The New Orleans Saints are known for their high-powered passing attack. But their running back corps is the deepest it's been in years.
Mark Ingram is the clear bell cow. Behind him, the Saints have a variety of role players. Veterans C.J. Spiller and Travaris Cadet and emerging second-year man Marcus Murphy are competing for the satellite back role in the nickel and two-minute offense. Tim Hightower might be the best pure runner on the roster. And versatile rookie Daniel Lasco is a jack-of-all-trades type.
Sheldon Rankins: Saints Training Camp, Aug. 14, 2016
New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (99) lays out for a hit during Saints training camp at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on Sunday, August 14, 2016. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com| The Times-Picayune)
Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune
The group features a little something for everyone the story said. At this point, it's too early to say which way the Saints will go. Injury and attrition could solve the problem before final cuts. But if everything remains the same, the Saints are going to have a difficult decision to make at running back. This is only speculation on our part, but Cadet, Spiller and Murphy seem to be the same type of back and it's likely the team won't keep all three. Hightower would seem to be a lock as a reliable backup to Ingram, proving that last year.
Friday, July 29, 2016, 6:08pm
"You're going to see that take place with a few of the other veteran guys," Payton said after Friday's practice. "He'll go again tomorrow. We're just being smart with a couple veteran guys."
Given the fact that Ingram has missed 12 games over the last three years due to injury, Hightower is one of our favorite late-round attrition plays. Hightower averaged 24.0 touches for 114 yards and 1.0 TD over the final four games last year with Ingram sidelined.
Monday, July 11, 2016, 5:54pm
Asked if a reunion could be in the works for this off season, Payton said it was not likely.
"I don't know if our roster is going to allow for that right now," he said.
"It almost happened a year ago," Payton said. "We actually had dinner out here. It got close and never finalized itself. I'm sure he's going to play this year."
Spiller may be more involved this year, but it doesn't look like he's going to take a Darren Sproles-type role in the offense. We would use Hightower as the handcuff to Ingram given the way the veteran finished the season. Hightower averaged 24.0 touches for 114 yards and 1.0 TD over the final four games last year.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey still is figuring out ways to deploy Matt Forte, the NFL's most prolific pass-catching back since his rookie year, 2008. When asked how Forte fits into his system, Gailey replied, "That's not the question. The question is, how do we adjust the system to fit Matt Forte?"
A good reference point might be C.J. Spiller, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. From 2011 to 2013 under Gailey, Spiller caught 115 passes. Gailey moved him around the formation, sometimes lining him up wide or in the slot. Forte has that kind of versatility.
Spiller caught 115 passes in three years under Gailey as a part-time player. In the 12 games that then-starter Fred Jackson missed, Spiller averaged 3.42 receptions per game. Forte may lose carries to Bilal Powell and/or Khiry Robinson, and is unlikely to score many rushing touchdowns. But if he's utilized regularly in the slot, he should be able to catch at least 50 passes, maybe more. Jets running backs caught a total of 90 balls last season under Gailey.
Drew Brees will play today after being a question mark all week. It's a nice matchup for Brees, but he likely isn't 100-percent with a foot issue.
“We’re going to get a chance to see more now,” Sean Payton said. “I think the training camp injury set him back some, and then it’s just a matter of the confidence and the explosion off that knee. He’ll play a significant role, as will Tim Hightower and even (Marcus) Murphy.”
Hightower was released after a strong training camp, and re-signed Nov. 4. He hadn’t played prior to this season since 2011, when he suffered a knee injury and his recovery was slowed by complications.
“Through training camp, we got a chance to see him run," Payton said. “He finally got some touches in a regular-season game against Washington (11 carries, 46 yards). He’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s been in that spotlight and I think that, for him, it’s the confidence that the injury and the leg is 100 percent. I’m excited to see him play just like I am with C.J. It’ll be a good opportunity.”
Said Brees: “You hate to lose guys that mean so much to your offense, but it’s the next man up mentality and Tim Hightower is a guy that has been looking for an opportunity for a while and he will get that, and C.J. Spiller as well and then Marcus Murphy.
It's interesting that Brees mentioned Hightower first when discussing the situation. Hightower may serve as the team's primary ball-carrier, but Spiller should see more carries as well, and may see an increased role in the passing game if he can earn the team's trust in pass protection. It's entirely possible that he fails to do so, and Hightower takes most of Ingram's snaps and touches.
