When you think New Orleans Saints, you think Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, and Deuce McAllister. Meanwhile, when you thought Denver Broncos at the beginning of the year, your running backs of choice were Selvin Young, Andre Hall, and Michael Pittman.
Funny how a season changes things.
While Brees has been magnificent, the other three Saints have been inconsistent, injured, or unable to get into any kind of groove. As for Denver, the three running backs played well at times, but they have each had injury problems all year, and the Broncos even added rookie running back Ryan Torain to the injury list.
Enter Pierre Thomas and Peyton Hillis.
In a year when not only primary running backs, but also backup (or handcuff) running backs are going down, the demand for handcuffs to the handcuffs is at an all-time high.
At the top of that list are Thomas and Hillis, both of whom have stepped in and made an immediate impact. With some running backs getting healthier, however, should Thomas and/or Hillis take a backseat?
Let us examine.
Author's note: After this article was written, Hillis injured his hamstring, threatening the rest of his season.
For Hillis, his path to relevancy was pretty simple (from our perspective, anyway). Selvin Young went down. Then Andre Hall and Michael Pittman were lost for the season almost simultaneously.
Ryan Torain soon followed as lost for the season. Enter Hillis, who basically survived roster cuts all season and stayed on as the backup fullback, but who was thrust into duty after all the other running backs went down.
Hillis responded in a big way, gaining significant yardage every time he touched the ball. Hillis fits Denver perfectly, since they prefer their running backs to make only one cut on each run.
As a big man with some speed, Hillis could really thrive in the Mike Shanahan backfield, and though Denver has no qualms about leaning heavily on their passing game, Denver may look to establish a ground game as they prepare for the playoffs.
All that adds up to some very positive fantasy decisions for the future.
Thomas' path may not have been as straightforward, but his story is just as sweet. Largely getting token carries or goal-line chances at the beginning of the year, even though he had a good Week One performance of 10 carries for 52 yards, Thomas really began to take off after the Saints' bye week in Week Nine.
Thomas had to wait for an injury to Reggie Bush, then leapfrog over Aaron Stecker and eventually Deuce McAllister, but he got there and has been the Saints' primary ball-carrier since then.
Thomas has shown that he can sniff out the goal line, as his six TDs can attest to, but he has also proven to be a good yardage back, as evidenced by his 4.6 yards per carry.
Right now, with McAllister still facing a possible suspension, and Reggie Bush continuing to be an enigma, Thomas is the Saints' most dependable running back.