Saints position spotlight: Running backs

A position-by-position look at the New Orleans Saints’ roster through the Week 6 bye:

Snaps played: Pierre Thomas 147, Khiry Robinson 117, Travaris Cadet 61, Mark Ingram 40, FB Austin Johnson 87.

Key stats: Robinson 61 carries, 304 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns; 3 receptions, 26 yards, 0 touchdowns. Ingram 24-143-3; 4-22-0. Thomas 24-120-2; 22-187-1. Cadet 3-10-0; 10-83-1. Johnson 5-16-0; 0-0-0.

My take: This is why the Saints traded away Darren Sproles. As great as Sproles has been in Philadelphia, the Saints knew that all four of their backs were suited to take on bigger and more versatile roles.

We’re seeing Ingram and Robinson run draw plays and catch screen passes, which gives them more open space to work with and makes the Saints’ offense less predictable. Last week, with Ingram still sidelined by a broken hand, all four of the Saints’ touchdowns in a 37-31 overtime victory over Tampa Bay were scored by running backs (passes to Cadet and Thomas, long runs by Thomas and Robinson).

Ingram started out as the biggest benefactor, with 143 rushing yards and three touchdown runs in the first two weeks before being sidelined for a month with a broken hand. He’s expected to be back in the lineup this week against the Detroit Lions, though he might be eased into the action since the Saints have the luxury of doing so.

As I wrote in my weekend mailbag, the timeshare will likely continue to be a frustration for fantasy owners since there are only so many touches to go around. But I think Ingram, Robinson and Thomas will all continue to have big moments since the entire Saints’ rushing offense seems to be clicking so well this season.

ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “Running backs, I’d give an A. I think Ingram, starting at the end of last year, has been outstanding. He looks like a first-round running back. There wasn’t a huge drop-off to Robinson. I think Robinson’s a quality player that next year will probably be their lead guy (if Ingram isn’t re-signed as a free agent). I was a little worried about Thomas, because they weren’t using him so much. But then this last week he did what he did and caught a ton of passes, and he’s ultra-reliable and does everything pretty well. And then Cadet brings a little bit of that big-play spark receiver to them, too.

“It’s a pretty good group. If you can lose Ingram, as well as he’s playing, and still not lose all that much, that’s saying a lot. I think their running backs are exceptional. ... I don’t think they miss Sproles at all. He’s a good player, but I don’t think that’s the problem with the offense.”