The Saints are no strangers to talented first-round running backs. Chuck Muncie, George Rogers, Ricky Williams, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush — the list is fairly extensive compared to most NFL teams.
But this season, if C.J. Spiller returns fully healthy, and Mark Ingram finally lives up to his billing, the Saints could be historically good.
If not that good, then certainly the best in recent memory.
There’s been a lot of hype this summer about the Saints aerial assault, and with good reason. The acquisition of tight end Coby Fleener, and second-round draft pick Michael Thomas give Drew Brees an abundance of talented weapons to choose from.
All the hype has somewhat buried another story from Saints camp, one that could make the Saints dark horse candidates to win the NFC South.
By all accounts, C.J. Spiller is fully healthy for the first time since becoming a Saint, and people are noticing. The difference is so dramatic that Sean Payton has gone on record to say that Spiller “looks like a different player”.
On the very first day of practice in full pads at training camp, Spiller busted out a sick spin move to evade a tackle for loss, and then showed off his incredible acceleration to bust free for a long gain.
A lot of people forget that C.J. Spiller was a Top-10 pick in the NFL draft.
He was taken by the Buffalo Bills at 9th overall. He scored a touchdown in every game of his senior season at Clemson, and his number 28, was retired by the Tigers after he graduated.
When healthy, Spiller can be as hard to contain as wildfire, and he has the talent (to this very day, he still holds the record in the 100 meters in the state of Florida) to change the dynamic of football games.
Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller (28) carries the ball past Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) to score the game-winning 80-yard touchdown in overtime at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Then there is the Saints own first-round draft choice, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Taken with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Saints drafted Ingram with the idea he would be an every-down back, a true force coming out of the backfield.
More from New Orleans Saints
- New Orleans Saints: Three biggest questions heading into the offseason
- New Orleans Saints: Three positives to take from playoff loss
- New Orleans Saints: Bold predictions for Wild Card Round vs. Vikings
- New Orleans Saints: Complete roster breakdown vs. Minnesota Vikings
- New Orleans Saints: The one overarching reason why the Vikings will lose
While this plan took a while to come to fruition, last year, Ingram finally showed he had the ability to produce consistently both as a pass catcher, a pass blocker, and a premier runner.
Understandably, Ingram’s confidence is at an all-time peak.
He recently told a NFL Network reporter that he was ready to produce, “the best season of my career”.
However, in order to do so, Ingram will have to avoid the injury bug, something that his plagues him for his entire career in New Orleans.
If he is able to stay healthy, with the improved passing weapons for Drew Brees, defenses will be unable to stack the box, which should open plenty of lanes for Ingram.
Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs as Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) and middle linebacker Paul Worrilow (55) attempt to tackle during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
This doesn’t even take into account the talented stable of Saints running backs behind these two, which include fan-favorite Tim Hightower, the speedy Travaris Cadet, and 7th round draft pick Daniel Lasco.
Quality depth is certainly not an issue at this position.
When the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, they had one of the more potent rushing offenses in the league, averaging well over 100 yards a game.
They have the potential to return to that formula, with two premier running backs coming out of the backfield. C.J. Spiller can stretch the edge, and provides the ground attack with an electric energy.
Mark Ingram will serve as the proverbial “hammer” — by wearing down defenses and getting the tough yards between the tackles.
As the enter into the 2016 season; as long as these two players can remain healthy, then look for the Saints to impose their will on opposing defenses, with a lethal balanced attack that leaves opponents off-balance, and practically begging for mercy.
But clearly, health is the key.
Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller (28) stiff-arms Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) on his way to a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown in the first overtime against the Dallas Cowboys at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
If both Ingram and Spiller can actually avoid the injury-bug, they potentially could be one of the best RB tandems in Saints history, rivaling those of “Thunder and Lightning” (Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath in the late 1970’s), Dalton Hilliard and Rueben Mayes (late 1980’s), and Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell (2009 Super Bowl season).
And if nothing else?
Then they’ll clearly be the best, in recent memory……