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Do Saints have best RB tandem in NFL?

Nov 12, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs through a hole between Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson (90) and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy (94) during the third quarter a game at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off the 47-10 destruction of the Buffalo Bills, few teams in the NFL can claim momentum quite like the New Orleans Saints. With the win, the Saints’ streak of consecutive victories reached seven, which is tied with the first-place Philadelphia Eagles for the longest in football.

How have the Saints gotten here? This team has won seven games per season in the last three full seasons, and four of the last five.

The answer to the question: New Orleans has gotten otherworldly production from its 2017 rookie class. The Saints’ first four selections — CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, SAF Marcus Williams and RB Alvin Kamara — are all essential contributors.

The addition of Karama specifically looms as a potential game-changing selection. The team is using the multi-purpose Kamara as its ultimate weapon, both out of the backfield and as a receiver. With Kamara thriving with the Saints, the team is now averaging 29.8 points per game in 2017. That is the team’s highest per-game figure (projected) since 2011, when the team won 13 regular season games.

The Saints are no strangers to offense, but the team’s win against the Bills does indicate how this team has another layer compared to years past. The backs are deep, productive and playing tremendous football. How good is this group? It has a case for the best group of RBs in the NFL.

Of course, the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons would have something to say about that suggestion, but on closer inspection, the diversity of this group makes it so terrific.

The group is headed by veteran starter Mark Ingram. The seventh-year veteran from Alabama is on pace for a career high in rushing yardage (1,043 yards last season) after bringing his total to 672 through nine games on the season. Ingram is a heavy hitter, especially when he’s able to get into the second level and square his pads. A tone-setting run by Ingram on 4th and 1 midway through the first quarter against Buffalo, which went for 25 yards to the Bills’ 5, is an embodiment of what he can bring to the table.

Nov 12, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs through Buffalo Bills defenders Shaq Lawson (90), Micah Hyde (23) and Preston Brown (52) during the third quarter a game at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Ingram’s north-south running style is a great fit for a team that loves to pass the football. Opponents are unable to key on the run with consistency and load the box.

The previously mentioned rookie, Kamara, may not start, but he is second on the team in all-purpose yardage (790 yards) and touchdowns (6) through nine games behind only Ingram. Where does Kamara make a killing? Everywhere. The former Tennessee Volunteer can seemingly do no wrong. He gashed the Bills on Sunday for several key third-down conversions and a touchdown to increase the margin to 24-3 early in the second half.

Kamara was an attractive rookie back coming out of college because he was not used with frequency at Tennessee. (Is it any wonder Butch Jones was fired?) A third-year back with just 284 touches in two seasons with the Vols, Kamara is quickly making up for lost time as a rookie in the NFL. His quickness and short-area agility make him a valuable piece of the offense. His route-running skills allow him to influence the game in a non-traditional RB role as well.

Do the Saints have the most gifted RB in the NFL? Of course not. That honor would go to Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell or a healthy David Johnson in Arizona. Do the Saints have the most productive RB in the NFL? Of course not. The Rams’ Todd Gurley and Chief rookie Kareem Hunt lead the league in rushing this season.

Yet, there may not be a more potent 1-2 punch on the market. Between the two, Ingram and Kamara both bring a fully capable set of skills to play on all three downs. Sure, Ingram is a more powerful runner and Kamara is much quicker with his initial acceleration, but the Saints regularly have swapped the backs out this season and found little to no dip in productivity either way.

There are many key areas of the game in which the Saints have improved, vaulting them into position to return to the postseason for the first time since 2013. Some of that credit goes to this two-headed monster in the backfield. While the title of best RB duo can certainly be debated, there is not a more impactful or productive set of runners in the league this season.

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