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This is the only certainty surrounding the New Orleans Saints' quarterback room -- Drew Brees is gone. Jameis Winston is still there. So is Taysom Hill, but who will wind up the starter is unknown? What is known is that depending on who starts, certain players will benefit, and others will falter.
Both of these quarterbacks bring a different talent to the field. While Winston brings a better passing ability and veteran presence, Hill brings his distinct rushing ability to make things happen with his legs. Knowing these factors, it is time to look at the offensive weapons in New Orleans and decide something. Whose fantasy value benefits from Winston and which might prefer to have Hill. What can we expect from them with each player behind center?
If Jameis Winston Starts
One thing we know about Winston: He has never seen a pass he was unwilling to throw. This, in many ways, is a good thing. The offense will be able to move down the field and score. In other ways, it can be a bad thing. The last time he started and used this philosophy, he became the first and only member of the 30/30 club. While the 36 touchdowns were great, the 31 interceptions were not. This makes Winston a scary play for any Saints fans out there. He will make things exciting. His ability and willingness to throw the ball down the field will bring back a dimension to the offense missing the last few years under Drew Brees. The only issue is that the Saints are still built to play under a passer like Brees.
It’s been a long time since Ted Ginn Jr Jr. was in town. Since his time, we have seen a lack of downfield production from the litany of players New Orleans has put out at wide receiver. TreQuan Smith could finally have a breakout season, but that looks less likely with each passing year. Smith will be forced to step up with the recent injury news about Michael Thomas.
Thomas should have sat out last season. Knowing it was the final hooray for Brees, he refused to let it go by without playing. Playing through those injuries resulted in poor play and now surgeries that will cause him to miss part of 2021. If he misses five or more games, which Ian Rapoport is currently reporting, this could be a long season for the Saints and Jameis Winston.
Once healthy, Thomas will be counted on to get close to his record-setting 2019. During that season, he had 149 receptions and 1,725 yards with a combination of Brees and Teddy Bridgewater behind center. Along with nine touchdowns, these numbers left Thomas as the number one fantasy wide receiver that season. If Thomas only misses the first few games and comes back healthy, he still has the talent with Winston to be a leading fantasy receiver the rest of the way. He will need to get close to repeating this if the Saints hope to recapture the division from the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Alvin Kamara is likely to be fine regardless of who plays quarterback but will be great with Winston. He is more a dual-threat receiver out of the backfield than a standard running back. This has led him to 81 or more receptions in each of his four years in the league, a feat not attained from the position before. Although he does not carry the workload in the run game of a Derrick Henry, the 175 to 200 rushes he does get, combined with the 81 average receptions, gives him just as high an upside. He may have a higher upside, as he will not be closed out of either aspect of the game. This fact leaves him safely in the top five for fantasy running backs in the NFL.
The other player whom Winston may significantly help is a player we have not seen play much yet: Adam Trautman. Last season, the team counted mainly on Jared Cook at the tight end position. With Trautman being a rookie, he was used more as a blocker than as a receiving threat. With Cook now in Los Angeles with the Chargers, Trautman will step into the starting role. This is a valuable position in a Winston-led offense. During his tenure in Tampa Bay, he used O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate extensively. Brate was able to finish as a top-10 tight end in fantasy due to the usage he received. Although Trautman is a dart throw, he is one of the late-round tight ends most likely to finish higher than where he is drafted.
It is safe to say there is not a Saints star who does not benefit from having Winston on the field. Winston himself might be less effective without Thomas, but that is a wait-and-see game right now. But what about when Taysom Hill is out there?
If Taysom Hill Starts
It is difficult to think of a situation in which the star players in New Orleans benefit more from having Hill behind center than Winston. As much as Winston loves to throw the ball, Hill loves to run it--himself. No matter how good Kamara is, and he is great, Hill tended to edge him out of the offense in the games he started last season. Thomas still put up decent numbers. He and Jared Cook were the only two players that Hill seemed to look for on the minimal passes he attempted. But even Thomas took a hit, and he will again this year if Hill is the starting quarterback.
Despite being 3-1 as a starting quarterback in 2020, Hill managed only 928 pass yards and four touchdowns in those games. One passing touchdown per game is not a number you want to see from any starting quarterback, and his 3.3% touchdown percentage is lower than the NFL average of 5.5%. Although his 72.7% completions would have led the league if he qualified, this was on relatively minuscule attempts. He averaged 22 completions per game on just over 30 attempts, and all of that only netted him 232 passing yards per game. In his final and possibly worst season of a hall of fame career, Drew Brees managed 245.2 pass yards and two passing touchdowns per game in 12 games.
Thomas and Hill will be coming into the season behind the eight-ball due to Thomas' off-season surgery. It will again take them some time to get on the same page once Thomas returns. Should Thomas miss the first two months, we can now move him from a low-end top-12 wide receiver to a fringe starter. It will be hard to even confidently put him in the flex position when he comes back. Had Thomas been healthy all season with Hill starting, that confidence level was already shallow. With this injury now factored in, Thomas is almost undraftable in your league.
With fans calling for Brees to retire due to his lack of numbers last season, why would we now want to turn the team over to a quarterback whose numbers are worse and has never proven an ability to be better than average in the passing game? Hill’s rushing ability is a wonderful skill, but passing wins the day when push comes to shove. Hill has not shown that ability. Winston has.
The only player we can say with certainty does not get hurt by Hill is Adam Trautman. This is only because we have not seen him on the field yet. So, we have nothing to compare his stats to. We cannot compare them to Cook or Jimmy Graham in this offense. Both of those players were playing with a much different quarterback in Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. However, if Hill is the starter, the consensus is that Trautman will not be ranked as highly as if Winston were starting.
Hill could very finish higher than Winston at the fantasy quarterback position if both were starters. With the games Thomas is likely to miss, that becomes even more plausible. The real difference is how they affect the surrounding cast. Winston will make the stats of those around him far better than they will be with Hill at quarterback. In real football, Hill may be the better option for the Saints. If you care about fantasy, Winston is the better choice to help the Saints’ players fulfill their potential in 2021. Hopefully, we find out soon which way Sean Payton decides to go.