As the New Orleans Saints make preparations to play the New York Jets this weekend in what will be the first of their final 3 games of the 2017 regular season, there's a great debate currently taking place among Saints fans throughout the entire Who Dat Nation (specifically on Social Media) as to which player has been the team's MVP this year.
With the Saints currently leading their division with a (9-4) record and a trip to the Playoffs for the first time in 4 years looking to be a very likely possibility at this point, there are a handful of viable candidates for that role to be sure.
But while other analysts and websites that cover the Saints daily may have their own ideas, I've narrowed it down to 5 nominees; each of whom I believe are the most 5 important players on the team this year based on their contributions to the franchise's overall success.
Here they are, in no particular order — and I'll give you MY personal pick for the 2017 Saints MVP up to this point, right near the end of the article.......
DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK
The funny thing is that this season Brees' numbers aren't all that impressive (317 completions out of 442 passing attempts for 3,569 yards, with 19 TD's and 6 interceptions along with a 71.7% completion percentage), considering what we've come to expect from him on a yearly basis.
But that's only because he hasn't been forced to throw it 50 times a game now that the team has a legitimate / dangerous running game to back him up.
Nevertheless, Brees is easily the team's most INDESPENSIBLE player, since the team couldn't even function effectively or successfully without him.
There's no way in hell the Saints are (9-4) with Chase Daniel at QB.
But to say that Brees has been the most valuable player this year based on his overall performance in the 13 games up to this point, could be viewed as a bit of stretch.
Brees is still Brees — but by his normal standards, he hasn't had a MVP-type season. But then again, that's only because the Saints HAVEN'T NEEDED him to.
CAM JORDAN, DEFENSIVE END
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan has had a phenomenal 2017 season so far, and leads the team in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (13), and the 7 passes he's batted down is the most of any NFL player among the top 25 in sacks.
He even ranks third on the team with 54 total tackles, a feat usually accomplished by a speedy linebacker instead of a 6-foot-4 inch, 287 pound defensive lineman.
Jordan's been so good this season that his Saints teammates believe he should win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award; and it's likely why with the voting for next month's Pro Bowl in Orlando coming to an official end yesterday, that Jordan is expected to be one of the Saints selections for that game.
Let's face it: if you took Jordan off the Saints defense, they're still only a Bottom 5 unit (they were ranked 27th overall last year). With him, they're the 15th best defense, which is where they currently stand.
Yes, rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (more on him coming up in a minute) and a much-improved Saints secondary deserves a lot of the credit for the defense's improvement this year — but without the quality effort, leadership, and unquestionable impact brought by Cam Jordan on every single snap, they wouldn't even be "middle of the pack".
MARK INGRAM, RUNNING BACK
Ever since the Saints traded NFL veteran Adrian Peterson (who was placed on injured reserve yesterday by Arizona, ending his season) to the Cardinals in advance of the Week #6 at Green Bay, the Saints have ridden Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara (more on him in a minute, also) to the #4 overall ranked running game in the NFL.
Ingram himself has accounted for 801 yards on the ground, 173 receiving yards on 31 catches and 9 touchdowns in 9 games during that stretch.
He's rushed for a total of 971 yards on the season (which ranks him 6th overall in the NFL), and only needs 29 more yards to break the 1,000 yard barrier — which would make him the first Saints RB to do so since Deuce McAllister did it in back-to-back-to-back seasons from 2002 thru 2004.
Ingram still needs to get 886 more yards rushing (currently at 5,209 yards) to overtake McAllister (6,096 yards) as the team's leading rusher of all-time, which he'll likely do at this same time next year.
But for me personally, the reason why Ingram is legitimately a team MVP candidate this season is because of his PASSION and leadership — qualities that have been questioned by his biggest critics in previous seasons.
Ingram has emerged as the EMOTIONAL leader of this Saints team right now, and it's become infectious in a positive manner by giving the entire organization a never-say-quit attitude that could eventually take them a very long way into the post-season, and maybe (just maybe) into the month of February.
ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
After a slow start to the season in which as if the Saints were still trying to figure out HOW to properly utilize his dynamic skill-set and off-the-charts athleticism, Kamara has emerged as one of the team's most vitally important players to their overall success in quite some time; as the rookie RB from the University of Tennessee star has since gone on to take the entire League by storm.
