Saints pressing fantasy questions: Picking sides in the heated AP-Ingram debate

Questions remain on whether Adrian Peterson will be Drew Brees’ primary RB. (AP)
3-Point Stance: “Experts” don’t see eye to eye on Snead

As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Monday’s topic: The New Orleans Saints

The Saints backfield is similar to the surrounding swamps – dark and murky. Pick your poison: Adrian Peterson (80.3 ADP, RB32) or Mark Ingram (64.2, RB24)?

Liz – INGRAM. I’ll take the back who can catch, please. Drew Brees loves to pepper his RBs with passes. In fact, the Saints targeted their cadre of running backs through the air more than any other team in the league last year (125 total looks). Since making this tweak in offensive philosophy, Ingram’s catch total has risen dramatically, averaging between 3 and 4.5 receptions per game over the last two seasons.

Peterson, on the other hand, has never notched more than 2.5 grabs per contest. That’s not to say his skill set can’t evolve (as Ingram’s did), but after attaining the highest level of success over the last decade primarily as a power rusher, it’s going to take some time to establish new habits and build a rapport with Brees. With the strong-handed rookie Alvin Kamara also in the mix, Peterson’s opportunities appear to be limited. Versatility and experience with the team give Ingram the edge, which is why I have him ranked seven spots ahead of AP.

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Brad –  INGRAM. Dissed. Disrespected. Crotch kicked. Whichever way one describes it, the disdain toward Ingram isn’t warranted. On his and Peterson’s respective career arcs, is incumbent owns the most pizzazz. Last year, in a campaign in which he combined for nearly 1,400 yards and double-digit scores, he tucked inside the top-12 in several advanced categories – breakaway percentage (RB11), elusive rating (RB4) and fantasy points per snap (RB8). He also averaged a dynamite 4.7 yards per carry against base fronts (7 men in the box). A superior pass catcher and effective grinder near the goal-line, Ingram is unquestionably the most complete RB on roster.

The hyperbole emanating from the bayou suggests Peterson is suddenly bright-eyed and springy again. However, I’m not buying any of the “he looks like the AP of old” nonsense. Yes, he’s an athletic freak, but he’s on the wrong side of 30, couldn’t catch a lightly tossed pillow from five yards away and owns a very high odometer reading (2,659 career touches). There’s no guarantee he locks down the primary red-zone role or even sniffs his advertised 500 receiving-yards goal.

How Ingram, Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara mesh in training camp and the Preseason will provide owners a glimpse of possible distribution when the real bullets fly. For now, it’s a complete guessing game which back, if any, will own the upper hand week-to-week. Stabbing in the dark, Ingram nets 12-14 touches per game, Peterson 11-13 and Kamara, mostly via the air, 5-7. Recall since 2014, Saints RBs averaged 31 touches per game (8 of those coming on receptions).

It’s complicated, but Ingram is the appropriate back to target, especially at a slashed price. Expect an RB2-level return in 12-team leagues operating behind an elite run-blocking line (No. 1 per PlayerProfiler in ’16).

At their current average draft positions are Michael Thomas (14.1 ADP, WR7) and Willie Snead (55.8 ADP, WR30) OVERVALUED, UNDERVALUED or PROPERLY VALUED in .5 PPR?

Brad –  SLIGHTLY UNDERVALUED. Drafting at the turn this year is highly attractive. Grabbing a cornerstone RB (e.g. Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi or Devonta Freeman) then snagging Thomas on the comeback is a sturdy foundation. Yes, Brees does spread the wealth – Jimmy Graham totaled the most targets of any player (149) during the Brees era in 2011 – but a workload increase into the 20-22 percent targets share range (140 looks in total) is achievable for the sophomore. That occurs and he’s sure to improve on last year’s rookie breakout. Thomas is incredibly efficient (76.0 catch%) and totaled a robust 9.4 yards per target in 2016. For those reasons, I like him more than Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. #TeamHuevos

OVERVALUED. Someone please explain to me the fascination with Snead. I understand he’s a dependable slot guy who should see more targets, but, in standard formats, he’s a fringe top-36 receiver at best. It’s idiotic to suddenly expect a TD metamorphosis. The past two seasons he ranked No. 94 and No. 90 respectively in red-zone targets percentage. Candidly, he’s a possession, between-the-20s weapon who will only uptick modestly in receptions and yards. If you’re into bang for the buck, his teammate, Ted Ginn (131.4 ADP, WR53), is the more appropriate option – drops and all. Listen to this fantasy Lorax. Everyone doesn’t need a Snead. FF: 79-974-5

Liz –  PROPERLY VALUED. Thomas’ rookie campaign was impressive to say the least, leading the team in targets (121) and effectively ousting Brandin Cooks from the No. 1 WR spot. Drew Brees’ favorite target in the red area of the field, seven of the Buckeye’s nine scores came on end-zone throws. While his depth of target may not be elite (Brandin Cooks averaged 4.6 more yards per target than Thomas), he figures to receive the bulk of the team’s high-value opportunities. FF: 90-1,152-10

UNDERVALUED. A gutty slot receiver who averaged over 12 fantasy points per game in PPR formats last year, Snead figures to see an increased role with Brandin Cooks now in New England. With over 100 targets up for grabs, and on an offense that’s averaged over 400 passing yards per game for three years straight, Snead could easily catch 80 balls in 2017. He’s a WR2 for fantasy purposes and a bargain in the seventh round of 12-team exercises.

“Christmas Poo” Drew made a guest appearance in Weeks 13 and 14 last season, the first time since 2007 Brees failed to find the end-zone in consecutive games. Focusing on the present, OVER or UNDER 34.5 passing touchdowns for the future HOFer.

Liz – OVER. Wagering on a player’s physical demise – without statistical evidence – is like assuming THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK won’t be as good as A NEW HOPE because sequels always disappoint. The supposition is generally true, but franchise outliers (like Tom Brady, Tony Gonzalez and, yes, Drew Brees) consistently challenge the norm.

Last year, the Saints’ signal caller had the second best completion percentage (70%) of any QB in the league. Even more impressive, he had the best deep ball completion percentage (51.4%) in the NFL. Noting Brees’ consistency (he’s cleared 33 scores every year since 2008) in tandem with the team’s porous defense (ranked among the bottom four in terms of efficiency by metrics site Football Outsiders) the 38-year-old should continue to ball out. He’s a consensus top-four pick heading into 2017.

Brad – OVER. When Brees entered the league in 2001, the Rickey Henderson of defensive backs, Darrell Green, who is now 57 and could probably still out-sprint beer-fed twenty-somethings, was on an NFL roster. Over 66,000 yards and 220 passing touchdowns later, Brees himself is the poster boy for longevity. One of the original kings of consistency, the signal caller hasn’t finished outside the position’s top-10 in 14 seasons. Showing no signs of slowing down and again backed by a suspect defense, he possesses one of the highest floors imaginable. The proposed number is hefty and he’s gone under it two of the past three years, but there’s no reason to bet against a 35-37 TD contribution.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF