Fantasy football managers with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith on their teams are rejoicing, as quarterback Drew Brees is set to return to action Sunday.
Head coach Sean Payton announced Friday Brees will start Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs after doctors cleared him from a collapsed lung and multiple broken ribs, which forced him to miss the past four games.
While the Saints went 3-1 in those games with Taysom Hill under center, there is no question that Kamara and the Saints' pass-catchers were less productive than usual.
Kamara was a must-start player regardless, but with Brees back in the fold, he is poised to return to elite status at a key point in the fantasy football playoffs, while Sanders and Smith could be playable as well.
Kamara and the Saints wideouts figure to receive a significant boost provided Brees is fully healthy and uninhibited Sunday, but Kamara is the player who figures to benefit most.
In nine games with Brees as the starter this season, Kamara was the best player in fantasy football. Once Hill stepped in, however, he became fairly ordinary.
Paul Hembekides of ESPN's Get Up provided a breakdown of the difference between Kamara's production with and without Brees:
As pointed out by Hembekides, the biggest change when Hill was under center was the fact that Kamara was essentially a nonfactor as a receiver, whereas he averaged over seven catches and 72 receiving yards per game with Brees.
Brees is the most accurate passer in NFL history, and one of the biggest reasons for that is his willingness to dump the ball off to his running backs when there is nothing open further downfield.
Kamara has been the beneficiary this season and throughout his career, which is why he has been such a huge player in point-per-reception leagues.
Additionally, Kamara finally started to come around last week with seven catches for 44 yards, plus 50 yards and a score on the ground, so he should be primed to continue that positive momentum with Brees back in the lineup.
Fantasy managers should have no issue deploying Kamara this week and expecting RB1-level production in return.
Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith
Fantasy managers with Saints No. 1 receiver Michael Thomas on their team were likely thrilled when news of Brees' return broke, but that excitement quickly turned to disappointment.
Thomas did not practice this week due to an ankle injury, and the team has ruled him out for Sunday's game against Kansas City.
As a result, Sanders and Smith will be elevated and serve as the Saints' clear top-two wide receivers in the contest.
Neither Sanders nor Smith has been hugely productive this season, but they have both put up some solid numbers at various points.
In his first season in New Orleans, Sanders ranks second on the team behind Kamara in both receptions (44) and receiving yardage (504). He is also tied with Kamara and Smith for second with four touchdown receptions behind only tight end Jared Cook.
Meanwhile, Smith has registered 33 grabs for 423 yards in addition to the four touchdowns.
Between Sanders and Smith, Sanders was more productive when Brees was starting at quarterback earlier this season.
In seven games with Brees as the starter, Sanders averaged 4.4 catches and 49.6 yards per game, while scoring a total of three touchdowns.
Smith, in nine games with Brees, averaged 2.9 grabs for 33.9 yards and also scored three total touchdowns.
Sanders is the more experienced and reliable player, and he figures to be Brees' top target among wide receivers in the game with Smith settling in as the No. 2.
Because of that, Sanders is likely worth a flex or WR3 start in fantasy, while Smith is a bigger risk in either of those roles.