The New Orleans Saints have one of the most high-powered offenses in the league. It’s easy to look at the team and say they should focus all efforts on improving their defense.
But a talented player at RB could make a world of difference for Sean Payton and this New Orleans Saints offense.
I guess I should clarify that I don’t mean this as a knock on Mark Ingram. Ingram is a great RB who excels in his role with the Saints. He’s an elite protection back and is very elusive. He may not be the fastest back in the league, but he’s more than capable of breaking out long runs.
Ideally, the Saints offense would operate with two types of running backs.
Payton likes to work with a through-the-tackles player, like Ingram, and a satellite back, a pass catcher out of the backfield. The Saints need someone to fill the satellite back role that Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles filled in their years in New Orleans. Sean Payton’s offense thrives on the mismatches that those players create.
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This lack on the roster is no secret: when the Saints brought in C.J. Spiller in 2015, the media and fan base went through the roof. After years of success in Buffalo, the prospect of Spiller and Payton together had most of us salivating. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out. Wear and tear had eaten away at Spiller’s explosiveness. In Spiller’s stead, the Saints went with RB Travaris Cadet in the satellite role.
Cadet played admirably. Don’t get me wrong. He fulfilled the basic need for the position: Payton could throw Cadet out to get him matched up with a linebacker, and Cadet would, for the most part, win the battle. But it didn’t happen often enough, and Cadet did little to make the offense pop. At times he was plagued by bad hands, at others by an inability to protect Brees. When he caught the ball in space, he would go down at first sight of a defender. And if he was covered, chances were slim that he’d make the catch at all.
If the Saints manage to pick up an explosive player to matchup with linebackers and make plays in the open field, it’ll open up a whole new realm of dominance for their offense.
Teams are already struggling with what to do with their safeties against New Orleans. Both Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas demand more than just single coverage. If they can add someone to make things happen underneath, teams will have no answer. A top-tier satellite back demands safety help, and opens up the field for the rest of the passing game. And if Coby Fleener can fix his soft hand problem, the team will be near unguardable.
Does that mean the Saints can afford to use some of their precious cap space or draft picks on a running back?
The answer, in my opinion, is an unequivocal yes.
This defense is only a few pieces away from being one of the better units in the league. Even as is, with some added depth at a few key positions, the Saints defense is competent.
And look at where the Falcons got on the heels of a mediocre defense. Most analysts had the Falcons as favorites for the game, if only because of how dominant their offense was.
Years of elite offense hobbled by terrible defenses have cooled me to the thought that a purely offense-oriented team can make strides in this league. But the Falcons showed the world that this isn’t strictly the case. And yes, they lost in the championship. But that doesn’t knock the composition of their roster.
If the Saints are able to take that next step as an offense, then they’d be contenders even with their 2016 defense. And assuming they hit on some of their other moves in the offseason, and that the unit can stay relatively healthy, the defense should be improved in 2017.
They have picks and money to spend. The defense needs help, but besides an EDGE rusher, few position upgrades could be more game changing than an upgrade to the satellite position.