After a long and cold offseason, eventual Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson has a new home in New Orleans.
Per various media reports, the Saints have inked 32-year-old Peterson to a two-year deal worth $7M total ($3.5M/year). Mark Ingram is due $3.7M in 2017. For only comparison’s sake, new-Patriot Mike Gillislee just signed a two-year offer sheet worth $6.4M.
While the narrative, for some reason, still exists that Peterson “isn’t human” and can play through anything, the simple fact remains: Father Time is undefeated. All Day may still have a little juice in the tank, but he’ll have to overcome yet another knee injury (meniscus) and his career-worst season to-date in his new home in the South.
Peterson was stopped for fewer than two yards on 65% of his 37 carries in 2016, which is miles below his 2015 (46.1% of carries stopped for two or fewer yards) and 2013 (45.5%) rates. It may be a small sample of basically two games worth of carries, but there is no denying that Peterson—when healthy—was not his usual self in 2016.
However, Peterson’s new team does have a much rosier outlook in their trenches. In 2016, the Saints’ allowed the second-fewest percentage of team carries to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage while the Vikes’ gave up the seventh-most “stuffed” runs.
Still, fantasy football boils down to one key reoccurring theme: Opportunity. Let’s see where Peterson may stand with the Saints.
Slicing the Saints’ Pie
Over the past five years, the Saints’ backfield has been a bastion of fantasy excellence in a PPR light. In fact, as a team, New Orleans running backs have ranked 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 1st in PPR points among all NFL squads. That is absurd dominance and consistency for a volatile league.
In Peterson’s case, his slice of the pie may be a bit smaller. All Day has certainly delivered some epic seasons on the ground, but the main rub with his playing style is that he’s never been much of a receiver. That’s obviously a key tenant of not only being a PPR threat in today’s NFL, but it’s also a major part of the Saints’ offensive attack.
Over the past five years, Saints’ backs have ranked 1st, 4th, 1st, 1st, and 1st in cumulative team receptions at the position.
Adrian Peterson has never caught more than 2.7 balls per game in a full-year and actually has four full, healthy campaigns in which he’s caught fewer than two passes per game. Only 20.9% of Peterson’s career PPR output has been derived via the passing game while 52.2% of the Saints backfield’s PPR output came via Brees’ right arm alone in 2016.
As always, Peterson will have to make most of his living on the ground. While the Saints’ do love to air it out—New Orleans has ranked 3rd, 4th, 6th, 5th, and 3rd in pass play percentage over the last five seasons—they also love to pound the rock with Brees under center.
It may surprise some that 80.8% of Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower’s cumulative carries came with Brees under center in 2016. Throughout the course of his career, 94.6% of Peterson’s attempts have been with a quarterback either in I-Formation or in a Singleback set. While Peterson probably won’t receive much of the Saints’ PPR upside in the passing game, New Orleans can still do what Peterson is most comfortable with: Pound the rock.
Even though Saints’ HC Sean Payton is effectively signaling he has no intention of using Ingram as a lead-back, Mark Ingram still has value in the Saints’ offense as a receiver (and rusher). Ingram (12.8 attempts/game) effectively split time with Tim Hightower (8.3 attempts/game) and still managed to finish as a top-12 (RB1) in PPR points per contest for the third-straight year in 2016.
At this point of the offseason with training camp still a good distance away, it is probably best to assume Ingram will lead the Saints’ duo in receiving while Peterson and Ingram both split carries close to equally. Peterson is nearing the twilight of his career and may be best used as a role player instead of a centerpiece while Ingram has derived 43.1% of his total PPR output over the past two seasons from the receiving game.
Figuring out the Saints’ backfield is never an easy endeavor, but because the fantasy pie is so large—and because Ingram can excel as a receiver—there is enough room for two backs to co-exist in New Orleans.
Post-Draft Update (5/4/2017)
The NFL Draft came and went and the Saints have added yet another back to their already convoluted rotation. With the 67th pick in the third-round, the Saints acquired Tennessee's Alvin Kamara. In honesty, Kamara was a tough running back to nail down in the pre-draft process. Because of the Vols' spread scheme that utilized rarely-used outside power-concepts from the shotgun mixed with Kamara's small-sample of 103 carries in his final year, there was not a litany of "usable" rushing plays in his game log.
However, in a perfect marriage of scheme fit, Kamara was one of the best receiving backs in the 2017 class.
I noted in my 2017 Yards Created breakdown that there was no denying that Kamara is a strong receiver. In fact, Kamara was split out wide as a receiver on nearly 20% of his routes and was utilized heavily in the passing game while at Tennessee in 2016. Among the 14 running backs in the Yards Created sample, only Christian McCaffrey (18%) accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s receiving yardage in 2016 than Alvin Kamara (15%). What’s more, Kamara was fourth—by a small margin—in receiving yards/game amongst the bunch. Joe Mixon led all backs in the 2017 class with 44.8 receiving yards/game while Dalvin Cook (37.5), Jeremy McNichols (36.5), and Kamara (35.6) followed suit.
Likely filling a similar role that former-Saints' Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles once inhabited, Kamara should immediately compete for snaps as New Orleans' pass-catching dynamo back. Fortunately for Kamara—and perhaps unforunately for Mark Ingram, who was likely holding on to receptions to keep his fantasy floor afloat—that role has historically had a ton of value.
Our own Joe Dolan noted that from 2007-2013, Bush and Sproles combined for four top-12 finishes in PPR points/game. With Drew Brees at the controls, Reggie Bush finished as the RB6 (2007) and RB10 (2008), Pierre Thomas caught 39 passes en route to a RB17 finish in 2009, both Bush and Thomas battled through injuries in 2010, but Darren Sproles ripped of RB11 (2011) and RB8 (2012) finishes to continue the role's dominance.
While I maintain that he has issues that need to be addressed as a runner, the Saints—from both a scheme and fantasy perspective—is an excellent fit for Kamara. As noted in the original article above, over the past five years the Saints’ backfield has combined to rank 1st, 4th, 1st, 1st, and 1st in team receptions at the position. Amazingly, since Drew Brees became a Saint in 2006 -- New Orleans has finished inside of the top-4 in the league in team running back receptions. That's unreal; and it's perfect for Alvin Kamara.