It’s easy to make a case for the Saints drafting a player at nearly any position.
Wide receivers? It’s thin after the top three. Linebacker? The Saints have addressed the position, but an influx of youth would be welcome. Quarterback? This one is a little tougher, but Drew Brees is in the final year of his contract, and it’s never too soon to think about the future.
But running back? The Saints appear to be well set at this position with Mark Ingram at the top of the depth chart, and Tim Hightower coming back to provide quality depth. There are some questions at “passing back” with the uncertainty surrounding C.J. Spiller after the way he performed last season, but New Orleans covered its bases by re-signing Travaris Cadet.
The team brass likes to talk about its roster in terms or musts, needs and wants. Running back does not fit in any of those categories, least of all must or need. A case could be made for getting a young back in to grow behind Ingram or Spiller. However, if someone is drafted at this position, it would likely come down to opportunity and value meeting at the right moment for the right player.
The most interesting thing to keep an eye at running back this offseason is how Spiller bounces back from a disappointing first year in New Orleans. Despite much fanfare following his signing last offseason, the running back had a procedure performed on his knee during training camp and never regained his form.
But even though he finished last season with 351 total yards from scrimmage, hope remains that he can become the player he was with the Buffalo Bills. There, in that offense, Spiller exhibited the traits that led New Orleans to believe he could become a weapon in an offense that turned guys like Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles into matchup nightmares for defenses.
There’s a belief Spiller will regain that form and get his burst back after having the offseason to rehabilitate. If for some reason he doesn’t, the Saints should be protected by Cadet. Though it was a limited sample size, Cadet looked good during the final two games of the season by catching nine passes for 146 yards with a touchdown.
His familiarity with the offense and with quarterback Drew Brees should help him continue to be a formidable option for the offense moving forward. His presence also means that Spiller needs to show he’s back to form during camp if he wants to keep hold of his job.
As long as Ingram stays healthy, the Saints should have no issues at running back. The veteran back developed into a true three-down back last year, proving capable carrying the ball, in pass protection and as a receiver. This was a big development for the offense since it allowed the offense to disguise better its intentions.
After Ingram had been knocked out of action late in the year, Hightower proved to be a capable backup, which is why he returned, and the team felt comfortable letting Khiry Robinson leave via free agency. As long as he comes back and is the same player that finished last season, Hightower should be more than capable of serving as the lead backup.
The Saints could look to get someone in to develop, as mentioned, or perhaps to challenge Marcus Murphy as the lead return man. But it would require the value being too great to pass up. It would be hard to take a running back over an equally graded player at any point in the draft.
But given how effective the Saints are at identifying and developing talent at running back, the rookie free agent market might be the best place for New Orleans to look if it wants to add someone at this spot.