There were many doubters when the Saints signed Adrian Peterson last offseason.
Putting the player aside, many people questioned the Saints’ ability to make philosophical changes to how their offense operates. They said New Orleans would not only struggle to become a run-first team; critics felt Sean Payton would never commit to the run enough to justify having two star running backs.
Peterson didn’t work out as hoped, but New Orleans revamped its offense and had plenty of room for two star running backs, as both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were voted into the Pro Bowl.
There were plenty of touches to go around. Payton called running plays on nearly 44 percent of the snaps last season, which was a large jump from the 37 percent posted in 2016. The pass percentage of 56.37 was the lowest for New Orleans since throwing on 55.16 percent of the plays in 2009.
And of Drew Brees’ 536 passing attempts, 85 of those were screens. There was no issue with retooling the offense to become more running-back friendly, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. The reason the Saints relied so heavily on passing, especially the last few years, was due to having a defense that struggled to keep points off the board. That changed last season, and so could the offense.
The defense should only get better moving forward, meaning that the running game should remain in style, allowing Ingram and Kamara to serve as focal points of the offense.
This is the least dramatic position on the roster, and one of the few spots where it would be difficult to justify using major assets to acquire talent. New Orleans could take a chance on someone in the later rounds, or maybe bring in someone to serve as depth at the position, but nothing is needed.
The only thing the Saints should do this offseason is draw up more creative ways to use Kamara.
The only thing New Orleans really needs to figure out this offseason is which fullback to bring back on the roster. John Kuhn and Zach are both free agents, and you could argue for either one coming back next season.
The answer, at least heading into offseason, might be to retain both players and let them battle it out in camp.
One other thing New Orleans might want to start contemplating is what the future holds for Mark Ingram since he is entering the final year of his contract. If he’s going to be part of the plans, it might be cheaper to make that decision now instead of after next offseason when he can test the market.
Ingram’s age is something to consider. However, he was used sparingly during his early years with the team and might be able to circumvent the decline many running backs experience as they enter their 30s.
Ingram, 28, only has 1,183 career carries. For the sake of comparison, Emmitt Smith (2,595), Shaun Alexander (1,717), Marshawn Lynch (2,033) and many other had significantly more by the same age. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who is only 25, already has 1,229 carries.
The Chargers are the only team that uses a frontside puller with any consistency, but Ingram was the most productive player running behind the blocking scheme last season. His 10 carriers behind the look netted 74 yards and three touchdowns.
Baltimore’s Alex Collins (7.1 yards per carry), Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy (6.5) and the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon (6.3) round out the list, according to Sports Info Solutions.
The Saints remained a primary zone team, mixing in some other looks throughout the season.
New Orleans doesn’t need to do much here. It could bring in another back during the late rounds of the draft, but it shouldn’t be a priority.
We’ll never know how good the Saints defense could have been.
It’s stunning how quickly a narrative can change.
It was somewhat of a surprise that it took until the last minute for a member of the Saints’ offensive line to get an invite to the Pro Bowl.
The Saints rode their secondary into the playoffs last season.
Sean Payton tipped his hand before the season even started.
It only took three quarters for Drew Brees to silence his critics.