Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory, and likely a yet to be determined fifth running back that will come down to either Joique Bell, Patrick Cobb, or Chris Taylor. These players will make up the Saints 2011 running back group.
It’s the deepest group of running backs the Saints have had in a long, long time. Even better than the 2009 unit that helped the team to a 5th best rushing attack and Superbowl championship — consisting of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Mike Bell, and Lynell Hamilton.
But which running back in the current group is going to have the biggest impact this season?
Logic dictates that it won’t be Chris Ivory, who is recovering from multiple injuries, and it may also be a stretch to say that the thrifty Darren Sproles will lead the way on the ground.
Sproles will make an impact for sure, but much in the same way that Reggie Bush made his mark. Payton will use him as a scat back style third down threat. He’ll catch out of the backfield, line up as a receiver, and be utilized on special teams.
That leaves fan favorite Pierre Thomas and the next big thing, at least the Saints hope, in rookie Mark Ingram. But the one factor that could limit either player is the Saints deployment of a shared backfield.
Thomas has never rushed for more than 150 attempts in four NFL seasons. In 2009 Mike Bell rushed 172 times, but truly the last running back to see a heavy rushing load was Deuce McAllister in 2006 with 244 carries for 1,057 yards.
Consequently that was the last time the Saints had a 1,000 yard rusher thus far in the Sean Payton era.
With McAllister being the anomaly, a work horse running back in Payton’s offense averages about ten carries a game. That workload makes it extremely difficult for a Saints running back to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark.
Quick math tells us that Thomas or Ingram, given ten carries a game for a full sixteen game schedule, would have to average 6.25 yards per carry to make the milestone of 1,000 yards.
Not impossible, just unlikely, given Thomas has a career average of 4.7 yards per carry and Ingram is averaging only about 4 yards per carry so far in the preseason.