There are three key events leading up to a new season that significantly alter fantasy football values. The first of these events is free agency. (The other two are the draft and preseason.)
Although free agency hasn’t technically started yet, players that have already been released by their teams are free to sign. That includes former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. With Carr opting to sign with the New Orleans Saints, let’s examine the fantasy impact of his arrival on Alvin Kamara, Chris Olave, and the rest of the Saints’ offense.
How Does Derek Carr’s Arrival Impact the Fantasy Value of the Saints’ Offensive Weapons?
Not every NFL team gets to go from Brett Favre right into Aaron Rodgers, or from Peyton Manning right into Andrew Luck. Sometimes, you go from 15 years of Drew Brees to starting five different quarterbacks over the next two seasons.
The Saints tried to plan for Brees’ impending retirement by signing Jameis Winston. Some, including this writer in particular, questioned whether signing Winston to take over for Brees was really preparing for anything.
Unsurprisingly, the man who once threw 30 interceptions in a season and who was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick multiple times is not cut out to be an NFL starting quarterback.
In 2022, Winston opened the season as the starter before getting hurt and ultimately losing his job to Andy Dalton. While Dalton was good enough to not compel the Saints to turn back to Winston, at 35 years old and a shell of his former self, he clearly wasn’t their answer at quarterback.
Enter Carr. At 32 years old, he should have plenty left in the tank. There’s no reason a quarterback with Carr’s skill set can’t play effectively into his late 30s. While obviously not Brees, Carr will provide a sizable upgrade on the QB play the Saints’ pass catchers have experienced in the two seasons following Brees’ retirement.
Fantasy Impact of Derek Carr on Chris Olave
Let’s start with the most important and most valuable member of the Saints’ offense — sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave.
As a rookie, Olave averaged 13.2 fantasy points per game and finished as the overall WR25. We want rookie receivers to post at least 500 receiving yards. Olave doubled that, catching 72 balls for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns.
We know Olave is good at football. Despite it being March, I can already tell you Olave is someone I will be targeting heavily this season. He was able to put up the above numbers as a rookie with the combination of Winston and Dalton at quarterback. Imagine what he can do with Carr.
In 2022, Olave established himself as a premier downfield threat. He was fourth in the league with 29 deep ball targets, and his 14.0 average depth of target was ninth.
Well, Carr was fifth with 72 deep-ball attempts, and his 9.4 average depth of target was second in the league. Olave is great, possibly elite, downfield, and Carr was one of the best deep-ball passers last season.
With Michael Thomas likely to be cut (or even if he stays and continues to not play football), Olave is going to be the Saints’ WR1 this season. Significant progression will be baked into his ADP. Unless it truly gets out of hand, I don’t care. Olave has WR1 upside this season.
Fantasy Impact of Derek Carr on Alvin Kamara
Normally, the arrival of a new QB wouldn’t overly impact a running back. Of course, the overall quality of the offense matters. The upgrade Carr provides will naturally increase the touchdown potential of the Saints’ starting RB.
But for Alvin Kamara specifically, quarterback matters a lot because of how much of his production comes from receiving.
Let me tell you the last time Kamara finished outside the top three in RB target share. Alright, good talk. Yes, Kamara has never finished below third in target share.
Kamara’s total receiving numbers have taken a hit the past two years, though. Not coincidentally, those are the only two years he played without Brees.
After catching at least 81 passes in each of his first four seasons, Kamara caught 47 and 57, respectively, in his last two.
Carr is a traditional pocket passer. He will opt for the checkdown rather than take off. That bodes very well for Kamara.
In 2021, Carr targeted the RB position 23% of the time. In 2022, even with Davante Adams providing him with an elite WR1, Carr still threw to running backs about 18% of the time.
If the Saints don’t improve their wide receivers behind Olave, Kamara will almost certainly be second on the team in target share. The bigger concern is how many games Kamara will play, as a suspension stemming from his 2022 violence incident is likely coming.
Fantasy Impact of Derek Carr on the Rest of the Saints’ Pass Catchers
Beyond Olave and Kamara, there’s not much in New Orleans for fantasy purposes. The next most interesting player is probably tight end Juwan Johnson. Johnson caught 42 passes for 508 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Johnson’s increased usage was largely a product of the Saints’ lack of passing game weapons. While he’s certainly athletic and has room for improvement, his 8.4 ppg from 2022 feels close to his ceiling.
Carr makes everyone better, but his presence doesn’t meaningfully change how I intend to value Johnson for the 2023 season.
The only other name of possible intrigue is sophomore UDFA Rashid Shaheed. The speedy outside receiver came out of nowhere to emerge into a near-every-down player over the team’s final four games.
Shaheed didn’t command a large target share, nor will he likely ever, but at 14.4 yards per target, the man is as efficient as they come.
UDFAs are always tricky to figure out. Even though he flashed in limited playing time, Shaheed could easily end up being just a special-teamer this season. But given Carr’s downfield proficiency, his arrival makes Shaheed someone fantasy managers should at least keep filed away as the offseason progresses.
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