Daniel Lasco: Breaking through a crowded Saints backfield
Going into training camp, there are not many positions that would be noted as strengths on the New Orleans Saints roster. Quarterback is probably the only sure thing the 2016 Saints have going for them. The Saints backfield, however, may be an interesting secondary bright spot, even for a team that ranked 24th out of 32 teams in rushing yards in 2015. The position could be made exponentially better by a little known seventh-round pick out of the University of California, Daniel Lasco.
Lasco is a 6-foot, 209-pound running back/special teams ace that has a quick cut ability to make defenders miss and is excellent as a receiver out of the backfield. Watching him run a screen play is reminiscent of former Saints running back Pierre Thomas. The former Cal Bear is also a decent pass blocker and showed the ability to move defenders away from the quarterback in his four years playing at Cal. The issue, however, is the New Orleans Saints have multiple running backs that fit those same set of skills, and it is going to be difficult for Lasco to find his niche on this 2016 Saints roster.
Being a seventh-round pick on a roster with two former Pro Bowlers (Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller) and three key contributors from 2015 (Tim Hightower, Travaris Cadet, and Marcus Murphy) would usually relegate a player to the bottom of the roster, but with Sean Payton’s history of using late round draftees and undrafted free agents (UDFA), Daniel Lasco becomes an even more intriguing prospect.
Daniel Lasco’s true competition will come in the form of returning running backs Marcus Murphy and Travaris Cadet
The Saints are going into the 2016 training camp with six running backs and will most likely start the regular season with only three or four, depending on injuries and special teams play. This limited number of slots will make for an exciting battle between Lasco and the previously mentioned key contributors for that coveted spot on the final 53-man roster.
It is the special teams play that will play an important role in determining who will ultimately find a spot on that regular season depth chart, and Lasco knows this. He told The Times-Picayune reporters during a conference call directly after the draft, “I’m going to make my living on special teams.”
On special teams in the National Football League, a running back will usually find himself returning punts and kickoffs. That is what happened with last year’s seventh-round pick out of the University of Missouri, Marcus Murphy, who went from relative unknown to starting the season as the primary punt returner. He also found himself on the bench after a mild propensity of losing the ball on said returns. A return specialist, however, is not where Daniel Lasco will make his impact and find himself a spot on the roster.
At the University of California, Daniel Lasco was an enforcer in special teams coverage with a team high 12 special teams tackles and two forced fumbles as a redshirt freshman. However, he was not just a great special teams player in 2014. Lasco was voted Cal football’s Most Valuable Player. That’s right, the same Cal team that had the 2016 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick for the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Jared Goff.
Lasco was also voted team captain as a Junior in 2014 and again as a Senior in 2015. He was, however, slowed by a nagging hip injury in 2015 and never seemed to fully recover. He only managed 360 all-purpose yards after a stellar Junior season where he accumulated 1,471 yards rushing and receiving. Due to that injury, his stock in the 2016 NFL draft dropped significantly, and that may very well have been a blessing in disguise.
Being given the chance to compete on a team that has found former undrafted players like Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Khiry Robinson should help Daniel Lasco breathe a small sigh of relief. He will be given every opportunity to make the team, and it will be a matter of who plays better and not where a player was drafted.
Daniel Lasco’s true competition will come in the form of returning running backs Marcus Murphy and Travaris Cadet, who will all battle for what could be one spot on the roster. That spot will go to the most versatile player among the three. This gives Lasco an advantage, as he is a better pass blocker and receiver. He also gives the Saints a player who can play as a blocker on returns and as an enforcer in coverage in the kicking game.
Next: The Saints and the Salary Cap
Whatever the future may hold for the 23-year-old out of The Woodlands, Texas, he will not be going down without a fight, which is good news for the 2016 New Orleans Saints.