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Fantasy Extra: Choosing the right Saint

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When news of Darren Sproles' hand fracture surfaced before Week 9, Fantasy Football owners flocked to Pierre Thomas as the go-to replacement option.

But last week Thomas had just five carries -- third-highest on the team -- despite leading them in snaps played. Meanwhile, former first-round pick Mark Ingram led the Saints in carries in a close game against the Falcons but didn't have the best stats -- those belonged to Chris Ivory, who broke a long touchdown run for the second consecutive game.

A three-headed backfield is the kind of nightmare Fantasy owners shouldn't want any part of, but it's difficult to resist a running back in the New Orleans offense considering how many points it has the potential to put up from game to game, pretty much regardless of the opponent.

In an effort to try and make sense of what's going on in New Orleans, we broke down the playing time of the three backs from Week 10 against Atlanta.

 
Pierre Thomas
Mark Ingram
Chris Ivory
  Run Pass Run Pass Run Pass
1st & 10 3 6 10 3 3 2
2nd & 5+ 1 6 4 2 4 0
2nd & 4- 1 2 1 1 0 1
3rd & 5+ 0 7 1 0 0 0
3rd & 4- 0 1 0 1 0 0
Red Zone 0 2 2 1 0 0
Hurry up 1 7 0 0 0 0
Snaps 27 23 10

The first point to make is that on every run play listed above, the back received the carry. At no point did any two of these players play together. Fourth-string rusher Travaris Cadet occasionally shared the field with these guys in the game.

The next big-picture thought is that while Thomas had the most snaps, it is clear that he's who the Saints trust the most in pass protection and on passing plays, especially third-and-long and in the hurry-up offense. The one carry Ingram had on third down came at the end of the game when the Saints were trying to grind down the clock. It was one of two snaps Ingram had on third down while Ivory had none. Thomas is the Saints' passing downs back, which means a lot of playing time and some chances (not a ton) to make a play if downfield coverage isn't to Drew Brees' liking.

But when it came to first down, Ingram played and did the most. Ten of his 16 carries came on first downs. Ivory's first-down runs didn't even come until the second half and two of Thomas' three first-down runs came toward the tail end of the second and fourth quarters. In this game, Ingram was the Saints' primary rushing downs back.

Second downs were the wild card. Thomas had 10 snaps, Ingram had eight and Ivory had five. However, Ingram had five carries, Ivory had four (including his touchdown jaunt) and Thomas had two. There might not be much rhyme or reason as to how that broke down. Of Ivory's second-down plays he replaced Thomas once and Ingram twice -- the other two plays he was a part of on first down. It's noticeable that the Saints didn't have a ton of second-and-manageable plays (six total), but when it was second-and-five or more, Ingram and Ivory split eight of nine runs. A rational conclusion might be that Ivory was used when the team wanted to give Ingram a break.

The red-zone stats speak for themselves, though there weren't many red-zone plays for New Orleans in this game.

Fast forward

Just because the Saints leaned on their running backs a certain way against Atlanta doesn't entirely mean they'll do it again when they play at Oakland. Saints coach Joe Vitt dropped a hint in his Monday press conference suggesting that the coaches will re-evaluate Ivory's role. Vitt also said that the amount of carries and workload warranted per running back depended on the opponent and "will change on a weekly basis."

But Vitt didn't hide what he liked about Ivory's game.

"I think he's run over people since he's been here," Vitt said. "I think he is one of those backs that does a great job of running behind his pads. He is one of those backs that, at his size, can make you miss. At the same time, he can lower his pads and run over some people. He's always looking to get extra yards. I think what has been encouraging about Chris, you saw him switch the ball into the proper hand when he finished his touchdown run. Those are the little things that he has really worked on to become a better player. It's fun to watch and we're proud of him."

This is the same coach who referred to Mark Ingram as an "elite" running back a week ago, then gave him the most carries he's had since Week 2. No coach will knowingly tip his hand but if the Saints look back on the Falcons game (and the Eagles game the week prior) they'll see that there's more of a home-run threat with Ivory than there is with Ingram.

Here's what all of this means: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Ivory cut into Ingram's workload against the Raiders with Thomas continuing to work mostly on passing downs. That would mean Ivory would have the most upside of the Saints' running backs against a Raiders run defense that gave up four touchdowns to Doug Martin in their last home game and at least one rushing touchdown to a running back in three of their last four games. Though Ingram could still keep the goal-line role (or split it with Ivory), the reality is that Ivory shouldn't sneak up on anyone in Fantasy this week.

Enjoy it while it lasts -- once Darren Sproles comes back for the Saints, Vitt will reshuffle the deck yet again and re-assign roles to his rushers, and the Fantasy nightmares will start all over.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Cowboys RB Joseph Randle confident he can replace DeMarco Murray
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:19 pm ET) With last season's leading rusher no longer on the team, Cowboys running back Joseph Randle said he can replace the 1,845 rushing yards DeMarco Murray produced last season, reports The Dallas Morning News.

"He had a good year last year, and I got to sit back and watch a lot," Randle said, "and I felt like there was a lot of meat left on the bone."

Randle did get first-team reps during Wednesday's OTA session and he said he's ready to handle a heavy workload this season.

