Running start: Saints enter 2018 with NFL's most loaded backfield

Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara give the Saints an enviable backfield next season. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints can’t possibly expect to replicate the success they had at the running back position in 2017 -- since, you know, no other backfield in NFL history did the things that Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara did.

But it’s safe to say the position is pretty well-stocked right now.

Ingram and Kamara became the first duo to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season, while scoring a combined 26 touchdowns. Kamara became the first player in NFL history to average 7.7 yards per touch on offense with at least 200 touches, making him a front-runner for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

As a result, the Saints were more balanced than ever before in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. They led the NFL in yards per rush (4.7) and rushing touchdowns (23), while Brees had the fewest passing yards, attempts, touchdowns and interceptions per game in his 12-year tenure in New Orleans.

The Saints’ run game is one of the best reasons for optimism in 2018, and it could go a long way in helping to extend Brees’ career at age 39.

Ingram is 28 years old himself, and he is heading into the final year of his contract. But Kamara is capable of taking on an even bigger role whenever Ingram does leave. So it’s hard to see New Orleans making any major new investments at the running back this year.

That’s why running back comes in at No. 11 in my position-by-position ranking of the Saints’ offseason needs.

Current depth chart:

Mark Ingram. Age 28, signed through 2018. 2018 salary and bonuses: $4.6 million. 2018 salary-cap number: $6.245 million.

Alvin Kamara. Age 22, signed through 2020. 2018 salary and bonuses: $635,000. 2018 salary-cap number: $878,193.

Trey Edmunds. Age 23, scheduled to become a restricted free agent in 2020. 2018 salary and bonuses: $555,000. 2018 salary-cap number: $555,000.

Daniel Lasco. Age 25, scheduled to become a restricted free agent in 2019. 2018 salary and bonuses: $630,000. 2018 salary-cap number: $630,000.

Jonathan Williams. Turns 24 on Feb. 2, scheduled to become a restricted free agent in 2019. 2018 salary and bonuses: $655,000. 2018 salary-cap number: $680,000.

FB John Kuhn. Age 35, unrestricted free agent.

FB Zach Line. Age 27, unrestricted free agent.

Analysis:

The Saints obviously won’t add a high-profile veteran to the mix, since they didn’t have any room for Adrian Peterson in this backfield last year and wound up trading him for a sixth-round draft pick five weeks into the season.

They could certainly consider drafting a running back to develop as a future replacement for Ingram. But it’s not a must, since Kamara is capable of becoming a full-time No. 1 back if Ingram does leave in free agency next year.

Edmunds and Lasco have each made the Saints’ roster because the Saints like them so much as core special teams players. And the Saints are obviously intrigued by Williams’ potential, since they signed him away from the Denver Broncos’ practice squad during the middle of the season, even though he never played in a game for them.

The one area where the Saints could possibly look for an upgrade is if they find a running back who can also return kickoffs -- since they likely don’t want to risk using Kamara in that role full-time.

Obviously the Saints need a fullback since Kuhn and Line are both unrestricted free agents. But they like both of them a lot, so one or both of them could re-sign. New Orleans could also consider using a late-round draft pick on one, too.

Previous rankings:

No. 12 Specialists