The New Orleans Saints running backs are primed to be one of the strengths of the 2017 squad. Mark Ingram is coming off of his first career 1,000-yard rushing season, and with the improvement of his receiving skills has established himself as one of the better every down backs in the league. The Saints have a throwback player in the tough-as-nails fullback John Kuhn, who will also provide a short yardage reliability and underrated pass catching skills. The Saints then added future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, who could provide New Orleans perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the league at running back. In the draft, the Saints drafted Tennessee's explosive all-purpose threat Alvin Kamara to hopefully be a succession to the threats New Orleans possessed with Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles.
Where then does that leave the status of today's sophomore profile, Daniel Lasco?
Daniel Lasco grew up in The Woodlands, TX, near Houston, and attended the Woodlands High School, where he was a national prep star from his sophomore through senior years. He chose to attend the University of California, and was a special teams standout his freshman year, leading the team in tackles. His finest year for the Golden Bears came as a junior, when he rushed for 1,115 yards with 12 touchdowns and added 33 receptions for 356 yards and two more scores. A serious hip injury, along with ankle injuries, hampered Lasco throughout his senior campaign, limiting him to a part-time contributor in only nine games.
The injury concerns, along with scouting questions about the back's natural vision and recognition, caused his draft stock to tumble. He did show his athletic ability at the NFL scouting combine with an all-time running back best of 11'3" standing long jump and 3rd best all-time of 41 1/2 inch vertical leap to go along with a 4.46 second 40 time. Despite this, Lasco was still available in the 7th Round of the 2016 draft, where the Saints snatched him up with the 237th overall pick.
Lasco was second on the team in rushing attempts during the preseason, but his 20 carries netted him only 57 yards, as the Saints struggled with offensive line issues. His 7 receptions for 51 yards were also second among Saints running backs. The 2016 season saw Lasco only active in seven contests, and his 11 carries for 32 yards hardly jump off of the stat sheet. He did seem to be carving out a niche on special teams and as a change of pace back behind Ingram and Tim Hightower before a series of minor injuries shortened his season.
Lasco is a one cut, North-South style of runner that provides good push between the tackles with a good initial burst through the hole. He doesn't have the shifty style or explosiveness that you might expect from his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame, but instead seeks out contact to dish out his own share of punishment on a would-be tackler. Lasco is a decent receiver out of the backfield, and is most effective on screens and check down routes where he turns immediately up the field for positive yardage. He'll make his mark on special teams as well, a gunner role that he takes pride in playing.
Lasco will have to be an improved back to make the team. As stated, Ingram, Kamara, Peterson, and likely Kuhn have their spots locked down. That leaves Lasco in a battle with Travaris Cadet, Marcus Murphy, or even rookie fullback John Robinson-Woodgett for what will likely be the final roster spot at running back. Murphy has likely run out of chances with the coaches. The 2015 seventh-round draft choice from Missouri has shown some good receiving ability and potential as a kick returner. His inconsistency and ball security issues have frustrated coaches and fans alike.
Cadet knows the offensive system well, has the confidence of Drew Brees, and is an adequate pass receiver. Cadet's major issue is simply that he isn't spectacular in anything that he does. Kamara was drafted because of his potential to be the constant threat that past Saints Thomas, Bush, and Sproles provided; something that Cadet was unable to do. Lasco provides more of a running threat than either Cadet or Murphy, and his ability as a special teams defender could very well separate him in the race for a roster spot.
Sean Payton and staff have done a nice job over the years of finding running backs overlooked by other NFL teams. Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Khiry Robinson all made significant contributions after coming to New Orleans as undrafted free agents. Daniel Lasco will have an opportunity to add his name to that list this summer.