Thomas should continue to improve on his fantasy production

Will Pierre Thomas be a better fantasy option in the absence of Mike Bell?

With the New Orleans Saints' drive to Super Bowl XLIV on the line in the NFC Championship Game back in January, it was telling to whom they gave the ball.

On fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota Vikings' 43-yard line on the opening possession of overtime, coach Sean Payton put the ball in the hands of Pierre Thomas. With eight defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, he dove over the top to pick up the first down that led to Garrett Hartley's game-winning field goal a few moments later.

With Mike Bell gone to Philadelphia, the Saints figure to give the ball to Thomas even more this season.

The bulk of Bell's 172 carries figure to go to Thomas, who ran for 793 yards and gained 1,095 yards from scrimmage in 2009 on a modest 13.3 touches per game. By comparison, Bell had 13.5 touches per game while Reggie Bush had 8.4.

Thomas didn't average 5.4 yards on his 147 carries by pounding the ball between the tackles. Instead, that job mostly belonged to Bell, while Thomas often made his yards working the edges.

Still, as he proved at that critical juncture of last year's NFC title game, Thomas can be physical when asked to be, and he spent much of the offseason working on his lower-body strength to improve his leg drive.

The Saints could yet bring in a big back to pound the ball when need be, and second-year man Lynell Hamilton also might be in line to take some of the goal-line carries. But when it comes to crunch time, chances are that the player the Saints will rely on most often in the ground game is Thomas.

Bottom line: Thomas has increased his number of carries, receptions, rushing and receiving yards, in each year of his career. That trend will continue in 2010.

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