In Part One, I broke down the impact that Mark Ingram’s suspension for PEDs would have on Ingram’s season. In this article, I’ll outline the impact that it will have on the players around him. Namely, Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara.
I did touch on the impact on Boston Scott, Jonathon Williams, and Trey Edmunds briefly in Part One, for those who are looking for it.
Let’s dive in.
Impact on Alvin Kamara’s Fantasy Value
Alvin Kamara was already considered by many, myself included, to be a Top 5 RB. Now that Mark Ingram is set to miss 4 games he could definitely climb even higher. He has some elite RBs to surpass to shoot up the draft board. Can he do it?
With Ingram gone, Kamara will eat up carries and see his TD potential skyrocket. If the Saints do move on from Ingram before most drafts, then Kamara immediately becomes a Top 3 RB for me.
Let’s consider the stats.
Alvin Kamara was on a blistering pace in 2017. Once he broke out in Week 4, he ramped it up gradually over the season. He eventually finished the season with 120 carries for 728 yards (6.1 YPC) and added 81 receptions for 826 yards. Kamara had six straight 100+ yard games and finished with seven 100+ yard games overall. Kamara also out-snapped Ingram over the last 8 games and walked away with the 2018 Rookie of the Year award.
The first argument we usually hear against Kamara is that his results are unsustainable. It would be catching lightning in a bottle if he could recreate what he did in 2017. 6.1 YPC matches the highest mark ever put up by a running back in a season. He found the end zone 13 times on just 203 touches and led the league with 1.559 Fantasy Points per Touch.
Like these arguments point out, that level of efficiency is likely unsustainable.
Except… Alvin Kamara sustained them for a full NFL season, plus playoffs…
Okay, okay. Yes, he will regress. I’m not suggesting he will accomplish another 6.1 YPC season. Nor do I necessarily think he can manage 13 total touchdowns. But he can, and in my opinion, will sustain an elite RB production level. Largely because his number of carries will increase beyond just what he’ll get while Ingram is away.
I think it’s true that the Saints want to feature Kamara, and it’s fair to assume his touches climb. But I doubt that Sean Payton will get him in the type of workhouse role that usually comes with the words “featured back.” Meaning I seriously doubt he will see the 300 carries that some RBs in the NFL get. I think “feature” to Payton means maybe another 4-5 touches per game. That would put Kamara at around 180 touches in 2018. That’s a pretty fair estimate in my opinion, as Kamara has proven his abilities both on the ground and through the air.
For the sake of even the most cynical arguments, let’s pretend that defenses hone in on Kamara, and bring his YPC to 4.5. At 180 touches that’s 810 yards gained, at 200 touches that’s 900 yards. Both of those numbers would be an improvement over his 2017 and would make up for a touchdown or two lost. But I personally think that he’ll be a strong candidate for a YPC north of 5. With New Orleans boasting one of the strongest O-Lines in the league, I don’t think I’m unfair with that statement.
Let’s also consider New Orleans’ schedule. Jeff Ratcliffe (PFF Fantasy) produced the graph below, which outlines each team’s strength of schedule by position.
New Orleans has the 3rd easiest RB schedule in the league, and they get to face two defenses that were in the bottom 10 last season (Tampa, NY Giants) over their first four games.
Then you factor in the passing game. The Saints have invested in some new toys for Drew Brees by getting Cameron Meredith, the drafting of Tre’Quan Smith and bringing Benjamin Watson back. So yes, it could be argued that Kamara will see his receiving ceiling lowered a bit.
But Brees should be able to spread it around, and his passing TD total should absolutely improve, considering that he had his lowest TD total since he was a Charger. Even if Brees does have another season with under 600 pass attempts, he should throw for at least 30 TDs this season. So is it impossible to think that Kamara could equal his 5 receiving TD total from last year? And by extension; isn’t it plausible that he reaches double-digit touchdowns again?
Kamara ranked #1 in DVOA (efficiency). He ranked #1 in Elusiveness (Read the Bonus Stats). He’s a one-man wrecking crew. Kamara was already around the RB5-6. But this Ingram suspension opens him up to all sorts of potential. Despite the regression in YPC; his increased usage, team offense, schedule and overall skill level make him my RB4 at this point.
Impact on Drew Brees’ Fantasy Value
Drew Brees had a relatively disappointing 2017 season fantasy-wise. He attempted 137 fewer passes than in 2016, he put up his worst TD total since he was with the Chargers, and his yardage dropped down by almost 900 yards.
To bounce back, owners will be looking for a season more focused on the passing game. The Saints have seen their Rushing Attempts Per Game total climb in each season over the last 5 years. With the state of their running game now, that figure might just climb higher.
However, the suspension of Mark Ingram does make things intriguing for him at the start of 2018. The Saints have infused their receiving corps with some youth, and some talent. This makes it feasible that the Saints could lean on their passing game more while Ingram is in the press box. Considering Brees has two consecutive seasons of over 70% completion rate, they’d be wise to do so. Brees is still a high-level quarterback despite his age and was just re-signed to a 2-year $50 million deal. So, the Saints believe he’s got the goods to keep up his high level of play.
The biggest plus side that comes from Ingram’s suspension is how the Saints will handle Red Zone work. In 2017, the Saints had 23 rushing touchdowns and 23 passing touchdowns. That 1:1 ratio is an anomaly, especially considering that the Saints gained 4,189 yards through the air and 2,070 on the ground. The Saints opted for the rush more than the pass in the Red Zone, one of only 4 NFL teams to do so in 2017. With Ingram out of the picture and Kamara as the main back, Brees should be able to raise his TD% in a big way over the first 4 weeks as he gets the chance to air it out more often. He’ll have the potential for touch passes and screen passes to Kamara in addition to utilizing his receivers.
Drew Brees could be overlooked going into this season thanks to his TD total in 2017. He was already set to bounce back but the Ingram suspension will help him get off to the right start. He’s being drafted as the QB5-6. That’s precisely where he belongs. I have him as my QB5 at the time of writing.
Overall, this is a huge development in fantasy football. Although I have to say, after the constant drama that came out after last year’s Ezekiel Elliot saga, this is much more straightforward.
Ingram may have damaged his reputation, but he can bounce back once he returns to the field. Kamara will enjoy an uptick in usage, and Drew Brees will get a chance to get the ball in the air. So, monitor the situation, make trade offers, and take advantage of this extra knowledge by going out there and schooling your league-mates.