The New Orleans Saints lost their season-opening game to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, 35-34, but fantasy football players relying on their passing attack were not disappointed.
Quarterback Drew Brees racked up a head-turning 423 passing yards and four touchdown throws, three of which went to Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. As long as fantasy players had Cooks and Snead and not tight end Coby Fleener in their lineups, they were likely pleased with Sunday’s outcome.
Here is a look at the stats for the three pass-catchers:
|Saints Pass-Catchers: Sunday Stats|
|Player||Catches||Targets||Receiving Yards||Touchdown Catches|
Eight different Saints players were targeted on Sunday, so it’s clear Brees won’t hesitate to spread the love this season when he drops back to throw. That is something of a concern for fantasy players banking on critical performances from the wide receivers, but Cooks has a track record to fall back on in addition to his showing on Sunday.
He was tied with Snead with a team-high nine targets against the Raiders and led the Saints with 1,138 receiving yards last year. He also hauled in nine touchdown catches in 2015, which was a drastic jump from the solid 550 receiving yards and three touchdown catches he posted in his rookie season in 2014.
Cooks appears to be hitting his prime in his third year, and his big-play ability shone through with a 98-yard touchdown catch. That type of speed will likely lead to plenty of yards after the catch and game-changing plays this season.
There is an obvious rapport between Cooks and Brees that won’t fade even if rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas cuts into his target totals as he becomes more familiar with the offense.
Snead doesn’t have the name familiarity of Cooks, but his performance on Sunday didn’t come out of nowhere. He racked up 984 receiving yards and three touchdowns last year, and only Cooks had more receiving yards in 2015 for the Saints.
Don’t expect 172 yards from Snead every week, but there should be enough targets to go around for Cooks, Thomas and Snead as the year progresses in New Orleans.
For one, Brees has attempted more than 600 passes in eight of the last nine seasons and demonstrated on Sunday his willingness to throw all game has not faded as he enters his 16th campaign.
Plus, the Saints defense that finished dead last in the league in points allowed per game last year struggled again in Sunday’s loss. Brees and the offense will likely have to account for the lackluster defense all season, which means plenty of passing attempts in comeback mode.
Don’t hesitate to start Cooks and Snead with those factors playing a role every week.
In theory, that should benefit Fleener as well, but he was essentially invisible on Sunday with one catch on four targets. There was optimism surrounding Fleener heading into the season because he is no longer sharing tight end responsibilities with Dwayne Allen on the Indianapolis Colts.
What’s more, Brees often has chemistry with tight ends considering Benjamin Watson was third on the team with 825 receiving yards last year, and Jimmy Graham notched a combined 4,396 receiving yards and 46 touchdown catches from 2011 to 2014 with New Orleans.
It is far too early to give up on Fleener with that tight end history looming, but Sunday’s performance was not an encouraging sign. He did have 774 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2014, so he could be due for a bounce-back against the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons in the next two games.
According to Football Outsiders, the Giants ranked 27th in the league against tight ends last year. The Falcons were a solid sixth, but they did finish the 2015 season a middling 18th in the league against the pass.
Keep Fleener in your lineup for now, but don’t hesitate to move him to the bench if he struggles to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him the next two weeks.