BUCCANEERS // SAINTS OVERVIEW
This game clocks in with one of the highest Over/Unders on the slate, with the Saints installed as the largest favorite on the slate. Only eight teams in the NFL allowed more points per game last year than the Bucs, and only three teams scored more points per game than the Saints. New Orleans ranked ninth in the NFL in takeaways last year, and the Bucs will be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Saints always draw attention in the DFS community, and the absence of Mark Ingram (suspension) will pull even more eyes to this spot, so don’t expect to fly under the radar by targeting this game — but that does not alter the fact that this is a good game to target.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
New Orleans was perfectly happy to give up yards on the ground last year in order to focus on stopping the pass — ranking 28th in yards allowed per carry. Along the way, however, New Orleans faced the ninth-fewest rushing attempts — a function of teams falling behind early, which is the likeliest scenario in this spot. We should expect around 16 to 18 carries for Peyton Barber, with Ronald Jones likely mixing in for around six carries of his own, and with Jacquizz Rodgers the likeliest third-down back after Charles Sims was lost for the season. There is an outside chance that Barber soaks up some of the third down work as well, which would further elevate his floor and ceiling, as a guy who is already a starting running back who costs only 9.3% of the salary cap on FanDuel, 8.5% on FantasyDraft, and 8.2% on DraftKings. Given game flow concerns, his chances of exploding for a huge game are slim, but he’s a strong value across the board.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
Last year, only five teams allowed a lower catch rate than the Saints, but they were otherwise fairly non-threatening to receivers, ranking just below the league average in yards allowed per target. This setup makes wide receivers slightly more valuable on FanDuel than on FantasyDraft and DraftKings against the Saints, as PPR scoring on the latter two sites forces us to shift expectations down a notch against a defense that is elite at preventing catches. New Orleans also ranked fifth in DVOA against the pass and was one of the best teams in the league at preventing passing touchdowns — all while snagging the third-most interceptions in the league. With Chris Godwin emerging as an integral part of the offense, Adam Humphries continuing to maintain a role in the offense, and DeSean Jackson not yet going anywhere, the secondary pieces on this team are mere dart throws with Fitzpatrick under center. It’s easy to simplify things and say that Mike Evans will “obviously remain a target monster,” but it also won’t be unreasonable for him to stick at the 9.1 targets per game he had last year, after averaging 10.7 targets per game the year before. All things considered, this is a “downgrade” spot for Evans — against this solid pass D, with Fitzpatrick under center — but he is a “bet on talent” guy. (I.e., he is -EV on paper, but he does have the skills to pop off in a tough spot if for some reason you feel like chasing.)
Behind these guys, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard form one of the most lethal tight end duos in the league — but much like Doyle and Ebron in Indy, it will be difficult to pinpoint which tight end to target in a given game, especially as Howard is expected to see an expanded role in the passing attack this year. No team in the NFL allowed fewer passing yards to tight ends than the Saints last year.
Last year, here are touches-per-game from some notable running backs:
Le’Veon Bell — 27.1
Ezekiel Elliott — 26.8
Leonard Fournette — 23.4
David Johnson — 23.3 (2016)
Todd Gurley — 22.9
Melvin Gordon — 21.4
Alvin Kamara — 12.6
There are two ways to look at this. There is the obvious, public-sentiment way to look at this: “Kamara smashed on half the touches of these other guys, and he’s going to see expanded touches with Mark Ingram out!” And there is the data-driven way that says, “It is impossible to keep up the extreme efficiency Kamara had last year, but given his incredible skill set, he can be said to justify his price tag with the expected increase in touches.” The Saints have talked in the offseason about not wanting to increase Kamara’s workload too much while Ingram is out, and while it is true that #coacheslie, I will be surprised if he averages over 21 touches per game through these first four weeks of the season. With that said, I will also be surprised if he falls shy of 17 touches per game. Only two teams allowed more rushing touchdowns than Tampa last year, and they ranked 24th in yards allowed per carry.
(Find more on the Saints’ running back situation in the update below.)
