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Spotlight: Mark Ingram

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 8th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Mark Ingram is one of the running backs that can make your team a championship contender in 2011, thanks to a combination of great talent, a great situation, and misplaced skepticism which is keeping his average draft position lower than it should be.

A Prototypical NFL Workhorse
Mark Ingram was drafted in the 1st round after a stellar collegiate career. For those who don't pay a lot of attention to the college game, Ingram not only dominated, but he dominated in the SEC - the nation's most competitive and talent-laden league. As a sophomore (2009), Ingram became the University of Alabama's first every Heisman Trophy winner, on route to a national championship. He logged 271 carries for 1,678 yards and 17 touchdowns, and was effective as a receiver, too - with 32 receptions for 334 yards and 3 TDs. Had Ingram come out after his sophomore season, he might have been a top 10 pick, but he opted to return to Alabama where it was expected he would compete for another national championship and - possibly - back-to-back Heismans. A minor knee injury derailed that plan, and Ingram ended up running for only 875 yards and 13 TDs. But that didn't derail NFL scouts from viewing him as the best back in college, and the most NFL-ready tailback to hit the league in years.

Ingram is 5'9" and 215 pounds and runs with a low center of gravity, decisiveness, and power. Our own Matt Waldman, who pens the fantastic Rookie Scouting Portfolio, had this to say about Ingram:

Ingram is one of the smartest runners I've seen. He makes great reads, presses the hole, and he has the rare ability to set up defenders a step ahead of the game. These are the skills that not only made Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Edgerrin James stars, but it also gave them longevity and productivity as their physical gifts declined.

Ingram has an explosive burst and he accelerates from his cuts, which combined with his patience makes him a dangerous player. However, Ingram's grind-it-out power and terrific balance is a dimension of his game that will make him a back that an offense can ride to preserve a lead. His pass protection techniques are good enough that with additional study he'll become a back that only leaves the field when he needs a break.

A quality about Ingram that's evident on film that isn't a technique is Ingram's passion and killer instinct. I believe he's going to be the player who consistently makes the big plays that make a difference in a game. In this respect, he also reminds me of Frank Gore - another back with great vision, power, balance, and strong acceleration.

DEBUNKING THE MISCONCEPTIONS

Misconception #1 - Rookie RBs are a bad investment
Fantasy football owners have short memories. It's a "what have you done for me lately" mindset for most of them, and that's often an opportunity for the more astute of you who can look back at history. While the last few seasons haven't produced an immediate star rookie RB, there's plenty of precedent to suggest it's been a fluke. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that if a rookie RB struggled; it was a condemnation on their overall future. After all, the RB position is one of the most instinctive - and that's why rookie tailbacks have historically been able to step right in and make an impact.

  • Matt Forte finished RB4 as a rookie in 2008
  • Steve Slaton finished RB6 as a rookie in the same year
  • Chris Johnson wasn't a top 10 RB as a rookie, but he was RB11 (in 2008)
  • Adrian Peterson finished as the #3 fantasy RB in 2007
  • Marshawn Lynch was RB12 in 2007
  • Maurice Jones-Drew was the #8 RB in 2006
  • Joseph Addai was RB11, also in 2006

So let's recap, although the rookie RBs in 2009 and 2010 didn't produce elite stats out of the gate, the three prior seasons were terrific. 7 rookie RBs produced fantasy RB1 numbers over those three seasons, an enviable hit rate.

Misconception #2 - Sean Payton insists on a running back-by-committee
The Saints head coach Sean Payton has become one of the most respected offensive minds in football - with good reason. In his five seasons as head coach, the Saints have ranked 1st, 4th, 1st, 1st, and 6th in total yards, and 5th, 12th, 1st, 1st, and 11th in total scoring. With that kind of success, it's understandable that many fantasy owners would think, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But GREAT coaches aren't unyielding, they're always adjusting to their situations. Payton understands that the NFL adapts, and if you can't evolve from year to year, you're doomed.

