New Orleans Saints: Will the Running Back Merry-Go-Round Continue?

Zayne GranthamContributor IIIDecember 6, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 04:  Running back Mark Ingram #28 of the New Orleans Saints is hit by defensive tackle Nick Fairley #98 of the Detroit Lions in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are known as a passing team. Ever since Drew Brees and Sean Payton came to New Orleans, they have been a pass first, and last, team. Payton's offense over the years has consisted of running back by committee. The Saints have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Deuce McAllister in 2006, Payton's first year as head coach.

This season the Saints have four capable running backs on their roster. The Saints are so deep at running back that Chris Ivory, the Saints' leading rusher last year, has not played since leading the team in rushing against the Buccaneers in Week 9. The Saints' leading rusher in the preseason, Joique Bell, has been on the practice squad all year. This all begs the question: Will the Saints continue to use multiple running backs?

The short answer is that the Saints, while under Sean Payton, will always use a set of running backs. Why wouldn't they? Payton has had a lot of success in doing so. He won a Super Bowl with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell splitting carries in the backfield. This is year is no different.

The Saints are currently eighth in the league in rushing and have run for over 200 yards twice this season. As a team, the Saints have 1,480 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, and only two fumbles all year. They are averaging 4.8 yards a carry and only fumble once every 155 touches.

Each Saints running back has been very productive so far this year. 

Mark Ingram is the team's leading rusher. He has rushed 122 times for 474 yards and a 3.9 yard average. Ingram's skills have come into play in the red zone this year, as he has led the team with five rushing touchdowns and has only fumbled the ball once this season.

Sproles is one of the most dynamic backs in the NFL
Sproles is one of the most dynamic backs in the NFLChris Graythen/Getty Images

Darren Sproles, possibly the best free-agent signing in the offseason, has been spectacular as well. He is averaging an amazing 6.8 yards a carry with 430 yards on just 63 carries. Sproles has two rushing touchdowns and has yet to fumble this season.

Pierre Thomas has also been a big part of the Saints offense. Since he came into the league as an undrafted free agent, Thomas has been a consistent contributor to the Saints. This season he has run 82 times for 413 yards to reach an 5.0 yard per carry average. He has three touchdown runs and one fumble on the year. 

Chris Ivory has been used sparingly this year, but in the time he has gotten on the field he has been productive. He is averaging a respective 4.0 yards per carry and has 85 yards on the season.

The best thing about the Saints running backs is that they are valid receiving threats out of the backfield. Sproles is leading the Saints running backs with 522 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He is also fifth in the NFL in receptions with 67. Thomas is next with 37 catches for 309 yards and one touchdown.

The most impressive fact about these Saints running backs is the amount of yards after the catch they rack up. Sproles and Thomas lead the Saints with 409 and 323 yards after the catch, respectively. Out of Ingram's 46 receiving yards, 42 have come after the catch.

Having multiple running backs makes it much more difficult on opposing defenses. If a defense decides they want to key in on Sproles, then Payton and the Saints can use Ingram, Thomas or Ivory to get it done on the ground. This goes for every Saints running back. Any one of them can lead the team in on any given Sunday; not to mention, the Saints have quite the passing game defenses must worry about as well.

I do not believe that any team would complain about having a running back corps with this much talent and depth. These Saints running backs are lethal in both the rushing game and passing game. Payton has hand-picked the best guys for his system and there is no way that he stops his merry-go-round style of running anytime soon.