Khiry Robinson could go all the way. Given the Saints’ penchant for running the ball in 2014, at times looking like a top 10 rushing team, Robinson stands poised to become a major factor in the Saints offense for this year and next.
The Saints have a strong record of relying upon undrafted players as cornerstones of the team — seeing talent as preeminent above all other qualities more so than most other teams — and Robinson’s own success indicates he has the ability to step forward as a featured star for the team.
Hailing from unheralded West Texas A&M University, Robinson showed he could be a three-down running back in the 2013 playoffs (where he led the team in rushing yards and carries). In 2014, he started the season with an impressive outing against the Atlanta Falcons, featuring a 21-yard run, followed by a goal-line touchdown against the Cleveland Browns. Even though Robinson only had 68 carries up to that point, he showed determination, elusiveness, and surprising burst and power, while at the same time proving himself a good outlet receiver.
Robinson has also shown reliable ball security and vision while running. In short, Robinson has been showing all the elements of a primary running back for some time, while in a situation that has often been best described as a committee.
To reach the playoffs in 2014, the Saints will have to prove they can run the football over the course of entire games and the entire season — all while continuing to punish teams that dare them to run. Robinson first earned his opportunity to show what he could do in game three of 2013 versus the Arizona Cardinals. He entered the game with four minutes remaining and finished off the clock with four carries for 38 yards, winding up as the Saints’ leading rusher that day. Using his 220-pound frame to punish tired defenders, he ably filled the role as closer —running extremely hard in what would become trademark style for him and exhibiting real speed on the way to an almost 10-yard average.
The next week against the Miami Dolphins, head coach Sean Payton again utilized Robinson against a tiring defense in the fourth quarter. Already following the holes provided by the Saints reliable and cohesive offensive line (and doing so remarkably well for a supposedly raw, small-college rookie), Robinson again picked up some long runs, both inside and outside, to yet again emerge as the Saints’ leading rusher on relatively few carries. Robinson was used only in special situations for the remainder of the regular season: most notably in goal-line attempts against the New England Patriots, where he scored a touchdown, and versus the St. Louis Rams, where, in his sole attempt of the game, he appeared to stretch the ball into the end zone yet could not get the call for the score. Playing against the Carolina Panthers in week 16 — one of the most crucial games of the year — Robinson only entered the game in the fourth quarter after an injury to Mark Ingram, and he played a prominent role in the Saints’ lone touchdown drive, carrying the ball five times and picking up one first down. It was during that drive that the Panthers appeared weakest and most tired, and Robinson’s pounding appeared to take its toll.
The reason for the lack of using Robinson’s special skills the rest of the season may have been that the coaching staff was conserving him for the playoffs. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first playoff game, Robinson was extremely effective as he made key plays to help the Saints win their first road playoff game in franchise history. Again, showing synchronicity with his line, plus patience and a physical running style, he continually made positive yardage on first and second down — giving the Saints excellent third-and-short situations. He again was featured on a Saints touchdown drive (the game-winning drive no less), picking up chunks of ground on three carries while decimating a tired defense in the fourth quarter. His final carry was a five-yard thing of beauty against a desperate Eagles line on its last chance, which allowed Drew Brees to have a very short third-down attempt to clinch the win.
In Seattle against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Seahawks, who also happened to bring the best defense in the league, Robinson gained the start — and he ran hard and evasively all night during a game in which the Saints very nearly pulled off yet another road upset. He led the team in carries and yards, picking up a first down on a long-pass reception. He later picked up two more first downs on long runs of 13 and 17 yards, in which it looked like he was very close to breaking away for much longer gains. It was in this game that a national television audience first saw Robinson’s churning running style — one in which he was able to keep moving forward even when one of the league’s best defenses in the last 10 years was draped around him. Fans may have tuned in to see Marshawn Lynch, but they saw another running back with very similar qualities occasionally take center stage. Ultimately, Robinson took consecutive carries inside the five-yard line — including the second carry for a touchdown. Again, Robinson was used in the fourth quarter, and, again, he was a prominent piece in a key touchdown drive. As the Saints seek to surge toward the playoffs in October and November, Robinson will help carry them there.