The New Orleans Saints’ 2021 season suffered greatly from injuries and illness sustained by some of their most important players. Fans can find some comfort in the team’s offseason moves to shore up these positions, but have the Saints really covered all of their risks? Their defense has plenty of potential to rank in the top 5 yet again after making such moves as picking up free agents Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye. But their offense still has plenty of questions surrounding it, and we should closely examine the Saints RB situation.
The Running Backs
Alvin Kamara always seems to be full of surprises. Most of those are good, like when he ran for 728 yards on 120 attempts in his rookie season. One unpleasant surprise for many Saints fans was his February 5 arrest for battery. Kamara now faces a suspension of at least 6 weeks. If convicted he could face up to 5 years in prison, although that maximum penalty would probably be unlikely. Speculation on that aside, he will almost definitely miss at least 1/3 of the regular season.
Mark Ingram II is a household name in New Orleans, having spent his first 8 seasons in the Superdome. His production across his career has seen several highs and lows, averaging out at 4.5 yards per carry. However he has often missed games due to injuries, and has only played through every game of the season 3 times.
Tony Jones Jr. had a very successful college football career at Notre Dame, but that hasn’t yet translated into success at the professional level. While he will be technically entering his 3rd season, he only played in one game in 2020. Across the 2021 season he averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
Dwayne Washington was a starter when he was drafted by the Lions in 2016. After a lackluster 2 seasons there, he was waived and then signed by the Saints, where he has seen less action every season since. Across the last 3 seasons Washington only had 20 carries total.
Even before we reach the inevitable issue of potential injuries, we can anticipate several problems arising from this depth chart. The most obvious is that there will be a significant period of time when Alvin Kamara cannot play. Unless the Saints make a move for another running back, Mark Ingram II will be due to take his place. While Ingram has played very well in multiple seasons, last year he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry and scored just 2 touchdowns on 160 attempts. His prior injuries and the long length of his career are also worth noting, as they tend to foreshadow future injuries.
If Mark Ingram II stays healthy throughout Alvin Kamara’s suspension, he may be able to help pick up the slack. But even if he had the vigors of youth, he will still need a break from time to time. That still leaves Tony Jones Jr. and Dwayne Washington with significant responsibilities. Whether they will be up to the challenge is anyone’s guess, but the stats so far are not in their favor.
We can readily assume the Saints will mix in running plays that don’t necessarily involve the RB position. But without the threat of a solid running back, multiple problems come up all at once. Easy first downs are harder to get, and offensive drives die out before they can get going. Quarterbacks have to pass and run more, risking interceptions and injuries. Defenses can sit back and put receivers in double coverage with less to fear.
The bottom line here is that the Saints should be examining their running back position as closely as possible. They’ve done well shoring up a lot of other positions, but they neglect this one at their own risk.
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