"I'm going to try to go out there and grind as hard as I can and see which role I end up in," Randle said. "If they ask me to do that, I'm ready for it. And if they believe in me, I believe in myself, that’s for sure."

Randle has been arrested twice in the last year, but he said he's learned from his mistakes.

"Everything you go through in life you learn from it and I learned from it and I've moved past it. I've grown up," Randle said. "I've made some young and silly mistakes, but I'm moving forward."


Jets' Brandon Marshall on ability: 'I'm better now than I've ever been'
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3:57 pm ET) Despite being a five-time Pro Bowl selection, Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall said Wednesday he can still be a better player than in his previous nine seasons, reports ESPN.com.

"I really feel like I'm better now than I've ever been," Marshall said.

Marshall added that his improved health and more knowledge of the game has him prepared for a productive 2015 season.

"There's the physical part, feeling healthy, and our medical staff here is probably the best in the league," Marshall said. "I feel great, and now I'm starting to see the game differently, being older and having a lot of experience. So having all of that working for me, and going against those guys every single day, I'm excited about doing my job this year."


Bills DT Marcell Dareus in wait and see mode over contract talks
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3:49 pm ET) Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said he is eager to work out a contract extension with the Bills, but he knows he must perform on the field regardless of his contract status, reports the team's official website.

"We'll wait and see what the Bills do," Dareus said. "It weighs on me heavily. Heavily. I've got to go out there and really perform and do what I have to do, which I always do—really have fun with it. Whatever the outcome is, is the outcome. However they want to play it is how they play it. I'm excited. I'm excited for the upcoming year."

Dareus will be suspended for the season opener as a result of an off-field incident last year and he said he's ready to move on.

"I'm happy we can finally move forward. It's been hanging over my head for a while," he said. "Just happy we can move forward and I can prepare myself for the season and just happy to be with my friends, my guys, my real family. Just really feeling a lot better right now."


Bears TE Martellus Bennett misses Wednesday's OTA
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3:42 pm ET) Bears tight end Martellus Bennett did not attend the team's voluntary organized team activity Wednesday, reports ESPN.com.

Bennett has not attended any of the team's offseason workouts as he waits for a new contract.


Ravens WR Michael Campanaro suffers quad injury Wednesday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3:28 pm ET) Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro sustained a quadriceps injury during Wednesday's OTA session, reports The Baltimore Sun.

The severity of the injury is not known, according to sources. In 2014, Campanaro caught seven passes for 102 yards in four games.


Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) remains on schedule
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said Wednesday his injured knee is about 80 percent healed and he remains on schedule to play in Week 1, reports the New York Post.

Cruz has been able to run routes and cut on his surgically-repaired knee, but he did not participate in team drills Wednesday. Cruz missed the final 10 games of the 2014 season after he tore his patellar tendon.


Seahawks sign second-rounder Clark, third-rounder Lockett
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(2:40 pm ET) The Seahawks signed a pair of draft picks Wednesday, reaching deals with second-round pick, defensive end Frank Clark , and third-round selection, wide receiver Tyler Lockett , per the National Football Post. 

Clark receives a four-year, $3.7 million deal despite the controversy regarding his selection. Clark was kicked off the team in Michigan after being arrested for domestic violence. 

Lockett's deal is reported to be four years and $3.3 million. 


Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles says he wants to play six more seasons
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:33 pm ET) Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is gearing up for his eight season in the NFL and he knows the pessimistic perception on the career length for running backs, reports the team's official website.

"The game has changed," Charles said. "They've got all kinds of technology now, all kinds of medicine people have come up with to stay healthy. At the end of the day, an ACL you couldn't play [with], it was the end of a career."

Charles hopes by maintaining his body, avoiding big hits and not trying to run over people, the subtle changes will provide longevity to his career.

"I want to play another six years so, my form is to keep on taking my diet," he said. "I'm seeing guys at 37 or 38 still playing football in the trenches and that's somewhere where you don't want to play. So I just want to change the game with the running backs. I want this to last longer and then when I retire, I'll be happy with where I end my career at."


Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson participates in Wednesday's OTA
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(2:20 pm ET) For the first time since suffering a torn Achilles last season, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson was able to participate in team drills during Wednesday's OTA practice, reports the team's official website.

"It means a lot," he said. "Even though it's just OTAs, I'm a veteran, I've been to OTAs a lot, but at the same time, after being out a year, I need this time. This is going to help me get back to form and when the 2015 season comes around I'll be going."

Despite getting on the field for the first time since suffering the injury in the first game of last season, Johnson said he was more concerned with how he performed than the injury.

"A lot of people asked me, 'You ready to go today?' and I was more worried about dropping the ball when I jumped a route—that's what I was worried about."


Seahawks' Kam Chancellor on losing Super Bowl: We're more driven
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:52 pm ET) With the way the Seahawks lost last season's Super Bowl, safety Kam Chancellor said the loss has provided motivation to work even harder this offseason, reports The Seattle Times.

"I've seen guys out here busting their tails, the whole offseason going fast-tempo," he said. "Guys are lifting like crazy. It's just like the mindset is just sharpened. It just sharpened even more. We're more focused, more driven. We're just hungry for the first game of the year."


 
 
 
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