Saints running back C.J. Spiller recently said he’s ready to “flourish” in the New Orleans offense. He may have to get in line. Literally.
Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune noted Thursday on Twitter that it’s “[p]retty apparent” the running back rotation is Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower, and then Spiller.
That’s good news for Hightower, who was out of the NFL for three full seasons before joining the Saints last season, and bad news for Spiller, who is still struggling to recapture his form of 2012 (1,700 yards from scrimmage in Buffalo) and 2013 (1,100 yards from scrimmage in Buffalo). In 13 games last season, his first with the Saints, Spiller had 112 yards rushing and 239 yards receiving. His brightest moment came via an 80-yard catch and run for a touchdown in overtime against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
After the 2015 season ended, Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis suggested that 2016 would be much different for Spiller: “I think we will see the real C.J. Spiller and we will be able to give him a lot of opportunities to get back to player that he was. We are looking for some good things from him. He’s a special player when he is right.”
Spiller had knee surgery during training camp last year, and coach Sean Payton has pointed to injuries for Spiller’s overall lack of production. The apparent placement of a presumably healthy Spiller at No. 3 behind Ingram and Hightower suggests either that Spiller still isn’t completely healthy — or that Spiller is healthy and, at least based on the offseason program, Spiller hasn’t done enough to convince the coaching staff to move him any higher on the pecking order.
Regardless of where he fits in the rotation, the Saints consistently have used two and three running backs over the past decade. Spiller has the skills to fulfill a Darren Sproles-type role for the Saints. If they can get out of Spiller what the Bills got out of him, the Saints will have an even better chance to get back to the postseason despite being in one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL.