Secret Superstars: New Orleans Saints
Our Secret Superstar series continues today with the New Orleans Saints and a hard-nosed running back who despite limited opportunities, has produced in a big way when called upon during his first two seasons in the NFL.
Khiry Robinson took an unconventional route to the NFL, starting with his collegiate career. He played junior college football for two years at two different schools, winning the 2009 NJCAA National Championship at Blinn College in his home state of Texas. He then moved on to Division II West Texas A&M and as a senior, rushed for 1654 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He pulled in 38 receptions as well and returned punts for the team.
Robinson signed with the Saints as an undrafted free-agent in May 2013 after not receiving much interest immediately following the 2013 NFL Draft. He impressed during the preseason, rushing for 229 yards on 49 carries, forcing 16 missed tackles along the way. He racked up 111 yards after contact and his cumulative +3.8 run grade led all backs. Despite a loaded backfield, Robinson made the 53-man roster as the Saints carried six backs into the season.
Biding His Time
Playing time was hard to come by for Robinson during the 2013 campaign as Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles were entrenched atop the depth chart. After being inactive for the first two games, Robinson made his debut in Week 3 against Arizona on the kickoff coverage unit and managed four garbage-time carries in a 31-7 laugher. He played only 72 offensive snaps the rest of the regular season, but continued to contribute on special teams. His most extensive action came in Week 17, toting the rock 12 times for 50 yards and forcing two missed tackles.
Robinson finally got his chance to shine in the 2013 postseason with injuries mounting on the depth chart in front of him. With his physical style on full display, he forced five missed tackles and picked up 74 of his 102 yards after contact over two games. His +4.0 run grade and 96.1 Elusive Rating during the playoffs were topped only by fellow bruiser Marshawn Lynch (+5.2 and 104.6).
Spelling Ingram, Robinson carried the ball eight times against the Eagles in the opening round for 45 yards, with 28 of those yards coming after contact. Specifically in the fourth quarter, he really punished the Philly defenders. At the 4:07 mark, he makes a nice cut in the backfield with the intended gap closing in front of him and then carries multiple defenders a good seven yards down the field, picking up a crucial first down. A few plays later following the two-minute warning, Robinson shakes the linebacker in the hole and gets twice as much yardage as the blocking allowed.
Robinson led the team in carries and yards the following week at Seattle in the divisional round. A whopping 46 of his 57 yards came after contact against a tough Seahawk defense. Once again demonstrating his physicality, at the 14:11 mark in the second quarter, he easily runs through an arm tackle just beyond the line of scrimmage and finishes the run strong absorbing contact from three Seahawk defenders while continuing forward. He scored the Saints’ first touchdown late in the game on a goal-line run, his second career touchdown.
Slowed by injury
Robinson entered his second season with confidence after a strong finish to 2013 and was awarded more playing time right out of the gate. He matched his total snaps played from the previous year early in the 2014 season, with a season-high 44 coming at home against Tampa in Week 5. His season was derailed however by an arm fracture in Week 7. After initially attempting to play through it, he had it surgically repaired and missed six games. Ingram went on to dominate the carries during the second half of the season.
Prior to his injury, Robinson was off to a great start in 2014. He continued to break tackles at a high rate, forcing 15 missed tackles on 64 carries and had the sixth-best run grade through Week 7 at +5.0. He was also in the upper echelon of the league when it came to yards after contact, averaging 2.75 yards per attempt.
The high point of his 2014 season was his Week 5 effort. He rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries, forcing seven missed tackles. He got the call on the last four plays of the game in overtime, taking the last carry 18 yards for a score. He benefits from great blocking on the game-ending play, extending even to the second level, but runs through contact by two defenders at the 7-yard line and manages to keep his feet before taking it into the endzone.
Robinson looks primed to contribute again in 2015. Though it remains to be seen how many carries he will receive behind the newly resigned Ingram. C. J. Spiller came over from Buffalo in free agency, but will likely fill more of the passing-back role that Pierre Thomas filled in previous seasons. Depth chart aside, it will be hard to keep this Secret Superstar off the field if he continues to produce like a household name.