Alvin Kamara will be Saints' 1A and 1B during Mark Ingram ban

METAIRIE, La. -- Here's the bright side: If any team is equipped to handle a No. 1 running back getting hit with a four-game suspension, it's the New Orleans Saints, who have two No. 1 running backs.

Of course, Mark Ingram's suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances is not an ideal scenario for the Saints, who loved their one-two punch of Ingram and Kamara last season. New Orleans mixed the two almost interchangeably in the run game, passing game and short-yardage game.

They became the first duo in NFL history to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season, with both of them scoring at least 12 touchdowns and making the Pro Bowl. They were a huge reason the Saints boasted the No. 2-ranked offense and led the league in rushing touchdowns and yards per rush.

But Kamara sure looks like a guy who can handle being both 1A and 1B while Ingram is sidelined for the first four weeks of the 2018 season. The NFL's reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year showed he could do a little bit of everything last season, as he racked up 728 rushing yards, 826 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns.

Even the Saints admitted Kamara was a better between-the-tackles runner than they expected while he averaged a whopping 6.1 yards per carry. By the end of the season, Kamara began to take on slightly more of the workload than Ingram.

We discussed those evolving roles at last week's ESPN Fantasy Football rankings summit, where we collectively ranked Kamara sixth among running backs and Ingram 14th.

Obviously, they'll be heading in two different directions on that list now. The bigger question is whether the disparity will become permanent.

Ingram's suspension comes at a critical time in his career. Not only is he trying to prove he can still run step for step with the NFL's newest superstar running back, but he is also heading into the final year of his contract.

The NFL Network reported that Ingram has not been participating in the Saints' offseason conditioning program so far. Earlier this offseason, he switched from longtime agent Joel Segal to new agents Paul Bobbitt and David Jones. It's unclear whether that means Ingram is angling for a lucrative contract extension before the season kicks off. If so, this suspension won't help his case.

I certainly don't expect Ingram to wind up in the Saints' "doghouse." The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick has been widely respected by teammates and coaches throughout his seven-year career in New Orleans, especially for the way he handled his smaller role in a crowded timeshare when things weren't going great early in his career.

But even a guy as beloved as Ingram might feel like a luxury item if Kamara proves he can be a true leading man in Ingram's absence. One way or another, this suspension is a huge letdown at this stage of Ingram's career after he had worked long and hard to establish himself as one of the NFL's best running backs following early struggles.

Ingram, 28, needs just 735 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns to break Deuce McAllister's franchise records of 6,096 and 49 -- something that seemed like a no-brainer before the suspension. Ingram could still pull off both feats in 12 games if he stays as hot as he was last season, when he ran for a career-best 1,124 yards and 12 TDs.

The good news for Ingram is the Saints will still need him to play a significant role when he comes back. They have no proven depth behind Kamara, with sixth-round draft pick Boston Scott, second-year pro Trey Edmunds and third-year pro Jonathan Williams all candidates for bigger roles.

It's hard to imagine any of those players being a significant fantasy investment unless one emerges as the clear backup in the preseason. Scott seems to have the most upside of the bunch, especially if you're taking a long-term flier on him. It's hard to predict how many No. 1 backs the Saints will have on the roster in 2019.