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In 2015, the New Orleans Saints stable of Running Backs rushed for a little over 1,400 yards and 15 TDs. With workhorse back Mark Ingram, "change-of-pace" back C.J. Spiller, and veteran replacements Tim Hightower and Khiry Robinson, the quartet added on over 800 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs (with RB Travaris Cadet picking up another receiving TD).
Mark Ingram missed the final four games of 2015 with season-ending shoulder surgery, and has only played a full 16 games in one season of his 5-year NFL career, and that came in 2012 when Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles were limiting Ingram's role.
C.J. Spiller, after signing a four-year contract to come to New Orleans to become the change-of-pace back Sean Payton has clearly enjoyed (to replace the aforementioned Sproles), Spiller left a lot to be desired in 2015. Part of his lack of production compared to his days as a member of the Buffalo Bills could be attributed to recovering from offseason knee surgery, and part was that he was simply not used correctly/enough in the Saints offensive scheme.
No new Running Backs were added/lost for the Saints in the 2016 offseason aside from losing Khiry Robinson to the New York Jets in free agency. Yes, Vick Ballard was signed, but he was subsequently released. And yes, the Saints drafted RB Daniel Lasco in the 7th Round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but he is moreso a special-teamer, and that will be discussed later.
So here's why they're better in 2016:
I know Mark Ingram has not played a full season since 2012, but even in 2014 (when he only played in 13 games), he finished just short of 1,000 yards. Whether Ingram plays in a full 16 or not, with the improved offensive line discussed in Part I, Ingram should be able to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the first time of his career.
We saw glimpses of what C.J. Spiller could provide to the Saints offense in the Saints overtime victory against the Cowboys. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis has gone on record saying the Saints will see the "real C.J. Spiller" in 2016. Now a year removed from his offseason surgery, and with a year under his belt in Sean Payton's system, Spiller should be able to thrive in the high-octane Saints offense.
Even with Robinson gone, Tim Hightower is a perfectly fine replacement if needed. In a Week 16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hightower started in place of the injured Mark Ingram. In that game, Hightower rushed for over 100 yards, added almost 50 extra receiving yards, and punched it into the end zone two times.
With Running Backs, it is not necessarily an issue of improvement alone, but a healthy year from Mark Ingram, and a better-utilized C.J. Spiller. Those two facts, along with improved play from the offensive line, will make the Saints a force from the backfield.