How is this relevant to Ingram's fantasy success? Because too many people are fixating on the fact that Sean Payton has never had a workhorse back in New Orleans. First of all, the notion that Payton never had a workhorse in untrue. In 2006 - his first season at the helm - Payton had Deuce McAllister, and gave him 244 carries and 30 receptions. 274 touches is "work horse" in today's NFL, and if Mark Ingram gets 270+ touches, he's going to demolish expectations.

Now let's take a look at what Payton had to work with in 2007-2010:

  • 2007 - Reggie Bush led the Saints with 157 carries, and Aaron Stecker had 114 carries. Pierre Thomas was the third option with 50 carries. Both Bush and Thomas only appeared in 12 games and Stecker - while heroic that year - was an extremely limited talent.
  • 2008 - The top three rushers were Pierre Thomas (129 carries), Reggie Bush (106) and Deuce McAllister (107). McAllister was coming back from a major injury and was on his last legs, Bush missed six games (and was banged up for several others), and Thomas missed time, and only really earned reps toward the end of the season.
  • 2009 - The top three rushers were Mike Bell (172 carries), Pierre Thomas (147) and Reggie Bush (70). Once again, all three runners missed games, and were banged up in others. And once again neither Thomas nor Bell were ever considered elite talents, while Bush (an elite talent) hasn't given the coaches any reason to think he could handle a heavy workload now four years into his disappointing career.
  • 2010 - A veritable M.A.S.H. unit as unheralded rookie Chris Ivory led the team with 137 carries, but missed four games. Pierre Thomas (10 games), Reggie Bush (8 games), Ladell Betts (8 games) and Julius Jones (6 games) all missed SIGNIFICANT portions of the season.

Long story short, Sean Payton hasn't used a committee for philosophical reasons; he's done so because he HAD NO CHOICE. He hasn't had healthy backs with the talent to handle 20+ touches in a game. Mark Ingram is the tonic to what ails the Saints running game. Payton will see Ingram as the weapon he's been trying to do without for years, and no longer has to.

Misconception #3 - The Saints are too pass happy to support a workhorse RB
This is the most absurd of the major misconceptions, yet I have heard far too many "pundits" throw it out there as a reason to discount Mark Ingram's fantasy outlook. A quick look at the Saints run/pass ratios each year tells the story:

Year Atts Rush %Pass %Run Postseason
2006 580 469 55.3% 44.7% L,ConfChamp
2007 653 384 63.0% 37.0% NoPlayoffs
2008 636 391 61.9% 38.1% NoPlayoffs
2009 543 465 53.9% 46.1% W,SuperBowl
2010 658 376 63.6% 36.4% L,WildCard

I can't emphasize this enough. In the three years where New Orleans threw the ball more than 60% of the time, the Saints either missed the playoffs completely or bowed out in the first round. In the two seasons when they had more balance, they advance deep into the playoffs once and WON THE SUPER BOWL the other instance. Do you honestly think that wasn't FRONT AND CENTER on the minds of Coach Payton and the Saints personnel department on the day they decided to trade back into the first round to draft Mark Ingram?

Positives

  • Ingram has as well-rounded a skill set as we've seen since Adrian Peterson came into the league a few years ago. He's powerful, patient, plays hurt, is a willing blocker, and can catch out of the backfield
  • The Saints have had success in the playoffs only when they've been more balanced on offense, and they moved up into the first round to secure Ingram's services -- he'll be a feature back
  • The Saints offensive line is among the best in the NFC

Negatives

  • Ingram hurt his knee early in his junior season, and it significantly curtailed his productivity
  • The Saints haven't given a tailback more than 200 carries since Deuce McAllister in 2006

Final thoughts

I am salivating at the prospect of Mark Ingram being available all the way to the 52nd pick, which is where his current Average Draft Position sits as I write this Spotlight. To think I'll be able to secure an NFL ready feature back on a potent offense, in need of his skills, in the 4th or 5th round is almost too good to be true. Simply put, too many people are being myopic about the last two years and forgetting that rookie RBs have traditionally been excellent fantasy options -- particularly those of Ingram's caliber. I won't be at all surprised to see Ingram deliver Top 10 numbers this year, and yet you'll be able to target him as your RB2. That's the way you win fantasy championships.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Scooby1974 said:

