NFC South: Tim Hightower

It’s more than a little ironic the Arizona Cardinals and Beanie Wells are coming to New Orleans for a playoff game Saturday.

It’s a reminder of one of the best moves the Saints made (or didn’t make) last year. In the offseason, coach Sean Payton made the shrewd decision the team needed to be more committed to the running game. They weren’t going to take the ball out of the hands of Drew Brees and the passing game very much, but balance was needed.

How they went about making it happen was one of the smartest things Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis did. First, they let popular veteran Deuce McAllister walk. Then, they started looking hard at the draft and that’s where Wells came into play.

The Saints were sitting at No. 14 in the first round and they were pretty much locked into defensive back Malcolm Jenkins. There might have been some thought given to taking Wells with that pick, but it was obvious the Saints’ biggest priority was to get a cornerback.

But the Saints didn’t give up on Wells after taking Jenkins. They’ve admitted they at least considered the possibility of trading back into somewhere later in the first round. It didn’t happen and that’s turned out to be a good thing because the price tag would have been steep.

Wells has had a nice year in Arizona, where he shared the running load with Tim Hightower. Yes, the Saints certainly could have used Wells, but it’s worked out just fine for them without making any drastic moves at running back.

After the draft, the Saints at least toyed with the idea of signing veteran free agent Edgerrin James, who previously played for Arizona. But bringing in James would have been roughly the equivalent of keeping McAllister around.

Instead, the Saints did the smartest and most economical thing they could have. They stayed with what they already had in their building and just figured out how to use their personnel better.

With Payton's more committed approach to the running game in his play calling, the Saints became a solid running team. They’ve used Pierre Thomas as their main runner and he’s put out pretty much the same type of numbers Wells did this season. Thomas is New Orleans’ most complete back, capable of running inside and outside, catching passes and blocking.

But he’s had plenty of help from Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. Bell’s filled in Thomas’ role when Thomas has been hurt and also been a good short-yardage back. Payton seems to have realized Bush is never going to be a between-the-tackles runner and that’s a good thing.

When healthy, Bush has been effective as an outside running threat, a pass catcher and a return man. The Saints also have gotten undrafted rookie Lynell Hamilton into the mix at times.

So many times people use hindsight to look back at drafts and talk about what a team should have done in a negative way. When Wells comes to the Superdome, the Saints can look back and know they made the right move by not making a move.

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