The New Orleans Saints drafted a running back named Alvin Kamara from the University of Tennessee with a 3rd round pick (67th overall) in this past spring's NFL draft. Saints coach Sean Payton's hope was that Kamara would team with top back Mark Ingram to add a versatile threat to the New Orleans backfield the team had with Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles. The result instead was a Saints running back duo that was not only the most prolific in team history, but set numerous NFL records for productivity as well. Today, Canal Street Chronicles continues our positional grades with the position that arguably fueled the Saints offensive success in 2017.
Mark Ingram is not talked about when the best all-around backs in the league are mentioned, but many believe that is an oversight. Ingram had the best season of his career in 2017, rushing for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He ranked 5th in the league in rushing yards, and second in rushing touchdowns. He also continues to be an underrated receiver, finishing third on the team with 58 receptions and adding 416 yards receiving while giving quarterback Drew Brees a reliable and dangerous checkdown option. Ingram had four games of over 100 yards rushing, tying a career high, despite sharing carries with rookie sensation Kamara, and even dividing backfield time early in the season with the failed experiment known as Adrian Peterson.
Alvin Kamara's rapid development in the New Orleans offense made Peterson expendable. The rookie did not disappoint as a receiving threat, finishing second on the team in receptions (81) and receiving yards (826), tops among all NFL running backs. Where Kamara surprised many was in his ability as a running back, even showing potential as an every down runner, rushing for 728 yards and 8 touchdowns averaging an eye-popping 6.1 yards per carry. The deadly Ingram/Kamara combination accounted for 193 yards per game of total offense and helped the Saints lead the league with 23 rushing scores.
Trey Edmunds had few opportunities as a runner during the regular season, but had an explosive 41-yd. touchdown run during a week 10 victory at Buffalo, and showed good strength and speed during the preseason. His development for backfield depth could be a nice offseason storyline.
Another offseason story will be a potential battle at fullback, where Zach Line did a solid job filling in for veteran John Kuhn after Kuhn was lost to injury. Fullback is an underrated position in a Sean Payton offense, and both Kuhn and Line have shown decent versatility and ability, particularly near the goal line.
Ingram and Kamara were the first pair of running backs from the same team to be selected to the Pro Bowl in over 40 years, and this looks like it could just be the beginnining of something special. The 28-yr. old Ingram is in his prime, while Kamara was used all over the offensive formation, and developed into one of the most dangerous mismatches in the league. They led New Orleans to a 5th best league ranking in rushing, and also proved to be major threats in the passing attack, as opponents struggled all season to contain the dynamic pair. The New Orleans Saints have always been a pass-heavy team under Sean Payton, but the talents of Ingram and Kamara gave them the most productive and multi-faceted running back corps in franchise history.
RUNNING BACK GRADE= A
How would you grade the Saints running back position in 2017?
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