Projections for Saints' suddenly crowded backfield of Ingram, Peterson, Kamara

METAIRIE, La. -- There was no buyer's remorse for the New Orleans Saints over signing Adrian Peterson as a free agent just three days before they traded up to draft Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara in the third round of the NFL draft.

Just like there was no hesitation when they traded away a 2018 second-round pick to get Kamara -- whom they had considered drafting all the way up at No. 42 overall in Round 2.

And, no, neither move signals that the Saints suddenly hate Mark Ingram, who just had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2016.

The way they see it, there is room for all three of these guys even if they all stay healthy (which, let's face it, is a big "if" at the running back position -- one of the reasons they valued this depth so much).

The Saints see Peterson as a base-down back; Kamara in the "joker" role once inhabited by guys like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush; and Ingram as someone who can do a little of both -- while also being their best pass protector.

The chances of any one of them making a Pro Bowl or being a first-round fantasy pick are dimmer now, but the Saints' history under coach Sean Payton shows their offense is potent and versatile enough for all three of them to play key roles -- with Ingram still being able to tally his usual 1,100-plus yards from scrimmage.

The odd man out will almost certainly be pass-catching running back Travaris Cadet (not to mention last year’s backup Tim Hightower, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency).

"Yeah, there obviously is [room for Kamara, Peterson and Ingram]," Payton said -- considering the Saints knew they were targeting Kamara in the draft when they signed Peterson. "We knew after we signed Adrian and, man, with the year Mark just had, it was gonna take us out of drafting just the pure running back. And really there was two or three players that we looked at that we felt had those unique traits as a 'joker' back or a running back that we would do some things uniquely different with. And Alvin was one of those guys. He was definitely one of those guys."

Perhaps Kamara can be more than just a pass-catcher down the road, since Ingram and Peterson won't be around forever. Kamara had 1,294 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns over his last two seasons at Tennessee, along with 74 catches for 683 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns.

But if the Saints see him as more of a Sproles/Bush type for now, you certainly won't hear any complaints from Kamara -- since those guys fared pretty well in that role. Bush caught 88 passes as a rookie in 2006 before helping the Saints win a Super Bowl in a three-way timeshare with Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell in 2009. Sproles caught 86, 75 and 71 passes in his three seasons with the Saints from 2011-2013 for a total of 1,981 receiving yards and 21 receiving touchdowns -- helping New Orleans set the NFL record for yardage in 2011.

"If that's what Coach Payton and those guys need from me, then I'm comfortable with doing it," Kamara said. "I think [my game] is pretty similar [to Sproles and Bush]. Those guys catch a lot of balls and did a lot of things with their versatility. I feel like I'm kind of the same type of player -- just versatile and able to catch and run the ball well. I'm just excited to see how it will unfold."

The Saints were clearly enamored with the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Kamara. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis said they tried to trade up for him for a while before they finally found a partner with the 67th pick.

Payton told a great story about his private workout with Kamara -- who wasn't planning to run routes at first until Payton strongly hinted he’d like to see him in action.

"I said, 'I want to see you do some things here, stuff that we do.' So fortunately for him, he ran in and put his cleats on and came back out ... and he ran a number of routes, and then we actually had him catch punts after," Payton said. "So you go through the process and there are a few guys that just stand out, and he was one of 'em.

"We got on the phone [Friday] and I said, 'Hey, those might have been the best 11 routes -- or the best decision to go get your cleats on that you made in a long time.'"

So what kind of final numbers can we expect from Ingram, Peterson and Kamara? Obviously it depends on their health and how quickly Kamara earns a heavy volume of touches.

But based on the Saints' history of three- and four-man timeshares with guys like Thomas/Bell/Bush or Thomas/Ingram/Sproles/Chris Ivory or Thomas/Ingram/Khiry Robinson, here's my best bet of their ranges:

Ingram: 800-900 rushing yards, 35-45 catches, 250-350 receiving yards, 7-9 touchdowns

Peterson: 700-800 rushing yards, 15-25 catches, 100-200 receiving yards, 6-8 touchdowns

Kamara: 100-200 rushing yards, 40-50 catches, 400-500 receiving yards, 2-4 touchdowns