News & Analysis

The Saints marched in: The historic fantasy RB duo in New Orleans

Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running backs Mark Ingram (22) and Alvin Kamara (41) celebrate Kamara's touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints locked up the NFC South Sunday, claiming their first divisional title since 2011. Now they’re hoping to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009.

This year’s team is far different than those past divisional championship squads. The 2017 version of the Saints moves the chains on the ground and plays more physically defensively. The success turned in by incumbent starter Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara was unexpected and unprecedented.

It was a crowded backfield situation in 2016, but it appeared Ingram was in line for a massive workload as the end of last offseason until the team signed veteran Adrian Peterson in free agency and then traded up in April’s draft to nab Kamara. However, a midseason trade of Peterson to Arizona opened up the door for history to be made.

Not only did the duo lead New Orleans the division title they rewrote the record books in the process. It’s no surprise that most fantasy teams that included one of the two running backs in the mix enjoyed great success.

Let’s take a deeper dive into epic fantasy efforts turned in by the duo known by Saints’ fans as “Boom and Zoom”:

The veteran

Ingram was a fantasy RB1 last season but did give way to Tim Hightower and watched as John Kuhn vultured four touchdowns. He finished eighth in PPR fantasy points at the position despite only have 205 rushing attempts. When Hightower and passing-down back Travaris Cadet both moved on it appeared that the sky was the limit.

However, when the Saints added depth in the offseason, that muddied Ingram’s value a bit. His final 2017 ADP of 5.04 proved to be a massive bargain. Ingram finished as a RB1 eight times in 16 games and only fell out of the top 32 once all year in weekly scoring. For the season, he finished two spots ahead of last year as the overall No. 6 RB.

Ingram carried the ball a career-high 230 times in 2017, which 25 more carries from a year earlier. He also had 12 more catches despite only seeing 13 more targets. He has been a model of consistency in terms of his efficiency. The veteran saw his yards per carry dip from 5.1 to 4.9 in 2017, but his average of 3.1 yards after the catch matched his mark from the previous campaign.

The real splash Ingram made this year came in the form of scoring. His 12 rushing touchdowns were three more than his previous high and as many as he produced in 2015-16 combined. Ingram made some big runs too. Only Kareem Hunt and LeSean McCoy had more runs of 20-plus yards than him and he had three of those carries go for 40 plus yards.

The rookie

Sean Payton liked what he saw in Kamara coming out of Tennessee enough that he pushed for the team to trade up to the 67th overall pick to select him in the third round. The Saints sent the 49ers a 2018 second-round pick and a seventh-round pick to nab the dual-threat runner.

Kamara was a playmaker in college as evidenced by his top PFF elusive rating (132.1) among all draft-eligible running backs. It’s one of the reasons he made my list of NFC deep sleepers this summer. Even with competition, it appeared the rookie had a clear path to a passing-down role. Still his final ADP had him as pick 13.12.

Amazingly, even in the crowded backfield the rookie finished inside the top 40 at the position every week of the season with the exception of Week 14, when he suffered a first-quarter concussion. After a strong Week 4 effort by Kamara in London, New Orleans cleared a path for more time by dealing Peterson during their Week 5 bye. In the 11 games he started and finished following the trade, Kamara was a top-12 finisher nine times, including five straight weeks inside the top five.

He finished his first season as a pro with 728 rushing yards on 120 carries and a league-best 6.1 YPC and a 3.8 YAC only topped by Kenyan Drake. Kamara led all running backs with 826 receiving yards. He also saw the third most targets among running backs (96) and finished second in receptions (81) and receiving touchdowns (5).

Wk Ingram Kamara
1 RB11 RB40
2 RB20 RB31
3 RB28 RB16
4 RB31 RB6
6 RB2 RB21
7 RB7 RB10
8 RB7 RB7
9 RB23 RB1
10 RB1 RB4
11 RB2 RB3
12 RB40 RB1
13 RB4 RB1
14 RB23 +RB51
15 RB3 RB10
16 RB13 RB13
17 RB31 RB3

(weekly finish in PPR scoring at the position)
+suffered a concussion early in game

The milestones

The season turned in these runners is noteworthy. The fact that production came one backfield is unheard of. It’s the first time in the PFF era that one team produced two running backs who finished as a RB1 in the same season.

The duo registered more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage, making them the first pair of running back teammates to reach that mark in NFL history. They were already the only teammates in NFL history with 1,300-plus scrimmage yards and more than 10 touchdowns in same season.

The only two running backs to reach 1,400 scrimmage yards each while in the same backfield were the Cleveland Browns' Earnest Byner (1,462) and Kevin Mack (1,401) in 1985, per ESPN Stats & Information. More recently teammates Fred Taylor (1,388) and Maurice Jones-Drew (1,377) each reached 1,300 yards in 2006.

Only five running back teammates in NFL history have both reached 1,300 scrimmage yards in a season. The last duo to average 95-plus scrimmage yards each and tally five-plus TDs in a season was Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen for the 1987 Raiders (NFL Research).

The future

In the immediate future, the Saints are hoping this powerful 1-2 punch can lead them on Super Bowl run.

As a team, New Orleans with the Chiefs with a league-best 4.7 yards per carry and leads the NFL with 23 rushing touchdowns. They rank fifth in the league with 129.4 rushing yards per game.

Clearly what we saw these two backs do during 2017 was special and regression as a team has to be ahead. Ingram has a bit more of a track record seems to fit the bill as more of a traditional back. Kamara’s 0.76 PPO doesn’t seem sustainable even if his touches approach this past season’s totals in 2018.

While it was hard to project which back would prevail in stretches of the season as the year wore on the two’s production was often tied to game flow. Ingram was more valuable when the team had the lead while Kamara was leaned on more heavily when the Saints fell behind.

The deeper the Saints are able to advance this postseason will get the hype train rolling faster on these two. It will be hard not to have them each as top 10 running backs in any format in our initial 2018 rankings and both warrant first-round consideration. Ingram just turned 28 in December while Kamara will be 23 in July. With so much of his career in front of him Kamara will be valued higher and could push to be a top-five pick.

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