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Handling the Saints Offense After Drew Brees' Injury


As if we hadn't had enough of quarterback injuries after the news of Ben Roethlisberger's season-ending elbow surgery, Drew Brees joined the injury-party of Week 2 with an injury to his right thumb after hitting Aaron Donald while in throwing motion during the first quarter of New Orleans' game against the Rams.

A simple visit to the bench was followed by a game-long stay in the sideline (where he couldn't even grip the ball), a meeting with a hand specialist in Los Angeles, later confirmation of ligament damage, and ultimately surgery coming this Wednesday. All in all, Brees will miss six to eight weeks of football and return most probably in Week 10 against Atlanta after New Orleans' bye week. The only good news is that he won't be placed on Injured Reserve, which opens the door for a sooner return.

Although Brees' injury will not be as tough to overcome as that of Big Ben, Brees will still miss ample time and lend the reigns of the Saints to veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater. It's time to take a look at this offense and assess how this injury will impact the different players that are part of the group going forward.

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Quarterbacks

Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill

The main player affected by Brees' injury is obviously his backup quarterback. In the short time he saw the field replacing Brees against the Rams, Bridgewater didn't look that bad. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 165 yards (57% ratio), but couldn't score through the air. Actually, he relied on mid-short passes more than anything in his short outing (only eight attempts of 10+ yards, to 22 attempts of 1-to-10 yards downfield).

As a starter for Minnesota in 2014 and 2015, he played 29 games. His 15.5 PPR/Game, although not bad, ranked him last among the 20 quarterbacks to start at least 25 games between those two seasons. He also had the lowest amount of passing yards and his TD/Int ratio was a worrying 1.33 (28-to-21 overall).

With Teddy Bridgewater comes also Taysom Hill, don't forget about him. Bridgewater has been deemed the starting quarterback following Brees' injury, but Hill can take on passer tasks on top of receiver/runner/returner/anything New Orleans asks him to do.

Obviously, Hill doesn't come even close to what Bridgewater has accomplished as the leading quarterback of his teams in 2014 and 2015, but he's still a multi-use weapon to have around, more in real life than fantasy football though.

Fantasy Impact

The New Orleans Saints made Bridgewater the highest-paid backup QB of the NFL recently. They trust him going forward, and he will need to seize this opportunity to show he would be capable to take on QB1 duties once Brees retires for good. He will have more than six weeks to prove his value. That said, Bridgewater isn't someone you should consider as your weekly starter.

If you happened to have Brees (or any other injured/underperforming quarterback in your fantasy team), or are following a streaming strategy, Bridgewater could be a nice option depending on the matchup. He doesn't offer much upside on the passing game, but he has a good group of offensive players around him and has historically shown prowess scrambling.

In the case of Hill, I would not consider getting him on the roster at this point at all. Even though HC Sean Payton has declared that both Bridgewater and Hill may share duties in Week 3, I'll have to see it to believe it. If that happens to be the case, then I'd definitely consider Bridgewater a strong candidate to fade in 100 percent of cases. Not only isn't he too good of a quarterback, but in a timeshare such as that and losing playing time to Hill, he would just turn into a near-zero value. In Hill's terms, it would obviously boost his production by giving him more opportunities to rack fantasy points up, but same as with Bridgewater, overall his upside would be cut just because of the split with the other QB.

 

Wide Receivers

Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'Quan Smith

These are New Orleans most-targeted receivers through the first two weeks of the season and will keep at it going forward. With every quarterback change, a bump down in performance must be immediately expected from the receiver corps. After all, Brees ranked first in Comp% and QBR in 2018, while Bridgewater's never was better than the 15th-best QB in Comp% and his QBR in 2015 ranked 23rd among starters. So, before you keep reading, lower your expectations on any of the aforementioned receivers at least a bit.

Michael Thomas has received 37% of the Saints' QB throws and leads the team with 26 targets. He has already logged 41.2 PPR points in two weeks and that pace per game is virtually the same he put up last year, although he has yet to score a touchdown. Ted Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith are the other two most-targeted receivers of the attack. They have 12 targets between them and an unsustainable 100% catch rate. The underlying numbers tell another story: Ginn wasn't targeted at all in Week 2 (0.0 PPR), and Smith could miss time to injury after exiting the game against the Rams early.

Fantasy Impact

The group most affected by a QB going down is the receivers. The good thing for Michael Thomas owners is that he is the clear go-to option in the offense when it comes to the passing game. Bridgewater (although not a rookie nor inexperienced at all) is going to play the safe way most of the time as the backup he is. He will often look for the best player on the field, and that happens to be Thomas. Will Thomas lower his production? Sure. Will he fall below the low-end WR1 or high-end WR2 tier? Not at all. Keep playing him as your stud WR, he won't disappoint.

Ted Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith are completely different stories. Both of them are carrying efficiency numbers that are just unrealistic. They will most probably lose even more targets to Thomas and TE Jared Cook than they have already. I don't think either Smith or Ginn made it to your roster on draft day, although if you took a gamble on them with a late-round pick you could probably think about cutting them and try to get them later in the season as one-off stream options if they face a good matchup while sitting on the waiver wire.

 

Running Backs

Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray

Perhaps the biggest impact of Brees' injury is the one affecting the running game of the Saints. Kamara is an elite-level player at the RB position, but a lot of his value comes from the receiving numbers he can post up. If you look at the table in the last section, you can see how he is the second in targets this season over three natural receivers. In 2018, Kamara finished with the fifth-most receiving yards among RB while only 18th in rushing yards.

Latavius Murray is the clear RB2 of the offense, and his opportunities are obviously limited by the presence of a stud in Kamara. Even with that, he has also been part of the receiving game and rushed for an average of almost 5.0 Y/Att.

Fantasy Impact

Believe it or not, I'm of the opinion that Kamara's stock could be heavily hurt by flipping Brees for Bridgewater. Kamara will keep running on a heavy workload, that is not the problem. The issue I have with his new situation is that if you remove the receiving production from his game he becomes a low-end RB2 at best. His receiving stats accounted for 50% of his PPR points for the season. I'm not saying he won't see passes during the remaining 14 weeks, but he could be heavily downgraded. Bridgewater will hand him the ball, sure, but he didn't throw him a pass in Week 2 and will probably look for other options (WR/TE) instead of passing to the tailback.

As for Murray, his stock and upside remain the same. He will remain on a low-usage profile while seeing the random pass here and there. If you could find a tasty trade for Kamara I would explore it. Don't trade him away for peanuts, but try to make an intelligent move that offers you a solid, non-QB dependent floor player for him.

 

Tight End

Jared Cook

Some people thought the addition of Jared Cook signaled an important role coming the tight end's way, but I always had my doubts. Through two weeks his 10.2 PPR points rank 25th in his position - and as with most tight ends out there barring the you-know-whos, Cook is a complete boom-or-bust bet.

In 2018, Cook had a season for the ages in a bare-bones Raiders offense where Derek Carr had no more options than relying on him on a weekly basis. Even with that, Cook finished the year with five games in which he scored 15 or more PPR, and with another four in which he couldn't even reach 5 PPR.

Fantasy Impact

Backup quarterbacks tend to try and get the easy completions often. That means Cook could see a good amount of targets from Bridgewater, and he may try to find him more than others. Cook was a short-to-mid route runner in Oakland (8.3 Air Yards per Target in 2018), and you can expect that to repeat this season. His stock won't rise a lot, but he will keep getting passes and giving some 5.0 PPR-floor to his owners. Definitely not a weekly option as TE1, but a good bet to stream along the way in good matchups.

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