When it comes to busts from this year's draft, New Orleans Saints' running back Mark Ingram has to be put near the top of the list.
The Saints are simply better off without Ingram in their backfield at this point.
The former Heisman Trophy winner was expected to take over as New Orleans' feature back, but instead has taken a back seat to Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. The Saints have tried to integrate Ingram into their offense, but he has failed to find his stride.
The Saints are and will continue to be a pass-first team as long as Drew Brees is their starting quarterback. However, regardless of how well you pass the ball, it is always necessary to have a rushing attack in order to be a balanced offense. For a team like the Saints, it is necessary to find a running back that can contribute as a receiver or protect Brees from blitzing defenders.
Ingram's style as a runner is a north-to-south grinder. He isn't much of a receiver, which takes him out of most of the plays in the Saints' playbook.
Darren Sproles has thrived in this role for New Orleans, which only decreases Ingram's value. Sproles has really emerged as the Saints best option out of the backfield. He is currently the team's leading rusher and third on the team in receiving yards. Not to mention he is a huge factor on New Orleans' return unit.
Pierre Thomas has been a solid runner for the Saints over the past few years, but his inability to stay healthy was a concern. He has played in all 16 of the Saints' games this year and is currently second on the team in rushing. Thomas has thrived in his complementary role and given New Orleans just the production it's needed out of the backfield.
It isn't as if the Saints haven't tried to make Ingram the focal point of their rushing attack.
What should the Saints do with Ingram?
Ingram is leading the team with 122 carries even though he has missed the last four games battling a turf toe injury. It is the success of the Saints rushing attack in these four games that really makes you question Ingram's value to the team.
The Saints have averaged 162 rushing yards per game in those four victories. In the 10 games Ingram has played this year, the Saints averaged about 123 yards per game. He was also the leading rusher in only seven of those 10 games.
The duo of Sproles and Thomas mixed with Chris Ivory has been everything New Orleans has needed from its rushing attack the past few weeks. I imagine the Saints are feeling no pressure to rush Ingram back from his injury.
Ivory's emergence as a contributor in the rushing game only further decreases the need for Ingram. Ivory took over in 2010 when Thomas went down with an injury and was successful until he suffered a foot injury of his own that ended his season. Ivory has been the leading rusher for the Saints in three of the past four games.
The New Orleans Saints may not have the premier feature back they were hoping for, but they have put together a team of running backs that is getting the job done. Each of the three add something different to the offense that makes them dangerous at any point on the field, in any situation. While Ingram hasn't been an utter disaster as a Saint, the finish to this season has made his presence on the roster look less than necessary.
Mark Ingram's career as an NFL running back is not over by any means.
He is a talented back that could be successful in a different system. However, his lack of receiving ability out of the backfield just makes him a poor fit for the Saints. New Orleans thrives on spreading the field and moving the ball deep downfield quickly.
This will never fit in with Ingram's game.
If the Saints make the determination that Ingram will never fit in with their system, he still has some excellent value as trade bait. There are plenty of offenses around the league that could use a grinder like Ingram. I think he would be a fantastic fit for a team like the New York Jets, who could use a guy that can handle carries between the tackles.
Ingram is not a lost cause and will continue to get chances at the pro level.
However, his biggest contribution to the New Orleans Saints may be the draft picks or players he brings in with a trade.