The New Orleans Saints' passing game is the gift that keeps on giving for fantasy owners. Now heading into their second decade with quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton, the Saints' three top receivers are all age 23 or younger -- Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas. All three of them should be on your fantasy radar.
Here is my analysis of how the Saints’ receivers will fare against ESPN’s projections for 2016:
ESPN Fantasy projection: 87.8 catches, 1,059.3 yards, 6.6 TDs
Over or under: I’m definitely taking the over, since the third-year pro already beat most of those numbers last year in his first full NFL season (84 catches, 1,138 yards and 9 TDs). There is no reason to expect any drop-off from the dynamic speedster, who really started to develop a great rhythm with Brees over the second half of last season. Cooks had 694 yards and 8 TDs over the final nine games, including TD catches of 71, 60, 54, 38 and 26 yards.
Cooks (5-foot-10, 189 pounds) said he has been working to improve his yards after the catch on short passes, since he thinks he should be dynamic in that area with his speed and elusiveness. The Saints spread the ball around a lot, which is why Cooks is in the second tier of fantasy WRs. But he’s a bona fide No. 1 for them.
ESPN Fantasy projection: 67.8 catches, 863.1 yards, 4.4 TDs
Over or under: It doesn’t seem right to take the under on Snead, since the former undrafted free agent blew past expectations last year with 69 catches for 984 yards and 3 TDs in his first NFL season. But this projection seems fair since Thomas appears poised to play a big role in the receiver rotation, which could cut into Snead’s production a little bit.
Snead (5-11, 195) should be a dependable possession receiver with some occasional big plays mixed in -- much like former Saints WR Lance Moore. But he will likely rank fourth in TD catches behind Cooks, Thomas and TE Coby Fleener.
ESPN Fantasy projection: 58.5 catches, 773.9 yards, 6 TDs
Over or under: At this point, the buzz around Thomas is so deafening that he is sure to be drafted too high in just about every fantasy league. So this projection is a good, realistic reminder of what your expectations should be for a rookie in a deep offense. However, Thomas definitely has the potential to go over these numbers, so you should draft him ahead of other mid-round prospects with lower ceilings.
The big, sure-handed, 6-3, 212-pounder should emerge as a red-zone target. But he has also shown the potential to make big plays down the field, with spectacular catches throughout training camp and the first preseason game. Thomas has quickly drawn the trust of Payton and the quarterbacks, who have raved about his talent.
Who else could see time: The buzz has died down around another big young, receiver: Brandon Coleman. He probably doesn’t need to be on your fantasy roster unless one of the top three guys gets hurt. … Undrafted rookie Tommylee Lewis has turned heads with his speed and playmaking ability as a receiver and runner. It’s hard to imagine him getting enough touches to be fantasy-relevant, though.