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE
Only three teams in the NFL allowed more expected yards per target than the Bucs last year, as they were significantly below-average in both average depth of target and catch rate — each of which plays nicely into the hands of Michael Thomas. Thomas had only two games last year in which he fell shy of eight targets, and he had eight games of double-digit targets. Tampa allowed extraordinary increases last year for wide receivers compared to league-average fantasy point expectations — boosting wide receiver scores on FanDuel by 21.4% (third-worst in the league), and on DraftKings and FantasyDraft by 23.0% (second-worst in the league).
While Thomas saw his targets increase last year even as Brees’ passing attempts went down, the remaining options on the Saints are a quagmire of upside and question marks. Benjamin Watson should run his fair share of pass routes in this one, and the Saints will take some shot plays with Ted Ginn and/or Tre’Quan Smith, giving each guy some solid upside but a low floor. Cameron Meredith is also in the mix, though his role is uncertain after a rough training camp.
Peyton Barber will be on my radar all week, and while I have no idea if he will end up on my main roster — where about 85% of my money usually goes — I do know I’ll have some exposure to him. On a normal week, he would be a lock-and-load option, but there is a lot of value available this week.
Kamara’s locked-in role in the pass game and his skills are enough to justify his price, but he is by no means a “must play.” If we played this slate a hundred times, he would have some monster weeks simply due to how talented he is, but until we see him top 21 touches in a game, I also have to acknowledge that his floor remains lower than his fellow high-priced RBs who see a lot more usage than him. I expect Kamara to be popular, which makes him a strategic fade in tourneys if you want to play the percentages.
Drew Brees offers a high floor and a high ceiling in a cake matchup with several weeks to prepare. Michael Thomas is the guy to pair him with, as a guy with a high floor and a high ceiling in one of the softest matchups on the slate.
In tourneys, it is also noteworthy that the Saints ranked seventh in sacks and ninth in turnovers forced last year — making their DST an intriguing play, with a lower floor than the top DST options, but with the same ceiling and low ownership.
*UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2 // Full “Updates” List
The Saints are all but guaranteed to sign another running back before Sunday…and that running back may very well wind up still being Jonathan Williams or Boston Scott. Sean Payton has acknowledged that he wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable heading into the game with such a thin depth chart at running back, but until further notice, this backfield consists of Alvin Kamara and Mike Gillislee.
Saturday note: Jonathan Williams has been signed from the practice squad. I’m bumping touch expectations for Kamara back down to 18 to 23, since Williams (unlike Gillislee) at least knows the offense; though it’s tough to see too much work being stolen from Kamara. It will be very difficult for Kamara to fail in this spot; though I do think it will prove possible to win a tourney without him if you want to target upside in a different, more unique way.
If the Saints are at the one-yard-line, or are running out the clock, we’ll likely see a bit of Gillislee in order to protect wear and tear on Kamara’s body; but the “#coacheslie” narrative strengthens in this spot after the Saints said during the summer they want to protect Kamara’s body and not turn him into a full workhorse back through these first four games of the year. Their roster moves contradict this sentiment, as they let go of a pair of guys who showed strong play in training camp and preseason, and they brought in a guy in Gillislee who 1) has a limited skill set, and 2) has very little time to pick up a complicated offense. Gillislee’s snaps will be straightforward snaps, without much nuance or game-planning to them. Add it all up, and our initial projection of “17 to 21 touches” for Kamara should be raised to around “19 to 25.” This bumps up his floor a little bit higher, while also giving him a few extra opportunities to explode for a monster game. Not that he needed the help, as he was already a top play on the slate. But this makes his price that much easier to digest, and makes him a guy I’m slightly more willing than before to move around salary to fit. As we uncovered throughout the article, there are plenty of great running back plays this week, so don’t box your thinking into one approach; but it’s massively unlikely that Kamara posts a disappointing game, and his upside makes him worth the price if you want to go that route.
The Saints’ roster moves also signal that they are likely to go a little more pass-heavy this week; this gives a further boost to the stock of Drew Brees and Michael Thomas — while the tourney options from this passing attack all remain firmly in play.
(For Reference: Here are the original Saints RB updates, in case you want to dig back into those)