If you targeted the Saints backfield in 2017, congratulations. With fresh-off-retirement Adrian Peterson, hot and cold Mark Ingram and relatively unknown Alvin Kamara, I was telling people to avoid it all together. I assumed the three would take away from each other, leaving all three hard to start in weekly lineups. Well, basically the opposite was true. While Peterson fell by the wayside, Ingram and Kamara put up one of the best fantasy seasons a backfield duo has ever had.
All was well in New Orleans until May 9 of this year, when the NFL announced Ingram would be suspended for four games of the 2018 season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
So what now?
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Well, fortunately for the Saints, they were ready for something like this. The team currently rosters five other running backs aside from Ingram. They signed veterans Shane Vereen and Terrance West this off-season. Former dynasty hype target Jonathan Williams and the subject of new dynasty hype, Boston Scott, fill out the rest of the depth chart. And of course, there’s Kamara, fresh off a historic rookie season.
The Saints week one preseason loss to the Jaguars gave us a better framework to project the situation. Head coach Sean Payton has a clear identity when it comes to his run game. Following up the success of last season, he has shown he wants to use two backs at a time, one as an inside runner and another as a receiving back, with occasional carries. Ingram and Kamara ran this system unbelievably well last year, thanks in no small part to Payton’s creative play calling. Against Jacksonville, it looked clear to me that Payton wants to do the same thing.
First, the numbers:
Looking at the play-by-play pecking order, after the top duo of Ingram and Kamara, West and Vereen were up next. Both players got an extended look playing from the second quarter all the way to the early fourth quarter. Lastly, Williams and Scott closed out the fourth quarter.
So assuming Payton needs an inside runner to replace Ingram for the suspension, we’re really looking closely at the play of West and Williams.
Vereen is a really dependable third-down back but I don’t see him getting much run unless there is an injury to Kamara. Scott is interesting because his skill set is one the Saints have had success with before but at the same time, he falls under the same trap. The things Scott does well, Kamara does better. Scott is more likely to be a special teams ace for New Orleans unless something changes. Scott owners need to hope for Vereen to not make the final 53.
If the Saints had to play tomorrow, West would be the man who replaces Ingram. He’s dependable and he’s been there before. He had some mild success in past years with the Bengals and Ravens. But here at DLF, we’re always thinking long term.
Williams is the player you want to pick up. Although he ran with the third stringers in week one, he proved he can handle more. Taking over late in the fourth, Williams carried the ball five times on seven snaps and finished it off with a four-yard touchdown run.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) August 10, 2018
Williams is a lot like Ingram: Ideal size, 5’11, 220 pounds but compact and nimble. Coming out of Arkansas, Williams was a bit overshadowed by his teammate, Ravens’ runner Alex Collins. But still, Williams was a fifth-round pick, despite missing an entire season with a foot injury. With Collins as the workhorse, Williams was the explosive change of pace back known for big plays with quick feet and great lateral movement.
Jonathan Williams (Arkansas) has some pretty serious balance. TAMU tackling is putrid, however. pic.twitter.com/ra20xUnsen
— Terry Lambert (@TLambertFB) July 28, 2015
Williams made his living in the open field in the SEC.
Back to the present day, Williams landed in a crowded backfield in Buffalo and never really got a chance to stick. With the Saints, he should get his shot. If he’s able to beat out West for the role, West could get cut and Williams would be a real threat to make some noise in the first four games of the season.
For dynasty purposes, if Williams is able to play well early in 2018, he could make Ingram seem expendable – not only for 2018 but for years ahead as well. Ingram and Williams will both be free agents after this season. However at only 24 years old and with very little production, Williams would be considerably cheaper and five years younger than Ingram.
So in summary, pick up Williams wherever you can, especially because he is essentially free right now. If you own Kamara, Vereen is a good handcuff. Hold West if you already own him, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to add him. Scott is a stash. His versatility is something Payton really covets but as mentioned earlier, I don’t think there’s a huge role for him in the current offense. He’ll likely be sidelined to special teams and some certain gadget plays. And Trey Edmunds was listed as a fullback, so leave him on the waiver wire for now.
- New Orleans Saints Backfield: The Other Guys - August 13, 2018
- 2018 Summer Sleeper: Philadelphia Eagles - August 1, 2018
- Grading the Top Running Back Dynasty Landing Spots - April 25, 2018