Kamara's phenomenal play this year has made him a clear-cut favorite to become the first Saints player to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors since RB Reuben Mayes did it in 1986.
Kamara ranks 6th overall in scrimmage yards (1,247), one spot behind Saints starter Mark Ingram, and he is only the 3rd rookie EVER in NFL history to have both 600 rushing and receiving yards in a season.
He has rushed for 606 yards, caught 60 passes for another 614 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. Essentially, Kamara has the skill-set of a 25-30 carries per game running back who is equally as comfortable taking on the duties of a wide receiver and also is similarly adept at running routes.
To say that he's the most complete and versatile RB in the NFL right now might be insulting him. And when you factor in his incredible athletic capabilities, his impact upon the team can't be overstated.
If any one had any doubts about Kamara not only as a NFL Rookie of the Year candidate but even possibly as the team's most valuable player this season, all you had to do was to see how completely LOST that the Saints offense looked after he suffered the concussion against Atlanta; and missed the rest of the game.
The Saints NEED Kamara, and he's been an undeniable and indisputable part of their success in 2017.
MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK
There's no denying it: one of the BIGGEST reasons for the Saints' re-emergence this year as an NFL Playoff contender has been because of the team's #1 draft pick this past season, sensational Ohio State rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Lattimore easily has been the team's best defensive player taken in a Draft since the team's 1981 2nd Round pick, University of Pittsburgh defensive end Rickey Jackson, whom the Saints converted into an outside linebacker before he went on to become the team's greatest defensive player in their 51-year history. Jackson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
When he's not hurt, Lattimore has already become one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in just a very short period of time, and he's fully capable of "locking down" most NFL receivers.
He can even "hang" with some of the game's truly elite WR's, just like he did against Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans a few weeks back and Falcons All-Pro Julio Jones a week ago last Thursday Night.
Lattimore has 39 tackles, 3 interceptions and 10 passes defended, and is a phenomenal athlete in his own right. With 3 games still left to play, Lattimore is the likely front-runner for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
If Lattimore were to actually win the award, he'd be only the 3rd cornerback in the NFL over the past 20 years, to do it. Only two other cornerbacks — Oakland's Charles Woodson (1998) and Kansas City's Marcus Peters (2015) — have been named the top rookie defender in that amount of time.
MY PERSONAL PICK FOR MVP: ALVIN KAMARA
It's easy to make a case for any of the 5 players listed above because they all have played and will continue to play vital roles in the Saints' success this year and beyond, but for me it's been the last week in particular that's put the spotlight on how TRULY VALUABLE Kamara is to this team this year.
As most Saints fans are aware: Kamara is expected to play in the game vs. the Jets on Sunday, after he left the game against the Falcons last week following a somewhat controversial helmet-to-helmet tackle by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on a screen pass.
He was evaluated by trainers on the sideline before being taken back to the locker room for further evaluation and ultimately was ruled out of the game.
Without Kamara in the line-up?
The Saints offense CLEARLY struggled at times — since they missed the added dimension that he brings to their scheme, specifically in the short-passing game out of the backfield.
Hell, even a blind man could see that; given how much the offense has come to heavily "lean on" (or rely upon, if you choose to use that verbiage) Kamara's notable talents since the Week #3 win against the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
They've morphed into a different "style" of offense this season because of what Kamara's abilities bring to the table, and with him missing from the line-up, they seemed to be a bit 'off' the rest of the night with him out of the picture.
The rest of that Atlanta game also illustrated just how important Kamara has become for the team's chances at success going forward.
Can they still win games without Kamara? Yes, they can. But as last Thursday Night showed: it's not going to be as easy of a task in comparison to when he is in there playing.
And they definitely would not be (9-4) and contending for a Playoff spot this year, if they didn't have Kamara in the line-up.
Which is exactly why that loud noise you heard yesterday was the MILLIONS of Saints fans throughout the entire "Who Dat Nation", who were exhaling a huge sigh of relief when it was announced that Kamara will play against the Jets.
That overwhelming reaction yesterday from fans was probably the clearest indication yet, as to why there's a valid argument for Kamara as the Most Valuable Player for the New Orleans Saints in 2017........