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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
Brandon Gibson begins light jobbing
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(5:14 pm ET) Brandon Gibson has begun light jogging as he works his way back from a torn patellar tendon, the Miami Herald reports. The Dolphins are expected to keep him on the roster, if only because of the cap hit he'll cost, per the report. He said recently he expects to be ready for Week 1. 

'Humbled' Richardson explains 2013, promises a better 2014
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:21 pm ET) Colts running back Trent Richardson spoke openly about his disappointing 2013 season, saying that it took him too long to learn a new playbook and get over leaving Cleveland after Week 2. Richardson also told the official team website that he's planning to do everything within his power to be as prepared as possible for 2014. 

"Y'all will see a big significant difference in the way I play, the speed. I won't have to think about a lot of stuff," Richardson said earlier this offseason. "It's going to be big -- timing with the offensive line, timing with Andrew (Luck), just knowing a lot more with the program, the whole system.

"They haven't seen everything they're going to get out of me yet. A lot of it is going to come next year. A lot of it is going to come in the offseason. I'm going to put in a lot of work, as I've been doing this whole season. This season humbled me. ... This season was a lesson to me."

Colts coach Chuck Pagano has had Richardson's back, says the running back, and the coach stressed back in March that his running back's involvement in the offseason program will be key. 

"It's going to be very, very important for (Richardson) to be here for the offseason program and to dive into this thing full steam ahead, which he will," Pagano said. "He wants to be great. He's got all the talent. He's got all the ability. We would have never done what we did if we didn't believe that deep down in our core. So we look for him to have a great offseason and to have a great 2014 campaign."


Saints bring back Robert Meachem
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:06 pm ET) The Saints announced Friday that the club has re-signed veteran free agent wide receiver Robert Meachem to a one-year contract.

Meachem is a seven-year NFL veteran who was originally the club's first round draft pick (27th overall) in 2007. He re-signed with the Saints prior to the start of the 2013 regular season and appeared in 15 games with five starts. He finished with 16 receptions for 324 yards with two touchdowns.

Meachem said signing with the Saints now should help with his preparations as he will be able to take part in the team's offseason conditioning program, OTAs and mini-camp. Plus, "this is home," he said.


Can Chris Johnson turn into Tomlinson?
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:12 am ET) The Jets are hoping running back Chris Johnson can do for them what LaDainian Tomlinson did in 2010, reports ESPN.

That season, Tomlinson came from San Diego to New York after he was released. He responded with a team-high 914 yards with six touchdowns on 219 carries and caught 52 passes. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Maybe Johnson, who was let go by the Titans, can do the same thing.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday.

Johnson had a disappointing year in 2013 when he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but he played 13 games on a torn meniscus and was running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season. The situation in New York should be improved, and hopefully being teamed with Chris Ivory will allow him to play like Tomlinson did in 2010.


Aikman worried about Tony Romo
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(10:01 am ET) Former Cowboys quarterback and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is worried about current Dallas quarterback Tony Romo coming off back surgery, reports the team's official website.

Romo, 34, is coming off back surgery in December, which was the second procedure on his back in a year.

"I came back in a relatively short period of time because of when I had my surgery, so he's at least afforded more time to get ready," Aikman said. "But having said that, two back surgeries in less than a year at his age, I would be a bit concerned.

"I'm hopeful that he's able to come back -- everybody is. This team won't be the same if he's not able to. I anticipate that he will come back. But to say that, 'Hey, he's ahead of schedule and everything's going fine,' I'm not sure how you can really measure that here in April."


Bengals, A.J. Green not talking extension - yet
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(9:54 am ET) The Bengals are expected to exercise the fifth-year option on receiver A.J. Green's contract by May 3, reports Pro Football Talk. But the sides have yet to discuss a long-term contract extension, according to the report.

The Bengals hold the rights to Green through the 2015 season. And in 2016, if a long-term deal hasn't been signed yet, the Bengals can use the franchise tag on Green for that season.

The report says Green can force the issue by trying to boycott offseason workouts or hold out from training camp. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is confident Green will be there.


Chris Snee will give it a shot this spring
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:52 am ET) Giants guard Chris Snee will attempt to go through the Giants offseason program once he's healthy, the New York Daily News reports. Snee had hip surgery last season and an elbow surgery earlier this year. There is no timeline for him to be at 100 percent but he is expected to be on the field for the "bulk" of offseason activities. 

Report: Niners won't release Aldon Smith
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(9:50 am ET) The 49ers might expect a suspension for pass rushing linebacker Aldon Smith, but they are not planning to release him, NFL Network reported on Friday.

Smith was arrested recently for making false bomb reports at a Los Angeles airport, the latest of a string of troubles for the highly talented linebacker. He was also arrested for suspicion of DUI in January, 2012 and again September, 2013. He also had marijuana on him during that September arrest. In October, 2013 he was charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon. 


Russell Allen among Jaguars' latest releases
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(9:43 am ET) On Thursday the Jaguars released veteran linebacker Russell Allen along with Will Pericak , D'Aundre Reed and Jabin Sambrano, ESPN reported. Allen was released with a failed physical designation, a sign that he might not quite be over the effects of a concussion suffered late last season. 

Ravens reinstate Rolando McClain
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(9:41 am ET) Despite a poor workout earlier this month the Ravens have reinstated linebacker Rolando McClain from the reserve/retired list, NFL.com reports. It remains to be seen if McClain has a legitimate chance of staying on the roster this summer. 

 
 
 
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