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New Orleans Saints 2018 season grades: Running back

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Will the Saints be able to keep their dynamic duo at running back together?

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The New Orleans Saints have always had a productive offense since Sean Payton was hired as head coach in 2006. The team has had a number of talented running backs over their history as well. Players like Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas during Payton's reign, and Ricky Williams, Reuben Mayes, Dalton Hilliard, George Rogers, Chuck Muncie, and Tony Galbreath throughout team history were loved by fans, respected throughout the NFL, and left marks on the New Orleans franchise. No duo in the team's history though, has been as productive as Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have over the last two seasons. The two have combined for 5,501 yards from scrimmage and 51 touchdowns in their two years together, and have fueled a top 10 ranked Saints rushing attack. Today, we have a look at how the running back position influenced the success of the 2018 Saints.

RUNNING BACK

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Alvin Kamara followed up his offensive rookie of the year honors in 2017 by having an outstanding sophomore campaign. He led the Saints in rushing with 883 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring a franchise record 14 rushing touchdowns. Kamara is one of the NFL's most versatile weapons. He was second on the team in receptions and receiving yardage, 81 catches for 709 yards, and adding four more scores to finish second in the league for total touchdowns. Kamara also proved in 2018 that he had the capability to be an every down back, and one effective between the tackles and in short yardage situations. He is the ultimate mismatch against opposing defenses, and is a gamebreaking threat from any spot in the offensive formation.

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Kamara's running mate in the Saints backfield was again Mark Ingram, who claimed the top spot as the team's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in 2018, and finished the season just 90 yards away from surpassing McAllister as the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Ingram missed the first four games of the year due to a league suspension, and finished with 645 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. Even though his statistical production was down from the previous two seasons, Ingram was still a very effective offensive weapon for the team, and did have two games of over 100 yards rushing. He is more than just an inside runner for the team. Ingram is an excellent pass blocker, an underrated receiver out of the backfield, and has the speed to get to the edge or pop a big play once into the second level of the defense.

Washington Redskins v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Quarterback Taysom Hill gave an added dimension to the Saints offense in 2018 with his running ability. Often used in short yardage or goal line situations, Hill's strength and athleticism not only provided an added running threat for defenses to account for, but help spread the field for the offense's other weapons. He picked up 196 yards rushing on the year, scoring twice, and his versatility will likely be even further utilized in 2019.

Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints

The Saints still utilize the fullback position, perhaps as much as anyone in the league. Zach Line is closer to an extra offensive lineman than he is a runner, but the team has used him as an occasional threat near the goal line. Line had only nine carries for 41 yards, but caught 2 touchdown passes on just five receptions. Line's primary role in this offense however, is as the hard-nosed lead blocker for Ingram and Kamara. It's a role he fills admirably, and without much fanfare or adulation, but with understated importance to the success of the New Orleans running game.

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The team signed Dwayne Washington early in the season to bolster depth. He had 27 carries for 154 yards in limited opportunities during the year, but turned in a 108-yd. rushing effort in the regular season finale against Carolina. Washington has decent burst and power through the hole, and looks to be a strong contender for the team's number three back spot heading into next year.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saint Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

One of the Saints major offseason question marks surround Ingram, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He has expressed desire to remain in New Orleans, who selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 draft. The eighth year back has a close relationship with many in the Saints locker room, including Kamara, where he has served as an important mentor. He also has little wear and tear on his body for a 29-yr. old back, with just three seasons of over 200 carries. Ingram has the abilities of an every down back, and could garner heavy interest if the Saints do allow him to hit the open market. If New Orleans is unable to retain Ingram, then the running back position becomes a much higher priority among the team's needs this offseason. Kamara too, has shown the potential of being able to carry the load as the team's primary back, but the Saints offense is far more effective with a second back capable of shouldering the load. Kamara showed signs of wear down the stretch this season, and is a much more effective weapon when his versatile talents can be used around the formation. The 2018 Saints were successful offensively in part due to the explosive and versatile tandem of Kamara and Ingram, two unique talents unmatched by many teams in the NFL.

RUNNING BACK GRADE = B+

Poll

How would you grade the New Orleans Saints running backs in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    A
    (155 votes)
  • 37%
    B+
    (117 votes)
  • 10%
    B
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    B-
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    C+
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    C-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (2 votes)
313 votes total Vote Now