2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Drew Brees
Drew Brees is a beast. We could stop right there and nothing more would really need to be said. No one would present much of an argument, or at least an argument that could hold much weight.
Brees isn’t your normal beast. He’s not a beast like Jimmy Graham is a beast, or like J.J. Watt. He doesn’t tower over people, making ridiculous catches, use his elite athleticism or hulk over opponents and crush them with his mind’s eye. But he is still a beast, nonetheless.
A beast in every sense for the real life NFL, to be sure, but a beast on a whole different level when it comes to fantasy football. Then again, when it comes to his insane stats, they might as well be one and the same. They might as well be measured together, as well.
With head coach Sean Payton back into the fold last season, Brees put up numbers as if Payton was never gone, as if Brees wasn’t 34 years old and as if his supporting cast was starting to regress.
Yes, despite clear signs of aging from receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, as well as running back Darren Sproles, Brees still rose up and took care of business.
That resulted in an NFL record fourth season of 5,000+ passing yards, as well as his third straight season with at least 39 passing touchdowns. But Brees wasn’t really doing anything against the norm since he’s been with the Saints. New Orleans went 11-5 and was right back in the playoff picture (heck, they even won a road game in the wild card round), but Brees was really just doing what he’s always done.
Even without Payton there to lend a helping hand in 2012, Brees still put up over 5,000 passing yards and 43 touchdowns.
Payton clearly makes Brees better, however, so it was no surprise to see Brees ditch his 63% completion rate and 19 interceptions from 2012 and get back to being a more efficient player in 2013 (68% completion rate and just 12 picks).
A lot of that had to do with Payton and New Orleans re-committing to the rushing game. Payton admitted that the Saints could and did fall a little bit too much in love with what they were good at, and passed more than they should have in certain situations.
While they said that, it didn’t necessarily translate to the field in 2013, as Brees passed for just 20 fewer pass attempts (650) than he had the year before without Payton (670).
However, Payton’s thoughts that were put out in the open could possibly have been foreshadowing. With Brees now 35 and the Saints clearly struggling to win games on the road, the team has come to the realization that, at least to a certain degree, that they might want to start preparing for those days when Brees isn’t as good as he once was. Translation: the Saints may want to incorporate the running game even more in an effort to get more balanced.
Becoming more balanced would get the Saints back to the type of team they were back in 2009. In 2009 the Saints won their first ever Super Bowl, and strangely enough, it was the only season of Brees’ in New Orleans where he passed for under 636 pass attempts. In fact, it was well below that mark, as he threw the ball just 514 times. The Saints were still able to fully utilize Brees, though, as he still topped 4,300 passing yards and threw 33 touchdowns, but tossed just 11 interceptions and completed over 70% of his passes.
Sure, the Saints could easily march into 2014 and throw caution to the wind and let Brees sling it all year. They’ve done it every other time, putting up insane numbers and usually getting enough wins to reach the playoffs. But the point Payton and co. just might be getting at could be that it doesn’t offer longevity for Brees or the Saints, and it certainly lacks balance.
Running and gunning actually exploits the Saints as a whole on offense, forcing Brees to be on top of his game throughout each contest. This means he needs to be efficient, make big plays routinely and also not turn the ball over. With defenses as good and as fast as ever, protecting the ball is getting more difficult, while road games are rarely won with the road team coming in and firing the ball all over the field.
Instead, Brees could be asked more often to be more of a game manager, to simply take what the defense gives him and lean a little more on the three-headed rushing attack of Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas.
Another clue that the Saints could be ready to ditch their pass-happy ways is the fact that they traded away versatile offensive weapon, Darren Sproles. Sproles was naturally regressing with age in 2013, but his personal regression and the Saints wanting to switch things up could have potentially led to the change. The fact that the Saints traded Sproles away with no real replacement on the roster could be an even bigger clue.
What happens in this year’s NFL Draft could tell us all we need to know, of course. If the Saints chase down an electric, versatile player like Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas or Kent State running back Dri Archer, they it’s entirely possible we’ve been taken for a ride. Suddenly, the Saints would have a younger, more athletic Sproles to toss into their system. Suddenly, all that talk of an aging Drew Brees needing to lighten his load would probably make anyone suggesting it look pretty foolish.
In the end, Drew Brees is going to do what Sean Payton asks of him. If that means scaling things back, balancing the offense out and seeing his numbers take a hit, he’ll do it. But the guy is 35, not dead. If the Saints aren’t changing a thing, Brees is still more than good enough to get the job done, slinging it 40+ times a game.
If that’s what the Saints want to do, then Brees will once again be right up there with the best quarterbacks in the fantasy game. We don’t know for sure what the Saints are planning. All we can do is look at the facts and note the possibility of the team switching things up to make sure they’re as competitive as possible.
However, until that becomes abundantly clear, we can’t treat Brees any differently than we have been in fantasy football. And that means that he’s still a top-level QB1 and a real threat to once again find himself among the top two or three quarterbacks in fantasy football.