The 2010 Saints produced 1479 rushing yards on 349 carries for a 4.2 ypc average and 9 rushing TD's. I'd say that is probably close to Ingram's floor. Ivory (an UFA) averaged a stellar 5.2 ypc. Ingram is twice the talent and will see the ball more, so if he comes in and gets 250 carries on his own and averages a conservative 4.6 ypc he throws up 1150 yards in his sleep. 300 carries and we're looking at 1380 yards rushing. If Ivory had 5 TD's on 137 carries and we double the carries for Ingram...we are obviously guessing here, but Ingram's floor is 10 Td's.

NO produced 737 yards receiving on 118 reception for an average of 6.2 ypr and scored 2 TD's. If Ingram is any part of the passing game and can outproduce the likes of PT, Chris Ivory, Julius Jones, and Reggie Bush (admittedly Bush might have the advantage here) we'll see a jump in yardage, average, and likely TD's due to more and longer sustained drives.

I see his floor being around here:
250 carries, 1150, 8-10 TD's
40 receptions, 275 yards, 2-3 TD's

If Ingram averaged the same 5.2 ypc that Ivory did his floor increases to:
250 carries, 1300, 8-10 TD's
300 carries, 1560, 10-15 TD's

We Tigers said:

The Saints don't run a ton. They've only hit 400 RB carries in 2 of 5 seasons that Payton's been coaching--then again, those were the two years they 1) reached the NFC championship game, and 2) won the Super Bowl, so maybe they ought to pound it a bit more. Either way, that's still not a huge total.

I think Bush will be gone, but I don't necessarily know that all his pieces of the playbook will be. Can Thomas step in and handle the quick screens and the moves to the edge that have proved so effective for the Saints? That's not really Ingram's game. Maybe those plays will go away after all. Either way, I think the Saints will want to ride Ingram, but that he might stay 2-downs early and let more experienced players pick up the pass protection. I think this might be especially true the longer the lockout goes on.

To me, it totally depends on what the roster looks like. I actually think Bush staying could serve Ingram better, as Bush would have obvious 3rd down responsibilities, while Pierre might get pushed to the background and let Ingram star. If Bush is gone, Pierre's the vet who's a bit more trusted in pass protection, and he'll have the chance to earn more playing time just by virtue of being on the field in more situations.

In either scenario, I do see Ingram having a hard time getting to 250 carries, and could see him with as few as 150-180. Great player with a bright future, but it might take a year or two. Unless there are very clear signs in the preseason, he'll probably be a player I avoid at whatever his ADP ends up being, as you never really can be sure what's gonna happen in the New Orleans offense.

Truly Yours said:

I think that the Saints offense will still run through Brees. A pass happy offense also requires the RBs to pass block a lot, and the Saints will not risk Brees getting too many shots. How good Ingrams pass blocking abilities are is something which is hard to guess at this point in time, but may ultimately decide how many snaps he will be on the field, especially early in the season.

P. Thomas also got a new four year contract, Thomas knows the system andthe extended play book, and the lock out hurts Ingram developing some chemistry with his team mates, which I believe makes Ingram more part of a RBBC for this year. While he may take over as a clear starter next year, this year the Saints will ease him in to keep all RBs fresh for a deep play off run.

Raiderfan32904 said:

Mark Ingram is the perfect running back for the Saints. He comes into a pass first system, and he will wake up the defense considerably on delay draws and play action runs. He has a burst, power, and vision that are NFL quality, and he will easily outclass incumbent Pierre Thomas for the lion's share of the carries. Bush may or may not return, but if he does, it will be as a change of pace back. The Saints powerful aerial attack has been the platform for RBBC successes, with a mix/match of average running backs. This is the one place where even a guy like Julius Jones can look good. With Ingram in the fold, expect the end of the RBBC in New Orleans. Ingram has the chance to be a star out of the chute. He's in a situation where he could get 5 ypc and double digit TD's.


Mark Ingram projections

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