If you asked me what was the single most damaging thing the Saints have experienced so far this offseason, I would say trading away Darren Sproles. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the Saints offense needed to shake things up because teams were starting to smother Sproles and sniff him out. I also want to point out that I find this offseason has by and large been a total success. The final piece of the puzzle to what I largely consider a perfect offseason is Jimmy Graham’s situation getting resolved. But even once that happens the loss of Sproles will remain the big question mark. How do the Saints move on without him? By no means am I saying they can’t, but when you lose such a centerpiece to your offense you have to look for new identity.
There’s a few schools of thought here on what the Saints will do without Sproles. The first is they’ll change their offense and make it less gimmicky and more focused on traditional running. This would mean Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas will all get the lion share of the reps between the three of them and we’ll see the Saints run the football more in 2014. I actually think this is the least likely. Don’t get me wrong, the Saints added Erik Lorig with the intention of committing to the run, but Drew Brees is still in his prime and the drafting of Brandin Cooks reinforces that they’re still a pass first offense. The second idea is that they will mix and match how they replace Sproles. In other words, it won’t be just one guy and they’ll have a few players share Sproles’ responsibilities. I still find this scenario most likely. That means Robinson could get more playing time on 3rd down, and it also means we may see Cooks getting the swing passes and occasional misdirection sweep. We already know Thomas sets up blocks well on screens, so he would potentially get more of that. And while Cadet certainly figures into that mix in a rotation system as a receiving back, the third possibility is that Cadet will own Sproles’ role all to himself.
Cadet has been off to a fast start in OTAs and his heavy involvement in both the offense and the passing game, with good success, suggests that perhaps the Saints are toying with the idea of trusting him a lot more this season. Cadet has shown some real potential and good hands coming out of the backfield, but his return game has been pretty inconsistent and I can’t get my mind off the screen pass drop against the Seahawks where he’s still running right now if he just hangs on. You also can’t really compare the two in terms of explosiveness and speed, Sproles was a track stud that ran a 4.31 40 and Cadet timed at 4.56. But he’s turned some heads at these practices and the idea of him getting a more significant role in the offense can’t be ruled out. He certainly has the hands to pull it off, I think, but I question if he has anywhere close to the same ability to make guys miss in the open field or cut on a dime like Sproles. Let’s be honest, very few guys have that in the NFL. What Sproles brought was unique and very hard to duplicate with someone else.
How the Saints decide how many reps each back gets is an even larger question as a whole. In 2012 Chris Ivory spent the majorly of the year on the bench until injuries crept in, playing behind Ingram, Sproles and Thomas. In 2013 it was Robinson that had to wait for his opportunities behind the same players. Now that Sproles is gone it’s Thomas, Ingram, Cadet and Robinson in the mix. Will one guy be the odd man out to start the season in terms of reps until more snaps open up due to injury or poor performance, or will the Saints try to mix and match them evenly to keep each one involved? It’s an interesting question because while Thomas, Ingram and Robinson all rightfully seem ahead of Cadet in the pecking order, Cadet’s skillset most closely resembles that of Sproles. He’s not an exact match, but he’s most fit to execute a lot of the niche designs previously intended for Sproles. Cadet’s value to the team is his uniqueness.
How do you see the running back position playing out rotation wise? And do you think Cadet will be used sparingly or in a more straight plug in role for Sproles?