Following 15 seasons of predominantly high-level play from future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints turned their fortunes over to former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston last season. That followed five uneven years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one year as Brees’ understudy, which gave Winston time to learn the system and beat out Taysom Hill for the job.
Anyone that watched Winston play in Tampa Bay may have had trouble recognizing him with the Saints as then-head coach Sean Payton asked the Florida State product to rein in his game. The result was a much more judicious version of Winston, though also a less dynamic one. After throwing 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions in five years as a starter for the Bucs, the 28-year-old posted a 14-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio as he morphed into a game manager whose No. 1 job was to protect the football.
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While Winston’s usage seemed to be ticking up — he threw 65 passes combined in his last two full starts after averaging just 22 per game over his first four — we’ll never know if the restraints were going to be fully loosened as he suffered a torn ACL during New Orleans’ Week 8 win over Tampa Bay, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. He’s not yet 100 percent and probably won’t be until closer to midseason, but being naturally immobile and playing a position that doesn’t require the rigors of, say, running backs, Winston’s knee isn’t much of an issue.
The team clearly saw enough in limited game action and recovery from surgery, re-signing him to a two-year, $28 million contract in March that signals the franchise’s intention for Winston to lead the team for at least the 2022 campaign. It’s worth noting that this move, along with the addition of veteran QB Andy Dalton in free agency, effectively signals an end to the Hill (knee) experiment at quarterback, moving him into a full-time gadget role, focusing on tight end.
Winston won’t be the only injured player returning as wide receiver Michael Thomas is expected back after he missed all last season with an ankle injury. Thomas was a stud in his first four years but will need to prove he’s fully recovered; if he does, it will give Winston a legit WR1 to lean on.
The Saints also signed veteran receiver Jarvis Landry, most recently of the Cleveland Browns, and spent a first-round pick on Ohio State WR Chris Olave. If the rookie is ready to contribute, that’s a formidable top three to go with running back Alvin Kamara, who is among the NFL’s best pass-catching backs.
Fantasy football outlook
While Payton is gone, replaced at head coach by Dennis Allen, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael returns, so don’t expect the Saints to be dramatically different philosophically. Then again, the Saints didn’t sign Landry and draft Olave to throw the ball barely 20 times a game.
Look for potentially more underneath throws that Brees long favored but with some deep shots mixed in to take advantage of Winston’s arm. He’s a fringe top-20 fantasy QB with modest upside.