Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the state of the running back corps for each NFC South team.
The Saints’ running back corps experienced a drop-off in production last season compared to the team’s Super Bowl-winning 2009 campaign.
To remedy that issue, the Saints traded their 2012 first-round pick to get back into the first round to grab the best back in this past draft, Alabama’s Mark Ingram.
Even though Pierre Thomas was recently signed to a contract extension, Ingram appears to be the one in line for the bulk of the workload. But a committee approach does seem inevitable unless Ingram simply takes the NFL by storm. There is a lot to like about Ingram. He has true workhorse qualities, which is rare in a back nowadays. He runs with power, leverage and has tremendous competitive qualities. Ingram wants the football when it matters most and is the type of runner who can put the opponent away. He also has some ability and upside in the passing game, which is obviously a must in this Drew Brees-led offense.
Thomas is a jack-of-all-trades running back. There is a lot to like about his total game, although his stock did fall a little last season as he dealt with a nagging ankle injury. Thomas has superb hands and is a strong contributor in the passing game. As a runner, he doesn’t have a discernible weakness, but he also doesn’t have a strength that jumps out at you on film. Still, you could do a lot worse than Thomas -- especially as a No. 2 running back.
The Reggie Bush situation in New Orleans is very interesting. As it stands, he is due a huge amount of money, which he simply is not worth considering his production and inability to stay on the field. But I contend that Bush is worth more to the Saints than he is to any other NFL franchise. Finding common ground and coming to an agreement would be ideal for both parties. Bush is a true wild card. He is equal parts wide receiver and running back. He makes the defense make choices and distinguish how to match up in terms of its personnel. Brees and company know how to use these talents. Bush has 294 receptions in his 60 NFL games. And Bush’s ability as a return man cannot be overlooked. But it is very tough to overlook that Bush has not played 16 games in any of the past four seasons and broke his leg in Week 2 last year.
Chris Ivory was a very pleasant surprise as a rookie. He had two 100-yard games, a 99-yard game and averaged a whopping 5.2 yards per carry. Ivory offers nothing in the passing game, which could always hold him back in this offense. But he runs very hard in a straight line and leaves it all on the field. However, after suffering a serious foot injury at the end of the year, it is uncertain how ready Ivory will be for the 2011 season. And New Orleans surely expects Ingram to bring what Ivory brought to the table and much more. Also a fumbler, Ivory could end up being a one-year semi-wonder.
Although this is an extremely crowded backfield, restricted free agent Lynell Hamilton, who was lost last year during the preseason, still could end up on the opening day roster. He is a big back with power and more natural ability that he has yet to show at the NFL level.
Julius Jones will become a free agent. Finding a spot for him in this backfield seems next to impossible at this stage, even though he had a respectable performance in Seattle during the wild-card round of the playoffs.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.