Welcome to the win column, New Orleans Saints.
Drew Brees returned to the lineup Sunday and led his team to a dramatic 26-20 overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys, and he received some much-needed help from running backs Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller in the process. Fantasy owners who relied on the two playmakers were thrilled, especially after Spiller caught the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime.
Spiller was a force in the passing game, but the same cannot be said about wide receiver Brandin Cooks. He was one of the few downsides for the Saints on Sunday, which likely left some fantasy owners frustrated yet again.
With that in mind, here is a look at the fantasy output and some reactions for the two running backs and Cooks.
Ingram finished with a career-best season in 2014 with 964 rushing yards, 145 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns, but he is on pace to break those yardage numbers this season after four contests.
He has tallied 204 rushing yards and 203 receiving yards this season, although he doesn’t have a touchdown. The lack of scores is concerning, but those will come in an offense that appeared to finally find its footing Sunday after three straight losses to start the season.
Considering last season was the first of Ingram’s career in which he finished with more than 100 receiving yards, it is hard not to be encouraged by what fantasy owners saw in the passing attack against the Cowboys. Ingram is now a featured player when Brees drops back to throw, which makes him a three-down back moving forward who provides more value as a fantasy option.
Ingram is only 25 years old and appears to be getting better each year. He’s added the extra pass-catching dimension to his game, and the Saints will likely rely on Ingram to take some pressure off Brees while the veteran quarterback deals with the nagging shoulder injury that kept him out of the last contest.
Ingram got a heavy workload Sunday (17 carries compared to a combined eight for the rest of the team) and is a must-start in fantasy circles at this point.
Spiller is always going to have a low floor as a running back who doesn’t carry the ball often. In fact, he had only six total carries in the first three games and was third on the team in carries Sunday (2) behind Ingram (17) and Khiry Robinson (six).
However, the ceiling is also high for Spiller with Brees under center because the quarterback has a tendency to spread the ball around to different pass-catchers. Nine different Saints tallied a catch Sunday, and nobody had more than eight targets. If Spiller is open, Brees will find him.
Spiller’s speed and ability to make defenders look helpless in space make him valuable in the passing game out of the backfield, as fans saw on the critical overtime play against Dallas:
Still, this game was an aberration, based on what we’ve seen from Spiller this season. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the 80-yard reception was the longest catch of his career, and it drastically inflated his fantasy value. Had Zach Hocker made his game-winning field-goal attempt at the end of regulation, Spiller would have never gotten the opportunity to make that play, and his day would have been pedestrian, at best.
Sunday was the first impressive showing for Spiller after an injury-plagued 2014, and it was largely thanks to a broken play. Wait to see if the production becomes a pattern before you insert him into your lineup.
The one downside to Brees spreading the ball around comes when you’re relying on the presumed top option in the passing attack.
It is hard not to walk away disappointed with Sunday’s effort from a fantasy standpoint when it comes to Cooks, and he has yet to catch a touchdown or top 79 receiving yards in an individual game this season.
Despite the absence of monster stats for Cooks, now is the time to buy low if you are looking to add receiver depth to your lineup. Owners are likely frustrated by the lack of production, but he still led the team with eight targets Sunday and possesses the game-breaking speed that made him a fantasy darling before the season began.
The target numbers alone indicate Brees has not lost trust in Cooks, and the Saints defense was 27th in the league in points allowed per game entering play Sunday. That means New Orleans will be forced to throw a number of times this year after its defense allows an early lead, and Brees will look toward Cooks as a potential No. 1 option.
The numbers are bound to improve, which makes Cooks an intriguing trade target after some early struggles.
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