The 2017 training camps have officially started throughout the NFL. The rosters of each team often look vastly different from year to year, and the New Orleans Saints are certainly no exception. Free agency signings, defections, and of course the NFL draft make up the league's springtime headlines, as every team tries to make the personnel moves to vault themselves to the top.
Canal Street Chronicles continues with our positional breakdowns, and today we take a look at an offensive position that created it's share of headlines in the 2017 offseason.
(*) denotes rookie
Camp Roster: Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara*, John Kuhn (FB), Daniel Lasco, Travaris Cadet, Marcus Murphy, Trey Edmunds*, John Robinson-Woodgett* (FB)
Losses: Tim Hightower (free agent)
Additions: Alvin Kamara (draft), Adrian Peterson (free agent)
Mark Ingram had his first 1,000-yard rushing season as a pro in 2016, going for 1,043 while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Entering his 7th season, Ingram is arguably in his prime now, and continues to improve as a receiver also, he had a career best 4 touchdowns through the air, and a total of 10 score total. The 27-year-old Ingram should continue to be the Saints featured back, and is one of the better ones in the league.
The free agent loss of the popular Hightower was offset by the signing of the future Hall of Famer Peterson. The 32-year-old Peterson was limited to only three games last year with Minnesota, and seems to be on the back end of his career. He looks to prove to skeptics that he still has some good ball left in the tank. He will also have to show coaches that he can catch the ball better than his career stats indicate to be a consistent factor in this offense.
Kuhn is a throwback player, and a fan favorite with his hard-nosed style of play. The 11-year veteran also continues to play at a high level, shown by his 2016 career highs in receptions and rushing touchdowns. Undrafted free agent Robinson-Woodgett is likely just a camp body at fullback, though a good training camp could earn him a practice squad spot.
The Saints traded up in this spring's draft to land Tennessee's dynamic running back Alvin Kamara in the 3rd round. Kamara is expected to add an explosive element to the New Orleans backfield since the team traded away Darren Sproles. He will likely be the team's top receiving back if he picks up the offense quickly. Kamara should add even more of a running threat than Sproles did, and will look to be the change of pace back behind Ingram and Peterson.
Kamara’s additional abilities as a returner puts the roster status of Cadet highly in doubt. Cadet will be in a fierce battle with Daniel Lasco and Marcus Murphy for the 4th running back spot, with the edge likely tilted towards Lasco as the team begins camp. A dark horse candidate to watch is Trey Edmunds, an undrafted college free agent this spring. He has the NFL bloodlines that coach Sean Payton seems to love (his father, Ferrell Edmunds, was a star tight end for the Miami Dolphins). Edmunds had an outstanding freshman year at Virginia Tech, then after two down years transferred to Maryland, where he was injured his senior year. Edmunds possesses a very good blend of speed and power that might help him overtake a few of the RBs on the back end of the depth chart.
Outlook: The Saints will more than likely keep 5 running backs, including a fullback. Ingram, Peterson, Kamara, and Kuhn are virtual roster locks. If Kamara picks up the offensive playbook quickly, it makes Cadet's chances much slimmer, given Lasco's ability to offer more as a special teams defender and in goal line packages. Murphy seems destined to be an early roster cut, but Edmunds has some traits that may cause coaches to want a longer look. Remember that Sean Payton is no stranger to keeping undrafted or late round draftees at the skill positions. Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson, Lasco, and Murphy have all made contributions over the years as late round or undrafted acquisitions.
The battle for the last couple running back positions will be close, but the real storyline rests with how Ingram and Peterson are used and in the production the Saints will receive from each. Ingram is still likely to be the featured back, and his average of around 20-22 touches per game will not likely change a great deal. Expect Peterson to average around 10-12 touches per contest, only slightly higher than Ingram's backup of the previous two years, Hightower.
Peterson's Hall of Fame pedigree will earn him more touches if he does get on a roll, and Payton elects to go with the "hot hand". The Saints are not going to become a run-first team, as some have suggested, not while Drew Brees and Sean Payton are in town. The running game should benefit greatly from the additions of Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara to complement the talents of Mark Ingram, helping the Saints continue to be one of the more dangerous offenses in the NFL.
Which Saints running back is most likely to make the roster?
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