New Orleans Saints Roster Debate: Erik Lorig or Austin Johnson?


It’s not every day that you talk about a fullback on the New Orleans Saints roster, especially with all of the chaos that has ensued over the past week. When you pan over the fullbacks that have played in the backfield under the Sean Payton regime, you are sure to remember three guys: Mike Karney, Heath Evans, and Jed Collins.

Each of these fullbacks have had their respective memorable moments during their tenure with the black and gold, but on the Saints roster, they weren’t the players you’d automatically bring to the top of your mind when analyzing a Saints roster.

The Saints currently have two fullbacks heading into 2015, Austin Johnson and Erik Lorig. Dare we say we have a legitimate roster debate?

When you think about Lorig’s year, it didn’t start off nearly like it should. After coming over in free agency from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a four-year deal, Lorig was supposed to help fill the void left by the departed Jed Collins. However, an injury kept Lorig out of all action: practices, training camp, regular season. We never could get a straight answer as to what the problem was during the process. Then suddenly when we learned what Lorig was dealing with, week after week, he’d appear on the list of inactives.

Lorig’s absence was hardly noticed. Austin Johnson, who will turn 26 in June, was doing a fine job filling the void in training camp, preseason, and even the first half of the regular season until he landed on injured reserve on November 4th with a knee injury.

So, heading into a new season, the big question remains: Do you give Lorig the benefit of the doubt (mulligan, if you will), or do you turn to Austin Johnson?

After missing the first seven weeks of play, Lorig finally suited up in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers. He’d commit his only turnover of the season, and it wasn’t until Week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he found the end zone.

Overall, Lorig didn’t have many memorable outings in 2014. He was called upon in the Cincinnati Bengals game on a fourth down call, but came up short of the goal line, shifting the momentum back over to the Bengals (even before all of that fan drama).

So, it begs the question, is it possible that Austin Johnson could take over in 2015? Let’s first look at 2014 performances.

Snap Counts in 2014 (out of 1,094)

  • Lorig: 155
  • Johnson: 109

Final Stats in 2014

  • Lorig: 3 rushes, 4 yards, 9 receptions, 27 yards, TD
  • Johnson: 8 rushes, 22 yards, 2 receptions, 15 yards, TD

Pro Football Focus Grades

  • Lorig: Overall (-9.2), Pass Block (-1.6), Run Block (-6.6)
  • Johnson: Overall (2.5), Pass Block (1.0), Run Block (0.6)

As per the grading process, Lorig was also credited with two quarterback hurries and two quarterback hits.

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You can’t automatically shift blame to the lack of run production down the stretch on Lorig. (Note: If you are unable to view the tables, please open in your browser)

Salary Cap Impact for 2015: Would it save any money?

Lorig: $750K Base Salary, $250K Roster Bonus, $50K Workout Bonus (Total Charge: $1.05 million)

Pre-June 1 Cut Impact: $750K Dead Money ($300K Savings)

Post-June 1 Cut Impact: $250K Dead Money ($800K Savings)

Johnson: $510K Base Salary, No Bonuses

Pre-June 1 and/or Post-June 1 Cut Impact: $510K Savings

Johnson played on special teams in addition to his role as a fullback, which makes him have more upside. Lorig, who turns 28 in November, also filled in on special teams, but was less effective.

It’s common in today’s NFL, but the Saints could likely carry two fullbacks again in 2015. Monetarily speaking, there’s no benefit to trimming Lorig, but in the future years, there could be. However, after looking at the whole spectrum, who would you rather?