In 2009, the Saints won a Super Bowl with a running back trio that did everything. They ran, blocked, caught, and ran some more. They helped to create one of the most dynamic offenses the NFL has ever seen. That offense scored 510 total points on 64 TDs and 6,461 total offensive yards. They led the league in total yards and points scored that year. The team also ranked 6th in the NFL in total rushing yards with 2,106. That trio consisted of undrafted free agents Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell alongside 2006 first-round pick Reggie Bush. Since then, the Saints have been trying to piece together another successful Running Back group; Ingram/Thomas/Sproles and Ingram/Hightower/Spiller for example. That third role, the “Joker” role as it’s called in the Saints offense has been elusive, though not in the way they’d hoped, over the last few years since Sproles was traded to the Eagles. The team brought CJ Spiller in in 2015 and outside of a spectacular wheel route that won an overtime game, he never got a hold of the offense. Just like that, Payton has been missing an important piece to his puzzle.
This year, the Saints found that piece when the Saints traded away their 2016 7th round draft pick and a 2018 2nd rounder to get into the early third round and select Tennessee Running Back Alvin Kamara 67th overall. Thus, to New Orleans comes a young, fast, shifty wildcard to play ball in a back field alongside Mark Ingram who had his first 1,000-yard rushing season last year and newly signed Adrian Peterson, who has had several. Much like the Saints new three-Safety look, they now have a pretty fearsome three-headed monster of an offensive backfield that we get to look forward to every Sunday. Let’s talk about how Kamara’s production can translate to what feels like a dream fit in the Saints offense.
During the 2011 season we were running the three-headed monster of Ingram/Thomas/Sproles. Sproles alone accounted for 1,313 of our record setting 7,474 offensive yards. The following year he still produced 667 yards receiving on 75 receptions even though his run production slowed- getting nearly half the carries compared to the year before. With that, he compiled 244 yards rushing. Still a very productive year for the role he played. Along with those 911 total offensive yards he had seven receiving touchdowns and one rushing. That’s a touchdown about every 15 touches. According to CBSSports Kamara had a touchdown about every 12 offensive touches (23 on 284 touches.) The important thing to note about those 23 TDs is that 16 of them came on the ground while seven came through the air. I suspect that the best-case scenario for Kamara could be much akin to Sproles’s second year with the Saints while maintain his college TD to touch ratio of ~12. He’ll be sharing the backfield with two great Running Backs, so the carries shouldn’t come in abundance barring injury to Ingram or Peterson. But the Joker role could prove advantageous for Kamara. Imagine this guy’s speed, agility, and strength catching a screen off the right side led by Strief, Warford, Hill and Snead and/or Ginn. Looks pretty good on paper and it can be every bit what we hope for and more on the field come September.
Stat Line: 55 Rushes for 420 Yards and 3 TDs, 70 Catches for 700 Yards and 7 TDs
This one’s easy because we’ve all seen it before. In 2015 the Saints signed C.J. Spiller in the hopes that he could be the next successful Joker in the gameplan. Instead, the former Buffalo Bills starter failed to grasp on to the Saints offense and, save a couple of big plays, didn’t produce well. He also suffered a knee injury that slowed his progress with the team drastically. That seasons, he had 36 rushes for 112 yards and 34 receptions for 239 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns- both big-time touchdowns, to be fair. In 2016, he was cut after Week 1 of the season. A game he didn’t even play in thanks to a “game-plan decision” by Sean Payton to start Travaris Cadet instead. This is easily the worst-case scenario for Kamara. With the additional hurdle of the dreaded college-to-pro adjustment, it’s also well within the realm of possibility. But let’s be real, this guy’s too dope.
Stat Line: 35 Rushes for 105 yards and 0 TDs, 40 Catches for 281 yards and 2 TDs
If you thought I was high on Marcus Williams, I’m even more hyped for this dude. As someone who holds UTK close to his heart (I work at their Regional Theatre from time to time- shout out Clarence Brown Theatre) I am absolutely stoked for Kamara to hit the field before the Who Dat Nation. Do I think that he’ll be the Darren Sproles of 2011 right away; breaking all-purpose records and excelling at every facet of the game? No, but for good reason. I don’t see Kamara getting too involved in the kick and punt return world, though I’m prepared to be wrong about that, and I don’t think that Kamara’s going to see the amount of carries that Sproles saw his first year in black and gold. But I think he’ll come close to filling the Reggie Bush role as the receiving and change-of-pace back. The exciting thing about Kamara isn’t just his ability to catch a football, he’s also a very gifted runner. He was tied for the most elusive running back in college football last year by PFF compiling an elusive rating of 129.4 along with Dalvin Cook. He’s shifty, he’s quick, he’s got crazy good balance and he’s also got the excellent reflexes necessary to stick his hand in the ground and fight for more yards. I am beyond excited to see this guy in Payton’s offense, which I’ll bet he grasps with few hiccups. I believe we’ve found our patented Joker in the backfield and potentially much more for years to come.
Stat Line: 50 Carries for 300 yards and 3 TDs, 80 Catches for 650 Yards and 6 TDs
It’s worth mentioning that beyond the skills most used for the Joker RB in the Saints’ scheme, Kamara has dazzled between the tackles in Tennessee as well. His elusiveness and strength in the middle make him a viable lead back if he can continue to hone those talents. That’s a few years in the future from now, but worth keeping an eye on as he develops. For now though, I’m just looking forward to seeing him thrive in the role he’s given, one akin to his role as a Volunteer. The Alabama transfer and Rocky Top product is sure to turn some heads his rookie season.
Next time: Third-round pick (76) Alex Anzalone