Is Alvin Kamara the best rookie running back in New Orleans Saints history? After he romped all over the Buffalo Bills, we all probably want to scream, “YES! YES! YES! Who Dat!”, but that’d be what business consultants call ‘recency bias’. So I decided to dive in and see if Alvin Kamara is indeed having the best season a rookie Saints running back has ever had.
What other running backs in Saints history have excelled as rookies? The list isn’t as long as you’d think. Remember, we aren’t talking career here, just a player’s first season. For example, Deuce McAllister is the Saints all-time leading rusher, but as a rookie backing up Ricky Williams he had just 257 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
So who are the candidates for the best rookie running back in Saints history? I narrowed it down to four nominees (George Rogers 1981, Reuben Mayes 1986, Reggie Bush 2006, Alvin Kamara 2017).
All were spectacular in their own way so let’s break this down….
George Rogers 1981
Rogers was the first overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft and new Saints coach Bum Phillips envisioned Rogers doing what Earl Campbell did for Bum in Houston; be a workhorse and basically also the entire offense.
Rogers in 1981 had 1800 total yards from scrimmage, with 1674 of that coming on the ground. The Saints ran George a whopping 378 times! To put that in perspective, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are on pace for 370 carries COMBINED.
Fun Rogers' fact: Two of the Saints four wins in 1981 came against the Los Angeles Rams and did you know what Rogers averaged in those games? 161 yards on 26 carries.
The 1981 Saints were awful, which was to be expected coming off a 1-15 1980, but even with Rogers 1674 rushing yards they still finished last in the NFL in points-per-game. Saints quarterbacks threw only eight touchdowns to go with 27 interceptions and forced poor George to be the entire offense. The 1981 Saints went 4-12, but without Rogers they might have been winless.
He also made those hideous white pants the Saints wore in the early 80’s look good, so I feel like that is huge checkmark in his column.
Rueben Mayes 1986
Mayes in 1986 had one of the great Saints seasons by a running back. It’s mostly forgotten because the Saints went 7-9 in Jim Mora’s first year as head coach, but my goodness it was fantastic.
Mayes getting the pitch on the sweep was just gorgeous to behold. He didn’t so much run as he glided from point A to point B.
Mayes had 1449 yards from scrimmage, which included 1353 yards rushing on 286 attempts, scored eight touchdowns, while averaging 4.7 yards-per- carry. Here are a few of Mayes rushing totals from 1986: 172, 128, 131. Pretty spectacular.
Crazy thing is those weren’t even his best games of the year. In back-to-back weeks Mayes rushed for 157 yards against New England and then went for 207 yards against Miami. In true 1980’s Saints fashion they lost both games. In case you were wondering, that averages to 182 yards a game.
Like Rogers, Mayes was rookie of the year, and also like Rogers he was pretty much the entire offense. In 1986 Bobby Hebert broke his foot the third week of the year and the Saints were quarterbacked by Dave Wilson most of 1986. Wilson would only throw 10 touchdowns in 13 starts, but with the help of Mayes’ great rookie year the Saints at one point were 6-5, which today doesn’t sound like much, but in 1987 the Saints being over .500 in November warranted parade planning conversations.
Reggie Bush 2006
Bush came to the Saints with great excitement, and while he never quite reached the lofty heights he did in college, Reggie did deliver the fun.
In 2006 Bush had 1307 yards from scrimmage and also added 216 punt return yards and one massive touchdown against Tampa Bay in the Superdome. The 3-1 Saints were on the verge of losing to the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Reggie saved the day with a 65yard punt return for a score.
Bush caught 88 passes for 742 yards but only averaged 3.6 yards-per- carry running the ball. He had 125 yards receiving and a touchdown in a huge Sunday night win in Dallas and his 88yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship was the first moment in my life when I truly believed the Saints could win a Super Bowl.
I have nothing but the fondest memories of Reggie.
Alvin Kamara 2017
Kamara has only played 9 games so it’s hard to judge him against guys who played an entire season, but right now he’s on pace for 1404 yards from scrimmage, 75 catches, 11 touchdowns, while averaging 6.5 yards-per-carry. I believe the word you are looking for is WOW. He’s on pace for 100 more total yards from scrimmage than Reggie and only 50 less than Mayes’ 1449 while doing it with less than 200 total touches. That’s something special. I’m guessing the touches will increase but so will the yardage as we get deeper into the season. It’s not crazy to think Kamara breaks 1600 total yards on about 210 touches.
So who’s the best rookie running back in Saints history? I say Reuben Mayes by a nose over Kamara, then Rogers, and Bush. Mayes carried a team missing its’ quarterback and for a fleeting moment it looked like he might take the Saints to a place they’d never been…the playoffs.
Feel free to debate amongst yourselves though.
Saints Mood and Meditation Music: Band of Heathens Hurricane
One of my Twitter followers, @joecephus, recommended this song. His reasoning is sound, “Everyone was trying to tell us that our defense stunk, Brees was old, and our coach was leaving, but we know better.”
The band sings, “It takes a lot of water to wash away New Orleans.”, and in 2017 you can say the same thing about the Saints, because they are relevant again even if nobody thought they would be. One of my favorite parts of 2017 is every single one of us pretending 0-2 never happened and we were all totally confident the season was going to be awesome. Sure we did.
Last Week: 4-1
New Orleans (-7.5) vs. Washington: The 2017 New Orleans Saints are built like a team trying to hide their quarterback. The Saints can run the ball down a team’s throat, play good defense, and just sort of need the quarterback to make a couple of throws and stay out of the way. Add Drew Brees to the formula and suddenly it looks unstoppable.
For teams facing the Saints, stopping the running game has to be the first objective. This isn’t to say Sean Payton has suddenly turned into Vince Lombardi, but as the 24 consecutive runs in Buffalo showed, if you can’t stop the Saints running game you have ZERO shot, because Payton will just bludgeon your defense to an unrecognizable pile of rubble.
So how is Washington against the run? Not great. They are 13th in rushing yards allowed (109.6 yards-per-game) and 17th in yards-per-carry (4.1). Keep in mind Buffalo headed into the Saints game with a top 10 rushing defense, they are now 22nd.
You thought Sunday in Buffalo was fun? Just wait until teams get so desperate to stop Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara they start committing more players to doing it early in games. Can you say play action bomb to Ted Ginn Jr.? Oh yes. Look for the Saints to be very aggressive on first down against a Washington pass defense allowing 250 passing yards-per-game.
Washington are a banged up football team right now. They will be without their starting running back, a starting linebacker, and might be without tight end Jordan Reed. The Saints aren’t going to go 14-2 but right now it kind of feels like they might. The only team in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Sunday capable of beating the Saints is the Saints. That’s not going to happen.
Atlanta (+3) at Seattle: It pains me to say here come the Falcons, but here come the Falcons. The Seahawks have a ton of injuries and when safety Earl Thomas doesn’t play their defense isn’t very good.
Jacksonville (-7.5) at Cleveland: At some point don’t the Browns need to be declared a ward of the state based on neglect? What will happen first? The Browns have a winning season or we get to eat a Hubig’s pie again?
Arizona (-1.5) at Houston: The Texans were like a guy driving a Ferrari cross country that broke down in the desert. Deshaun Watson was the Ferrari and now they are stuck in the middle of nowhere with no hope of rescue.
LSU (-15.5) at Tennessee: The Volunteers might get the dead cat bounce from firing their coach but I doubt it. If LSU goes 9-3 during Ed Orgeron’s first season I’m going to be very pleased.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.