Why Saints running back Khiry Robinson might be most under-appreciated player on New Orleans roster _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson (29) scores the game winning touchdown in overtime against the Bucs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday, October 5, 2014.

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Khiry Robinson might be the most under-appreciated player on the New Orleans Saints’ roster.

Viewed by many as the third banana behind Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller as the team prepares to enter training camp, the third-year running back might possess the ability to force a conversation about finding ways to get him the ball more often next season.

Robinson’s talent isn’t a secret. He capably filled in as the lead back last season while Ingram was nursing an injury, most notably in games against Dallas and Tampa Bay early in the year when he combined for 176 yards on 29 carries, but saw his momentum come to a halt after suffering an arm injury shortly thereafter.

During that stretch of games, Robinson flashed the potential to be a featured part of the offense. The question now is whether that potential has been properly appreciated.

ProFootballFocus.com spent the last week breaking down the NFL’s running backs, getting into the finer details of how players produced on a per-touch basis in various categories. Robinson ranked among the top players in the league in a staggering amount of those lists.

While Ingram, who averaged 2.38 yards after contact per attempt, has the reputation of being the most physical, bruising running back on the team, it was actually Robinson who performed best after contact last season by averaging 2.71 yards per attempt. That figure becomes more impressive when breaking down how it was accumulated.

Of his 76 total rushing attempts last season, Robinson picked up three or more yards after contact on 27 of his rushes. That figure accounts for 35.5 percent of his attempts, which is the sixth-highest rate in the NFL, placing him just behind Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (38.8 percent), and ahead of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (34.6 percent).

ProFootballFocus.com did not reveal Ingram’s numbers in this category.

In terms of simple plus/minus plays, Robinson ranked among the best in the league in both categories by having 39.5 percent of his runs go for five or more yards and 39.5 percent of his runs go for two or fewer yards. For the sake of comparison, 33.2 percent of Ingram’s runs went for five or more yards, while 42.9 percent were for two yards or fewer.

Robinson’s ability to avoid negative plays is even more impressive considering he was hit behind the line of scrimmage 20 times, or on 26.3 percent of his carries, including seven runs where he was hit three or more yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Ingram’s numbers in these categories were not available, though Robinson’s rates were among the highest in the league.

Though Robinson is skilled at creating things after absorbing contact, he’s also talented at avoiding it. He induced 21 missed tackles on 76 runs last season, or one per every 3.6 rushing attempts. Ingram induced 33 missed tackles over 226 attempts.

There’s no question that these numbers are skewed by sample sizes and workloads.

It’s debatable whether or not Robinson could have kept producing at the same rate over the course of an entire season, as the rigors of the season and hits accumulated. He also likely benefitted by having the bulk of his carries come against the Minnesota Vikings (25th in run defense) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19th).

Still, there’s no question that he is talented and the Saints would likely benefit if he logs more than 76 carries next season.

While all the attention has been on Ingram and Spiller, Robinson might be one of the better backup running backs in the NFL next year — even if the rest of the league is not yet aware of that fact.