As March drew near, the New Orleans Saints found themselves performing just as much salary cap maintenance as any other NFL franchise. The first trio of departures came in late February, with more still likely to follow. That sets the stage for the next men up. Having performed well in their respective roles in 2013, Kenny Stills, Khiry Robinson and Terron Armstead are all poised to gain a much more important part in the Saints' dynamic offense next season.
Kenny Stills - WR
Stills compiled a nice stat line as a rookie, catching 32 balls for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns. With Drew Brees always willing to spread the ball around to every weapon, Stills was able to grow nicely and organically within the Saints' potent offense. His reps seemingly increased week by week and his role grew larger towards the end of the year. With Lance Moore battling injuries and defenses keying on Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, Stills soaked up all the targets he could and made the most of them while also providing a deep threat the team seemed to lack following the departure of Devery Henderson. Now that Moore has been released, Stills is set to earn an even greater role going forward into 2014. With the cash-strapped Saints highly unlikely to do much more in the free agent pool than attempting to re-sign receiver Robert Meachem, Stills should have a strong chance to build upon his solid rookie campaign.
Khiry Robinson - RB
An undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M last year, Khiry Robinson became the latest diamond in the rough to emerge from New Orleans' deep scouting pool. After a nice preseason campaign, Robinson earned his spot on the Saints' active roster and made his debut in week 3. He went on to see important carries as a short yardage back before making the most of his opportunity late in the season with Pierre Thomas shelved due to a chest injury. Robinson played well in both the Saints' playoff games, and even drew a comparison to the great Curtis Martin from the aforementioned Hall of Famer's former coach, Bill Parcells. With the Saints expected to part ways with both Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram should be first in line to absorb the majority of the action. The Saints will give Ingram every opportunity to show he can handle the work, but with the team expected to make more of a committment to it's running game in an effort to better sustain drives and control the ball, Robinson should see plenty of reps as well. Both backs will be in line to make a greater impact on Sean Payton's offense next season, but keep an eye on Robinson, who looked like a cool customer in the postseason and finished his rookie year with 224 yards on 54 carries with a touchdown.Khiry Robinson should play a big part in 2014 for the Saints
Terron Armstead - OL
Another small school product, Armstead was a known commodity after putting his freakish talents on display at the pro scouting combine in Indianapolis last year, but did not get his NFL feet wet until the embarrassing week 15 loss at St. Louis. After starter and impending unrestricted free agent Charles Brown was benched for good after the game, Armstead was thrust into the starting lineup for the team's week 16 showdown with Carolina. Though he was overmatched against the Panthers' sack specialist Greg Hardy., Armstead played well during the Saints next 3 games, including the 2 playoff matchups, and flashed the potential to be Drew Brees's long term blind side protector. The Saints' offensive line coincidentally improved as a unit following Armstead's insertion into the lineup, and with a good offseason, the talented lineman should be positioned to not only hold down the Left Tackle role for 2014, but for many years to come.
These three players all made their contributions at one time or another as rookies and showed why the Saints' staff had faith to place them in those positions. With cap space at a premium, New Orleans will look to its in-house talent to step up and plug and play the vacated spaces in the team's offense. Kenny Stills, Khiry Robinson and Terron Armstead will look to take the bull by the horns and put their stamp on the team in 2014.