints have produced many a difference-maker across all fantasy formats.
Whether it's Brees, Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, Joe Horn, Pierre Thomas, Jimmy Graham, or even Mike Karney (kudos to those of you who had him plugged into your lineups on December 10, 2006), the Saints have supplied quality ammunition for fantasy owners in search of reliable producers.
Brees is the gold standard, and at the controls of Payton's effective system, he has the freedom and ability to spread the ball around at will. While the dynamic productivity of a Jimmy Graham may stand out, this synergy between play-caller and quarterback and the resulting execution can lead to more unheralded players stepping into the spotlight with big performances that can persuade even the most disciplined roster manager to head straight to the waiver wire on Tuesday morning.
Let's take a look at three Saints who could emerge as 2014 fantasy football sleepers:
RB Khiry Robinson
2013 stats: 54 Car 224 Yds 4.1 Avg 1 TD (10 games)
The former undrafted free agent from West Texas A&M emerged as a viable ball-carrier for the Saints late last season. While Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles battled injuries and the various maladies that accompany a long NFL season, Robinson took advantage of his late-season opportunity. In the team's two playoff games, the 6-0 220 back ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts while splitting time in the backfield with both Ingram and Sproles. Robinson showed grit between the tackles and enough burst to get to the perimeter. Khiry Robinson is set for an increased role in 2014.
Saints coaches love the 2nd year back, and have raved about his improvements heading into his sophomore campaign in New Orleans. Robinson has improved in pass protection, showcasing his skills in blitz pickup drills in training camp, where he has received plenty of reps with the first-string offense. He also figures to emerge as the go-to short-yardage and goalline option as both Thomas and Ingram enter what could be their final seasons with the team. A capable receiver out of the backfield, he could help fill the shoes of Sproles, who was dealt to the Eagles for a draft pick in March. This is something to keep in mind as the Saints employ one of the league's most effective screen games.
After a preseason game in 2006, then-Cowboys coach and Hall-of-Famer Bill Parcells called Sean Payton and told him that he had one good player on his team...Marques Colston. The 7th round pick out of Hofstra turned into quite the player after all, and perhaps the Big Tuna may be on to something as he offered up similar praise for Robinson after the Saints' wildcard victory over Philadelphia last January. Parcells called Payton and queried why the young back was not more involved in the game plan, going on to compare him to Curtis Martin.
With the Saints looking to emphasize the running game with an eye on a ball control offense to maximize the team's freshness and sustainment of 4th quarter drives, Robinson could develop into the reliable late-game bell cow Payton would be in search of to enhance that philosophy.
He may have a long way to go to match the accomplishments of a Curtis Martin, but Khiry Robinson could well be worth a late flier in most formats, and a definite grab in dynasty leagues. He has "value pick" written all over him.
WR Kenny Stills
2013 stats: 32 Cat 641 Yds 20.0 Avg 5 TD (16 games)
It can, at times, be difficult to trust a Saints pass-catcher not named Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston, but Stills is a name to keep in mind come draft day. The 2nd year Oklahoma product developed nicely last season, showing he possessed the complete package as both a deep threat and intermediate target for Brees.
In fact, when Brees threw to Stills last season, the duo combined for the league’s best QBR (139.3) between passer and receiver. The Saints have always relied on perimeter speed to exploit defenses, and Stills has quickness for days. Drew Brees had the league's best QBR when targeting Kenny Stills in 2013.
Brandin Cooks, the team's 2014 first-round draft choice, has already emerged as another weapon for the Saints' potent offense, and could well end up starting opposite Colston which would bump Stills down into three-wide sets. Cooks has been dazzling teammates and coaches throughout the offseason with his explosive skill set, and the resulting hype surrounding the Oregon State alum has seen his ADP spike, as Greg Brosh notes in his recent article. This leaves Stills as more of a sleeper, as many managers will likely target the rookie wideout over the rising second-year man.
Stills is currently battling a nagging quad injury at the team's West Virginia-based training camp. He suffered the injury, ironically, working out with Brees in San Diego earlier this month in an attempt to maximize the chemistry between the pair ahead of camp. Payton insists the issue is not serious, and at this early stage of camp, the Saints are likely playing it safe with their young receiver in hopes of having him as close to 100% as possible just over a month away from week 1. Nick Toon has emerged as the star of camp thus far, but the 3rd year wideout has yet to transfer his success in shorts and pads to the actual playing field.
The sooner he gets back on the practice field, the better, but we still like Kenny Stills as a late-round option in most leagues, particularly deep ones. Colston will remain the go-to possession receiver, while Cooks looks set to operate as a jack-of-all-trades, taking snaps in the backfield, out wide, and in the slot with plenty of upside. Stills should serve as that deep threat Payton loves to use to exploit opposing defenses. As any former Devery Henderson owner will attest, that role can be as boom or bust as it gets, but the booms can far outweigh the busts in this offense.
If the team does stick to its plan on emphasizing the run, look for Stills to be the recipient of plenty of bombs off of play action.
LB Junior Galette
2013 stats: 28 Tak 12.0 Sacks 1 FF 2 FR 776 snaps 16 games
It's not just about offense here, especially given the marked improvement New Orleans made on the defensive side of the ball last year.
Another of the Saints' long line of former undrafted free agents turned starters, Galette is an intriguing option in IDP leagues. Coming off a career 2013 season in which he registered 12 sacks in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense, the former Stillman College pass-rush specialist is primed for another big season in black and gold.
Adding further intrigue to his aura, Galette has every incentive to one-up his 2013 production, as the 26 year-old can void the remainder of his current contract and become an unrestricted free agent by playing across 60% of the team's snaps and matching or exceeding his 12 sacks from last season. Junior Galette doing what he does best: rushing the quarterback.
Having graded out as ProFootballFocus's 13th-ranked 3-4 OLB last season, the 6-2 258 Galette is currently having himself a nice camp, where he has developed into a vocal leader as the Saints look to take the next step in year two under the tutelage of Ryan.
Galette took advantage of an increased role in 2013, after the Saints lost Victor Butler to a season-ending knee injury in OTAs. He was inserted into the starting lineup and thrived as a weak-side pass rush dynamo. Basically operating as Ryan's black and gold version of DeMarcus Ware, Galette had his best season as a pro. He and Cameron Jordan combined for 24.5 sacks, and gave Ryan the pass rush he needed to better-utilize his secondary.
Having missed just one tackle across three seasons, Galette is an option in IDP leagues that put a premium on sacks. Jordan, who reached the Pro Bowl last season, may be a sexier option on the surface, but Galette has every incentive to out-do his 2013 production.
It is not uncommon for the Saints to find themselves in shootouts, even with a much-improved defense and a more run-heavy approach on the cards. When these shootouts do occur, look for Ryan to pin Galette's ears back and unleash his pass rush specialist.