||08-06-2003 12:01 PM
Saints Best/Worst Case Scenario from ESPN
Pretty good read...
Saints could use better backup at RB
By Len Pasquarelli
Wednesday, August 6
Updated: August 6
9:39 AM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- It isn't often a team can trade away a tailback who goes on to lead the NFL in rushing, setting ground-gaining records in his first season with his new franchise, and still survive such a megadeal.
Training Camp Tour 2003
ESPN.com senior writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton are on the road again, filing reports from each of the 31 NFL training camps over the next month.
Training Camp Tour
But credit the New Orleans Saints for conjuring a way to land on their feet after dispatching tailback Ricky Williams to the Miami Dolphins last spring. That deal essentially netted New Orleans two first-round draft picks and, almost as significant, paved the way for Deuce McAllister to ascend to the starting feature-back job.
Not a bad trade-off, considering all the variables of the deal.
In his first season as the Saints' starter, McAllister rushed for 1,388 yards, good enough to top the NFC and rank sixth in the league. McAllister, the team's first-round choice in the 2001 draft, also made 47 receptions for 352 yards, scored 14 touchdowns overall and provided a big-play component that had been lacking in the ground game.
OK, so his numbers didn't quite measure up to Williams' league-high 1,853 yards, and, like the Dolphins, the Saints didn't qualify for the playoffs. But in addition to creating a starting spot for the talented McAllister, the deal permitted the Saints, using the draft choices acquired, to bolster the roster in other areas of need.
"It was a trade," assessed Saints star wide receiver Joe Horn, "that was pretty important to this franchise in a lot of ways."
One year later, McAllister is part of one of the NFL's most potent offensive arsenals, the unchallenged key to the Saints' rushing attack. He also is the central figure in the Saints' best- and worst-case scenarios. Because if McAllister is unavailable for any prolonged period, the rabid fans in The Big Easy are going to grow antsy, indeed. Take McAllister out of the lineup and, well, the Hurricanes and the tears would both flow pretty freely on Bourbon Street.
You could make a pretty convincing argument that the worst fate that could befall the Saints would be to lose quarterback Aaron Brooks, who seems to be fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. But the club acquired journeyman backup Todd Bouman from the Minnesota Vikings in March and, while the six-year veteran does not have an extensive resume, he has played well when ceded the opportunity.
The general feeling here is the Saints could survive, at least for a short time, the loss of Brooks. But having McAllister out of the lineup could prove disastrous, since the lack of depth at the position has placed New Orleans in a potentially perilous situation, one that the personnel department hopes to rectify before the regular season commences.
In the land of the "Who Dat's?" the reserve tailbacks here are more like "Who Dey's?" The most experienced, in terms of league service, is 12-year veteran Fred McAfee, but he is more noted for his special teams tenacity. New Orleans traded for Curtis Keaton a year ago, basically to be the No. 2 tailback, but he logged only 12 rushes for a paltry 19 yards.
Here, then, are the best- and worst-case scenarios at tailback:
As GM Mickey Loomis aptly pointed out Tuesday, there are a lot of teams who have high-profile tailbacks and basically anonymous backups. Nothing the matter with that, because it characteristically means the starter is healthy and productive. McAllister missed just one game in 2002, logged 91.3 percent of the carries by New Orleans running backs, and the Saints probably would take a repeat performance.
But to really cement the position, the Saints need to make a deal, even a minor one, to augment the tailback position. It's not imperative to acquire even a well-rounded player, like a third-down receiver, because New Orleans rarely throws the ball to its backs and prefers three-wideout and "open" sets. If the Saints can come up with a veteran who could just provide three or four runs a game, it would be an upgrade and would permit the club to give McAllister a breather once in a while.
Throughout his career at the University of Mississippi, and even at times during his rookie campaign in 2001, McAllister was injured. Given the current situation, any nick to the team's star runner would be a dent to the New Orleans offense, because no one has yet demonstrated they can assume the workload.
McAfee actually had a season with more than 100 carries, but that season was 1991, and he has averaged just 15.8 rushes per year since then. Keaton seems to have some tools but hasn't put things together yet. Second-year veteran James Fenderson is an intriguing youngster, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2002, but had just 13 rushes. Tavian Banks hadn't been in the league in three years when New Orleans signed him, and he has been injured in camp.
The bottom line is that, sans McAllister, the Saints could turn into sinners pretty quickly. When the Deuce is on the loose, things are fine, indeed. If the Saints ever have to play without Deuce, though, they'll be hurting.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.