The New Orleans Saints were at a crossroads on offense as they entered the 2022 season. Gone were QB Drew Brees, who retired after the 2020 campaign, and HC Sean Payton, who resigned at the conclusion of 2021.
New Orleans had major question marks at quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end coming into this year. However, one area where they were expected to be strong was at running back.
The Saints centered their offense around Alvin Kamara, the most versatile back in the game. Depth was a concern, but the team did bring back the franchise's all-time leading rusher in Mark Ingram for a 12th season. Another concern was a pending suspension to Kamara from an offseason arrest. He managed to avoid league punishment this season, but it's now an issue for 2023.
Taysom Hill would also continue to play a role in the offense. The quarterback experiment with Hill ended this offseason, as he was officially moved to the tight end position. However, there should have been little doubt that he'd still be a factor out of the backfield.
Here's how the running back position contributed to the Saints 2022 season.
Saints Running Back Grades
New Orleans opened the season fairly strong on the ground. Their 151 yards in a season-opening comeback win at Atlanta was a bit skewed because of a 57-yard run by Hill, but they still averaged over 5.2 per carry. Kamara missed a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay, but the team still managed to rush for 100 against a formidable defense.
The Saints averaged over 141 rushing yards over their first eight games, including two outings of over 200 yards. Injuries along the offensive line, baffling play-calling, and an inconsistent passing attack attributed to five straight games of under 100 yards on the ground before a late season surge.
Alvin Kamara led the Saints with 897 yards on the ground despite missing two contests. It was the third highest rushing total of his career as he recorded two 100-yard games, two more of over 90, and eight total outings of at least 60 yards on the ground. However, it was not a good year by his usual standards.
Kamara scored just twice on the ground, by far the lowest of his career. His 4.0/ carry average was the second worst of his career. Usually a lethal threat as a receiver, Kamara didn't make much of a difference in that area in 2022.
Kamara's 57 receptions were second on the team, but also the second lowest of his six years in the league. His 490 receiving yards, also the second worst of his career, were still the third highest on the team. He had just two receiving scores. Kamara had two games of over 90 yards receiving but averaged a paltry 23 yards through the air in his other 13 contests.
The 33-year-old Ingram was brought back to complement Kamara. His best game of the year was a 58-yard output against Tampa Bay in the second week, where he also had a costly fumble in the loss.
Ingram never really had the burst that Saints fans were accustomed to seeing. In the Week 13 rematch against the Buccaneers, he stepped out of bounds a yard short of a first down on a crucial 4th quarter third down attempt. He'd hurt his knee just earlier and was in obvious distress. The play was the last of his season and perhaps his NFL career.
Ingram finished the season with 233 rushing yards and a touchdown while averaging 3.8 per carry. He also caught 16 passes for 68 yards. If this is his last season in New Orleans, Ingram will finish his career as the franchise's all-time leader in rushing yards (6,500), rushing touchdowns (52), and rush attempts (1,451).
Without an effective Ingram, the team was limited for inside rushing options. Latavius Murray was signed early in the year, but was poached off the practice squad by the Denver Broncos. Veteran David Johnson (12 carries, 24 yards) and special teams ace Dwayne Washington (11-38) clearly weren't the answer.
Eno Benjamin was signed off waivers late in the year and may be given a look in training camp. Fullback Adam Prentice proved to be effective in short yardage situations and was a strong lead blocker.
Converted to a listed tight end in the offseason, the versatile Taysom Hill still saw most of his action out of the backfield. Hill finished as the team’s second leading rusher with a career-high yards 575 yards, including a career best 112 against Seattle in Week 5. He averaged six yards per carry and had a team-high 7 rushing scores.
Hill was also a passing threat, completing 13 of 19 throws for 240 yards and two touchdowns. As a receiver, he added two more touchdowns on nine receptions for 77 yards.
Hill's biggest value came on the ground. His bruising running style combined with open field speed added another dimension to the New Orleans offense. He and Kamara lined up in the same backfield in a modified wildcat formation late in the season. The Saints had great success out of that alignment.
Kamara was still a huge part of the attack, but reached the end zone in only two games. Defenses obviously constructed their game plans around him, but the Saints coaches did an awful job utilizing his best skills.
Kamara was rarely split out wide as a receiver. Coaches instead often used him between the tackles. Taysom Hill’s usage in several games must also be questioned. His effectiveness inside could have left Kamara in more one-on-one situations along the edge.
With no depth behind their star, the Saints were often limited. Kamara himself needed to play better as well. He dropped several passes he'd easily make in the past and rarely showed the explosiveness that defenses fear.
With or without a pending suspension to Kamara in 2023, expect the Saints to address this spot during the offseason. In 2022, both Kamara and the entire position underperformed when bigger production was needed.
Running Back Grade = C-
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