Veterans C.J. Spiller and Tim Hightower are next in line for the New Orleans Saints now that starting running back Mark Ingram has been placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. But it’s hard to get excited about either one of them in terms of fantasy football.
For one thing, I don't expect either guy to step into a No. 1 role like Ingram has had. But there will be a ton of snaps available.
I'd love to say this will finally provide Spiller an opportunity to play a big role with the Saints as a runner and receiver, which seemed like an exciting possibility back when he signed in March. But Spiller has barely played for the Saints, and not just because Ingram was in his way. The Saints could have used Spiller a lot more already, but his snaps have decreased as the season goes on. Spiller played only five snaps in last week’s 41-38 loss to the Panthers and has just four touches the past two weeks.
The only explanation coach Sean Payton has given is that the Saints prefer Ingram as a pass protector in passing situations. Spiller said he has never been given a specific reason, but he has never complained about his lack of touches.
Hightower, meanwhile, could replace Ingram in base packages as more of a first- and second-down type of runner -- perhaps getting some goal-line looks. So far, Hightower has just 48 yards on 12 carries since signing last month.
This is about what we're expecting. Spiller has more upside, but the team doesn't seem to trust him in pass protection, and that limits his snaps on passing downs (where he's most effective as a receiver). Hightower is a good pass protector so he may play more than people think.
C.J. Spiller is the obvious candidate to pick up Ingram's work, but he has only out-touched Tim Hightower 14-to-12 over the last three games. It's likely that the duo would form an uninspiring committee, though Spiller would be worth a pickup in PPR formats if he's sitting on the wire. The Saints may have no choice but to play him. The Saints upcoming schedule is not favorable (TB, DET, JAX).
Mark Ingram has received the majority of the snaps all season long, but his workload jumped significantly during the Saints' 34-28 loss Sunday. Ingram played in 88 percent of the offensive snaps with 67 snaps. C.J. Spiller played just six snaps.
This meant the workload for Spiller dipped with Spiller playing only eight percent in the loss. The running game struggled mightily against the Titans, but Ingram was also used in a bunch of passing situations either as a blitz protector or a receiving option.
They did more of of that Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, when Spiller finished with a season high 10 touches from scrimmage. Most of his six catches for 32 yards and four carries for 16 helped set a stage for Mark Ingram's big game.
"Like I told them Saturday night, they hadn't played a backfield like us yet," Spiller said Tuesday during an NFL Play60 event at J.C. Ellis Elementary in Metairie. "We wanted to go out there and showcase what we were able to do and fortunately we were able to do that."
The Saints' 36 carries for 183 yards were both season highs, as Khiry Robinson rushed for two touchdowns and Ingram for one, and the Saints beat the Colts 27-21. Spiller has been frustrating to fantasy owners who were counting on him being more involved in the passing game. He could finally be trending that way and may be worth an add in PPR leagues if you're hurting at the position.
Coach Sean Payton said he strived to increase Spiller's involvement within the offense. Technically, Payton did just that. Spiller played 21 offensive snaps in the win over Dallas in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which translated into 29 percent of the offensive snaps.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Brandon Coleman continues to watch his participation decrease finding only 19 snaps (26 percent) in Sunday night's win. Willie Snead received the second most offensive snaps at wide receiver at 48.
A couple of notes here as Spiller's works seems to be on the upswing, which is no surprise considering he is working back from an injury. The Coleman vs. Snead snaps are interesting because the broadcast crew said the Saints like Snead enough that he's got a chance to be the second option after Brandin Cooks.
New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller caught a pass for 3 yards on the first play from scrimmage Sunday, and he did not touch the ball again until the fourth quarter. The scarcity of touches for Spiller was something coach Sean Payton said Monday he wanted to fix.
"I got to get him more opportunities," Payton said. "He's healthy, and shoot, he needs more than anybody to stay actively warm as opposed to one play every 12 of 14 plays."
Spiller played 16 snaps against the Panthers, one week after he went in for seven snaps at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Spiller missed the preseason and the season opener at Arizona to recover from an arthroscopic knee surgery.
Fantasy owners need to see more from Spiller, too. Spiller was supposed to be a PPR stud however so far it's been a slow start which has caused Spiller to pop up on the waiver wire. It seems the team is aware the need to give him the ball more but we'll see if that translates into more touches. If you're hurting at the position and Spiller is out there on the wire in a PPR league, he may be worth a shot.
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