After beginning our offseason series with a look at the offensive line, we continue our breakdown of each position with the running back position.
This year was no different from year past, as the New Orleans Saints had a plethora of backs to rely on throughout the season. However, unlike successful seasons past, the Saints running game was inconsistent throughout the year and didn’t have the same production that Saints fans would have liked, ranking 25th in the league in rushing and averaging less than 4 yards a carry.
However, despite the lack of production, the level of need is pretty low for the Saints going into the offseason. This season saw breakthroughs from much-maligned first round pick Mark Ingram and undrafted free agent rookie Khiry Robinson. Both players, especially towards the end of the season showed that they each deserve a spot on this roster and ample playing time next season averaging over four yards a carry.
Meanwhile Darren Sproles, the Swiss Army Knife, was an integral part of the offense during the first half of season, but was slowed down significantly later on as defense really started to key in on him. Pierre Thomas was his old reliable self, excelling as a receiver, runner, and a special teams guy when needed.
Going into the offseason, it is highly unlikely that the Saints add any depth in the way of free agency and the draft with both Robinson and Ingram both being very young. However, we could see a little fat be trimmed with this core. There is a chance the Saints cut ties with fan favorite Pierre Thomas, the most expensive asset of the group.
Though, it isn’t a popular move from an emotional standpoint, the move from a football and financial standpoint holds some water. Both Ingram and Robinson ran very well in the playoffs with Thomas being sidelined with an injury. This was probably due to a little simplification from not having so many mouths to feed.
The other option, which is unlikely and people don’t want to hear, is maybe cutting ties with Sproles. Honestly, towards the end of the season, what was he contributing? The offense become too predictable when he is in the game; more likely than not, it was a pass when he was in the game. In addition, the screen pass, a staple in the Saints’ offense, averaged less than two yard per attempt over the last six weeks of the season.
For those who believe he is this ace on special team, the Saints ranked in the bottom half in kick return and 30th in average punt return yardage. I am not saying he isn’t a good player, but his value is fading a little bit, and defenses are starting to figure him out; I’m probably overreacting by saying to cut bait altogether, but new wrinkles must be added so that part of the offense isn’t so predictable.
All in all, the running back position is still a strength and laden with talent. And when Sean Payton has decided to commit to the running game, it has been effective. That was the problem this season, and as long as Payton stays true and committed,the run game it should continue to get better with Ingram, Robinson, and the rest