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Making the Leap, No. 19: Saints' Khiry Robinson

*Around The League will profile the top 25 players we see Making the Leap in 2014. No. 19 on the list: New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson. *

Why Robinson is on the list

Lofty praise from the right sources is a good start.

During the Saints' playoff game at Seattle, FOX analyst John Lynch famously revealed that Bill Parcells phoned former pupil Sean Payton to chastise him for not saddling up Robinson, the next version of former Parcells workhorse Curtis Martin.

Parcells presented Martin at the Hall of Fame ceremony in 2012. That's rarefied company.

Undrafted out of West Texas A&M last offseason, Robinson settled for a three-day tryout at the Saints' rookie minicamp. By the time he dominated the game-winning field-goal drive to knock off the Eagles in January, Payton had anointed him the team's "most talented runner of the football."

Robinson enters his second season as Exhibit A in the argument against paying big money for running backs. He forced more missed tackles on 76 regular-season snaps than Ray Rice did on 730, per Pro Football Focus' metrics.

This is a demonstrated skill. Robinson also led the league in forced missed tackles during the preseason and averaged more postseason yards after contact per attempt than Marshawn Lynch and LeGarrette Blount, the latter of whom became the first player in NFL history with at least 150 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game.

Why devote first-round draft picks to college stars such as Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson when Robinson had already turned out a finer all-around performance in his fourth preseason game than either Alabama star has produced since entering the league?

At 6 feet and 220 pounds Robinson boasts three-down size and skills. What stood out on Game Rewind was his exceptional balance, above-average power, plus vision and a decisive burst when he put his foot in the ground and turned up field.

While other backs get tripped up by hits to the lower leg, Robinson consistently regains his footing for extra yards. He's not going down with an arm tackle.


The primary obstacle to a breakout is the same as it was for Pierre Thomas last season: Payton plays his entire stable of backs because he believes "each one of those guys has a different skill set, and the versatility is important."

It's an even bigger hurdle for a back running behind an offensive line that struggled to open holes last season.

Robinson can bolster his case for a bigger slice of the pie by learning his assignments and understanding protections in the passing game. Payton has noticed a marked improvement in that area this offseason.

Although Robinson managed only one catch during the regular season and postseason, he demonstrated his receiving chops in preseason action. He also caught 60 passes in college. What's especially promising is that he consistently makes the first defender miss, as you can see in the video to the right.

2014 Expectations

While Payton has yet to publicly announce an increased role for Robinson, the offseason actions certainly suggest an opportunity to lead the backfield in touches. The Saints traded Darren Sproles, shopped Thomas and declined Ingram's 2015 option.

After adding potential difference-makers in Brandin Cooks and Jairus Byrd this offseason, the Saints are a prime candidate to produce the NFC's best record this season. Payton understands his offense must shift from the wide-open, fast break scheme to a more balanced, ball-control attack to compete with physical superpowers such as the Seahawks and 49ers.

That evolution should lead to a marquee role for New Orleans' premier tackle-breaker. A 1,000-yard season is likely out of the question as long as the committee approach remains intact, but Robinson is a good bet to take center stage in January for a second consecutive season.

In the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the heroes discuss which teams "realistically" have no shot at winning the Super Bowl this season.

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