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New Orleans Saints 2016 Year in Review: John Kuhn

The Saints fullback was unstoppable in short-yardage situations and paved the way for Mark Ingram’s 1,000 rushing yards. Will he return in 2017?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints fullback John Kuhn (29) spikes the ball after scoring against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Little noise was made about longtime Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn joining the New Orleans Saints in free agency, but his addition turned out to be an underrated boost to Sean Payton’s offense.

Kuhn’s best days looked to be behind him; the burly lead blocker scored eight touchdowns in his breakout 2010 and 2011 seasons, but only saw multiple scores once between then and signing with the Saints.

Kuhn was also an able receiver, seeing fewer than ten targets just once since 2010 and caught thirteen or more passes every year from 2010 to 2013, scoring another four touchdowns.

But at 34 years old, the three-time Pro Bowler’s time looked to have run out in Green Bay. So when Austin Johnson fell out of training camp with a season-ending injury, the Saints called Kuhn’s number.

They couldn’t be happier with how the signing turned out. Kuhn matched his career-best rushing touchdown total (four) and set a new high in receiving targets (twenty) and catches (sixteen). Kuhn’s role as the short-yardage back turned him into a stellar asset.

The Saints dialed up eighteen carries for Kuhn, and fourteen of them came with three or fewer yards needed for a first down or score. Kuhn converted twelve of those carries for a success rate of 85.7 percent. Eight of those conversions came on critical drive-sustaining third downs.

When boiled down to rushing attempts when just a single yard was needed, Kuhn was near-perfect. He failed to get that yard just once out of a dozen tries for a success rate of 91.6 percent. That’s an awesome level of efficiency.

But that’s all just what Kuhn accomplished on the rare occasion he was charged with toting the rock. Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower both saw success running behind him. Kuhn regularly stood out in front as a blocker, paving the way for Ingram’s career-best 5.1 yards per carry; a rate that tied Dallas Cowboys rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot for third-best in the NFL regular season. Tim Hightower’s 4.1-yards per carry was his best rate in four seasons.

It remains to be seen whether Kuhn will be re-signed for the 2017 season. He looked spry for his age and was an impressive contributor whenever called upon. Kuhn won’t command a serious salary cap commitment and the Saints should at least consider bringing him back next year.