Mark Ingram's Suspension Sets Up Alvin Kamara to Snap the QB MVP Streak

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 11, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints and Mark Ingram #22 celebrate during the second half of the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Saints runners Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram spent much of last season doing postgame interviews as a duo. It was cute. And swell.

It was also tactical. It was Kamara's way of showing respect for his running back mentor, and it was Ingram's way of showing the rookie that he had his back.

After one game last season, I said to Kamara, "You have a bright future in this league."

Without missing a beat—and with Ingram in earshot—he responded: "We have a good future in this league." 

We have a good future in this league. Cute. Swell. Tactical. And also just genuinely cool.

But then, as it often does, the business of football mercilessly intervened. This week, the NFL suspended Ingram for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing substances. Ingram appealed, but it was rejected, and he'll miss the first four games of next year.

Sometimes, the only thing the NFL loves more than a fairy tale is blowing a fairy tale right out of the water.

But Ingram's PED loss is Kamara's MVP gain.

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Kamara now enters this coming season as a legit MVP candidate. He's that good. He's that explosive. He's that real. And now he could get that big of a workload.

A running back hasn't won the MVP award since Adrian Peterson rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 2012. In a quarterback league, it's damn hard for a non-thrower to win it. But Kamara has a shot.

All of this may sound like a piece of trolling or fantasy football wishful thinking, but it's entirely possible that Kamara changes the NFL landscape this season.

To me, and to others I've spoken to around the league, Kamara is reminiscent of Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. They're the same height (5'10"), possess similar quickness, each feature the ability to catch the football as well as any receiver and both can change the texture of a game on a dime with an explosive play.

This comparison isn't made lightly. Tomlinson's one of the best running backs ever. But yes, Kamara is that good.

It's difficult for a back to become MVP in a thrower's league, and the challenge is even greater when you're on a team with Drew Brees. The quarterback is still the transwarp engine for the Saints. Everything goes through him.

But, as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett wrote in January, while Brees had the highest completion percentage in NFL history last season, he also had his fewest touchdown passes since 2003, fewest passing yards of his New Orleans career and fewest passing attempts since 2009. That trend will likely continue this coming season.

And it's not a coincidence that as Brees was less Brees, his runners commanded a greater role. Last year, Ingram rushed for a career-high 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. He caught 58 passes for 416 yards. 

Kamara had 728 yards rushing and 826 receiving yards and was the Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was also the NFL's most explosive runner, with a league-high 9.9 percent of his plays qualifying as "explosive" by Stats.com's definition (catches of at least 25 yards and runs of at least 15).

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

If Brees continues to take a slightly lesser role (and I admit that's a big if) and many of Ingram's suspension yards go to Kamara, we could see Kamara take a massive leap.

A big, big leap.

None of this means the Saints won't feel Ingram's absence. They will.

"If he does have to miss games, he will be missed," defensive end Alex Okafor said, per Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "You can't replace anybody like that. He's one of the best backs in the league. He's dynamic, huge in the run and passing game. It's going to be hard to cope with, but if anybody could find a way to do it, it's going to be Sean Payton and Drew Brees. I'm sure we'll be all right."

That's the other part of this. Payton is the best play-caller in football, so even if losing the Ingram-Kamara duo's change-of-pace benefit seems to make it easier to game-plan against the Saints, they're actually the least likely team to have that be a problem. He will scheme the hell out of Kamara, even more than he did last year.

And will Kamara wear down with more work? Not if last season is anything to judge by. In the six games he had at least 15 touches, he had yardage totals of 89, 90, 96, 128, 138 and 152.

The Saints start the season at home against the Bucs and Browns, then travel to face the Falcons and Giants. Ingram would then be eligible to return for the October 8 contest against Washington.

My guess: The Saints go 3-1 during that initial four-game stretch (last year they split their season series with both the Bucs and Falcons) because Kamara will reintroduce himself to the NFL in a huge way. 

In a way that has everyone talking MVP.

    

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