32 for 32: Drew Brees is Not Dead Yet
For the first time in 12 years, Drew Brees failed to finish as a top-10 quarterback. He finished as the 11th quarterback in 2017, snapping a decade-long streak where his worst fantasy finish was QB6. It’s odd to see a player as consistent at Brees underperform his preseason expectations, but there are several mitigating factors to take into account while evaluating Brees’ highly anomalous 2017.
Decline in Pass Volume
After seven consecutive seasons of 650 or more pass attempts, the Saints’ offense embraced a run-heavy approach in 2017. They led for 52.4 percent of their offensive possessions, and as a result, Brees only aired out 537 passes last season.
Despite his decline in pass volume, Brees led the NFL in yards/attempt last season and posted a career-high 72 percent completion percentage (paPCT). However, the reduced volume, coupled with a dip in touchdown rate (4.3 percent) resulted in his worst fantasy finish since 2007.
Taking a look at the play-calling splits when the Saints got into the red zone, we see Brees threw only 17 touchdowns. The lack of red zone passing volume dampened Brees’ upside, and as a result, he posted a near career-worst 1.0 fantasy points below expectation.
Despite being nearly 40 years old, Brees was incredibly efficient at all depths in 2017. Thanks to the work done by Josh Hermsmeyer, we can easily visualize just how efficient Brees was in comparison to his NFL peers. Utilizing Brees’ Passing Air Conversion Ratio (PACR, the most predictive passing metric we have for quantifying QB passing efficiency), we see Brees was better at nearly every depth of target with a clean pocket.
Additionally, Brees was tremendous on passes that traveled 20 yards or more last season, which are high-value passes for fantasy purposes.
The charts above indicate Brees is still one of the top QBs in the NFL.
What Needs To Change?
It’s highly unlikely the Saints’ defense will be able to replicate the success they experienced in 2017. They finished sixth in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, a feat they last accomplished in 2013. Poor injury luck could deplete the Saints’ talented defense, resulting in the need for Brees to attempt more passes in order to remain competitive.
Alternatively, a more difficult upcoming strength of schedule should ensure that Brees ends up attempting more passes in 2018. Per their 2018 Pythagorean Strength of Schedule, the Saints appear to have the fifth-toughest schedule. Facing tougher competition should lead to passing-friendly game scripts, which should be a boon for Brees’ fantasy value.
Taking a look at the weapons Brees has as we head into 2018, his supporting cast is among the best it’s been over the last five seasons. The addition of Benjamin Watson should help offset the loss of Coby Fleener.
The Backup Situation
If you’re familiar with 2QB leagues, you already know that scouting depth charts for viable backups can give you an advantage when injuries hit. However, there is no gold to be mined here. Tom Savage is currently penciled in as Brees’ backup, and will not be a viable fantasy option assuming he’s forced into the starting role. Savage has completed a meager 57.5 percent of his 315 pass attempts, and has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5).
However, it’s unlikely that Brees suffers a season-ending injury. Over the last two seasons, the Saints’ offensive line has graded out as a top-five pass blocking unit, per Football Outsiders. Provided that the Saints keep Brees upright and prevent him from taking multiple hard hits, it’s safe to assume Savage will not see the field this season.
Drew Brees Is Undervalued
Taking a quick look at the May ADP for 2QB redraft leagues, Brees is currently being drafted as the seventh quarterback off the board. Considering we likely saw Brees’ floor last season, there is plenty of upside in his draft cost. Given that Brees is surrounded by a very talented supporting cast, it’s likely he finishes as a top-five QB again, provided game script is in his favor. He makes for a high-floor/high-ceiling selection, and allows you to pair him with a more volatile passer later in your draft.
Oh, and don’t shy away from drafting Brees in dynasty leagues either. Much like Tom Brady, Brees will likely play at least another two seasons and should return high-end QB1 numbers for your dynasty squad. Brees’ dynasty ADP indicates he’s available at a steep discount, and it’s a price that savvy dynasty players are looking to exploit during their start-up drafts. He likely doesn’t hold much in the way of trade value, but Brees will pay back your faith by guiding you toward the fantasy promised land.