Finding hidden talent in late rounds or between undrafted rookies is Payton’s and Loomis’ speciality. Exhibit A: Marques Colston, late seventh round. Exhibit B: Junior Galette, undrafted. Exhibit C: Lance Moore, undrafted. The list goes on and on since those two great football minds keep surprising us year after year. Along with undrafted guard Tim Lelito, who already started a game to replace the injured Jahri Evans against the Cardinals and is on pace to have a bright future in New Orleans, the Saints brought in another interesting undrafted kid in 2013.
Khiry Robinson (6′ 0 – 220) is the latest gem Payton and Loomis found for the Saints. The Belton, Texas native played both running back and strong safety at Blinn Junior College, from where he graduated in 2011. Then, in his two years at West Texas A&M Robinson rushed for 2290 yards and 26 TDs. He also had 60 receptions for 612 yards and six more scores.
After going undrafted, the Saints decided to pick him up for the offseason and take a closer look at the young back. He was offered a contract by the Cleveland Browns too but he opted for New Orleans because of the great organization and the chance to play with Drew Brees, as he stated in a quick interview for the team’s official site (you can find it here). His chances to make the 53-men roster were slight since the Saints already had four running backs on the roster: Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Travaris Cadette. But Robinson was determined to make an impression in New Orleans. He has been relentless throughout the whole offseason and then made the most of the opportunities he was given during the preseason: in four games he had 49 touches, 228 rushing yards, 103 receiving yards on 11 catches, two fumbles but 0 touchdowns. 4.7 yards per carry.
Those numbers got him a spot on the final roster, even if the backfield was already crowded. The initial rotation in the backfield envisaged the use of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas so for the first two games he has been quiet on the bench, waiting for another opportunity. That opportunity came in week 3 when Ingram was forced to sit due to a toe injury and the Saints needed to kill the clock late in the game. Robinson’s number was called for those last four runs. Result: 38 yards gained, 21 of which came on a single play.
Finally I was able to see a Saints running back who gained more than three yards on the current season! After the early euphoria I gave it a second thought: it was late in the game, the defense was tired and the game was basically over. But when I reviewed those runs I saw something intriguing about his running style and a little voice in my head was whispering “Give 29 the ball! Give 29 the ball!”. I like to think that this is what happened in Payton’s head too: in fact, against the Dolphins Robinson was involved early in the run game and rushed for 37 yards on 12 attempts. Those aren’t extraordinary numbers but don’t forget that he is playing in a three-back rotation and that Sproles had an insane performance on Monday night. Anyway, on 16 regular season attempts he averages 4.7 yards per carry.
Not that the Saints need to become a run-first offense (not gonna happen) but to say that the running game has struggled so far is an euphemism. Khiry Robinson’s quickness and aggressiveness could finally give the Saints the chance to be a more balanced team, as coach Payton always preaches. Keep an eye on #29 and his 4.7 yards per carry.
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