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Fantasy Football Blitz: Saints RBs marching to new beat

By Tim Heaney

New Orleans Saints RB Darren Sproles
Here he comes to wreck the day!

New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael proclaimed that they'll employ the dreaded (at least for fantasy football players) "hot hand" system among his running backs. Increasing optimism that Darren Sproles (hand) will play in Week 11 means they may dress Mighty Mouse, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory.

Precisely the type of jazz fantasy postseason competitors requested, right?

As mentioned in this week's On Target, head coach Joe Vitt thought the running game was ignored during his suspension. He's trying to increase their rushing presence - a shocking development for these high fliers.

New Orleans won't suddenly become an old-school ground-and-pound club, but balance seems to be helping. They've won their last two games while plowing over the Philadelphia Eagles' waning Wide 9 and registering 28 hand-offs when they clipped the wings of the formerly unblemished Atlanta Falcons.

In fact, since Week 8, Saints marchers compiled the third most ground yards (290) and logged the sixth highest yards-per-carry average (5.6) in the NFL.

Since their legwork will remain secondary, it won't foul up Drew Brees' value, besides your lofty expectations of him sustaining another historic aerial pace.

This may, however, complicate Sproles' worth whenever he resurfaces. Logic dictates that fewer pass formations outside of third down might mean less work for No. 43.

New Orleans, at least per this Vitt interview, thinks Ingram still boasts stud potential. He looks a little healthier, sure, but I disagree. Take a big whiff of their first-round-pick justification. He'll continue to be defined by volume, which, even in this makeover, is hardly guaranteed with this squad.

Thomas is a better mix for a feature back that would fit all of the Saints' needs than these two. He's the snaps leader for this backfield in that time, but that unfortunately hasn't translated into production.

I can't quit the Ivory market. Even if his reps are limited, he has the best build to control the clock, and he mixes this with tackle-breaking and big-play ability. He's shown more polish in his running style, too, justifying New Orleans' insistence on retaining him despite rampant trade rumors.


New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram
Close-up ... meh

Their opponents will, naturally, play into Vitt's dealing. It might be a rainy weekend for their Oakland Raiders matchup in Week 11, which could present an opportune time to carry out their land war on the backs of Ivory and Ingram. Plus, they probably wouldn't want to put too much on Sproles' shoulders if he returns.

Their San Francisco 49ers clash in Week 12 points to a Sproles-heavy workload, considering the Bay Area brick wall. Their divisional showdown with the suddenly surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15 also points to that, given how much their between-the-tackles resistance has improved.

Their plowing mindset should resurface on their other remaining dates. They face the Falcons again in Week 13, and the suddenly battered New York Giants (Week 14, another potential weather speed bump) and Dallas Cowboys (Week 16) could yield happy days for Ivory and Ingram. Of course, those pass defenses are susceptible to Sproles, but these could be opportunities for them to keep those offenses on the sidelines by grinding it out.

The Carolina Panthers (Week 17) are a toss-up; their interior D has improved thanks to Luke Kuechly but isn't stalwart.

Expect frustration if you hop into this picture, but don't write off the big-money plays, especially if you need a new toter tune.

March on

My rank the rest of the way: Sproles (when active), Ivory, Ingram and Thomas.

Sproles' natural fit in their most comfortable identity still gives him the edge. If they ditch this phase, he'd have the most to gain. The fact they'll be hard-pressed to shut him out even in this philosophy cements his status. He's already chiefly a point-per-reception contributor, and he'll still meet flex value there.

It'd be counterproductive to deactivate someone with Ivory's punishing style if they want to keep breeding their forward push. Ingram, on the other hand, must get upwards of 20 touches to maximize his less potent skill set. Ivory's breakthrough ability and possibility for an increased workload define the upside fantasy owners need this time of year.

Since Vitt might have other ideas, you should at least place one bet from this backfield to give yourself a chance of hitting.

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