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Barry Hirstius

BACK TO THE FUTURE: AP and Kamara Can Make Saints Run Game Playoff-Caliber

It’s been well documented how the best years of the New Orleans Saints franchise during the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era included a complementary running game to the team’s well-known passing attack.

During the 2009 Super Bowl Season, the Saints running game was ranked 6th overall in the NFL; averaging 131.6 yards per game on the ground and averaged almost five yards per rushing attempt.

Then once again in their offensive record-setting season of 2011, the Saints running game ranked within the Top 10 of the NFL, coming in at #8 overall with 129.5 yards per game.

Since those days, New Orleans has ranked 25th (2012), 23rd (2013) 13th (2014), 24th (2015) and 15th (last season).

Got the picture yet?

Anytime that the Saints have had a running game ranked within the Top 10 or higher to complement their annual Top 5 passing offense (since the first time that Payton and Brees rolled into town back in 2006), the Saints are a Playoff caliber team and a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Feb 7, 2010 ; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas (23) dives across the goal line for a touchdown in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV at Sun-Life Stadium. The Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons – US PRESSWIRE

And when they’re not?

They finish 7-9 four of the last 5 years (with the exception of the 11-5 Playoff season of 2013) and lose the respect of the other 32 NFL teams that used to “fear” them not all that long ago.

That's exactly why that now with the addition in the past week of veteran free agent former 4-time All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson and speedy rookie "scatback" Alvin Kamara of the University of Tennessee in the recently just-completed 2017 NFL Draft, the likelihood that Payton will go "back to the future" --- and return the Saints to a more balanced offense, is increasing by the minute.

Peterson appears to be rejuvenated at age 32, and with what amounts to a year and a half off from the sport of Pro Football without any major contact, seems poised to make "one last run" in his great career with New Orleans.

Coming off a season where he was limited to three games and 37 carries because of injuries, expectations are that Peterson won't be expected to be the same running back now that he was with Minnesota. But then again, Peterson actually did lead the NFL in rushing in 2015 after playing just one game in 2014.

How Payton decides to use Peterson this coming season is unknown just yet, but one can only assume that he will see at least 15-20 carries per contest -- especially on 3rd and short and goal line attempts -- and provide a complementary role to starter Mark Ingram.

However, depending on how you choose to look at it, the bigger addition might just be the rookie Kamara.

What the Saints have lacked in recent seasons is another dimension to their running game in Sean Payton’s offensive scheme: the “scatback” type of player capable of catching passes out of the backfield like former Saints RB’s Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles.

Oct 25, 2009 ; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush (25) leaps across the goal line for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter of a game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

That’s exactly what they did when they traded up in the 3rd Round with the 49ers, giving up a 2nd Round pick in 2018 plus their final 7th Round pick in this Draft to take the speedy and elusive Kamara.

WWL New Orleans TV and Radio analyst Mike Detillier notes in his recently published 2017 Draft Report that Kamara has an “extra gear” in space and he just flies up the seam for huge gains, especially on catching balls out of the backfield.

Detillier says that Kamara’s running style and versatility personally reminds him of Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin when he came out of Boise State; and that might be exactly what Payton was thinking as well when he attended a private workout with Kamara prior to trading up to take him a few weeks later on the 2nd night of the Draft.

Kamara had 1,294 rushing yards, 683 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns (including a punt return) in two seasons at Tennessee, but surprisingly wasn’t used in an “every down” role, which he can be.

But clearly Payton moved up to take Kamara so that he could return that facet of the Saints offensive attack for this season and beyond, particularly so that as New Orleans Advocate Saints beat writer Nick Underhill noted the other night can give New Orleans a player who can dictate match-ups in the passing game as Bush and Sproles did.

Payton has never had a season in which a running back didn't catch at least 30 passes. In Payton's past five seasons with the Saints, a running back has caught at least 45 passes each year, with a high of 86.

Kamara could easily surpass that amount, depending on how much that Payton chooses to use the 21-year old Kamara (he turns 22 in July before the start of the season) in his rookie year.

But more importantly, because Kamara is a player who can "shoulder the load" purely as a runner, it gives the Saints a potential 3-headed monster in their running game.

During that 2009 season that we alluded to above when New Orleans won the Super Bowl, Mike Bell had 172 rushing attempts, Pierre Thomas 147 and Reggie Bush 70.

If the Saints decide to utilize Ingram, Peterson, and Kamara in that same fashion with a future Hall-of-Fame QB still running the rest of the show, then the NFL could be in a whole lot of trouble --- just like they were during the team's best years of the Payton-Brees Era not all that long ago.

The New Orleans Saints could find themselves going "back to the future" --- and history tells us that it would be an experience worth living all over again........

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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