Mark Ingram: Why the Second-Year Running Back Will Live Up to the Hype in 2012

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Mark Ingram: Why the Second-Year Running Back Will Live Up to the Hype in 2012
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Mark Ingram didn't quite live up to the all the hype bestowed on him in his rookie campaign for the New Orleans Saints in 2011.

After the team traded back into the first round with the New England Patriots and gave up their 2012 first round pick to select Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner was expected to tear the NFL apart and earn rookie of the year honors.

At least in the mind of many fantasy experts (and draft experts, for that matter). 

If you were to read my analysis around the 2011 draft (seen here, here and here) you'd notice I was far from a fan of the team drafting Mark Ingram—especially at No. 24 (at 28 I was okay with him).

And yet, less than a year later, it seems everyone is ready to stamp the "bust" label on No. 28 and be done with him. 

And that makes zero sense. 

Anyone who knew anything about the 2011 Saints knew the team had incredible depth at the running back spot. For Ingram to gain rookie of the year status, he would have had to do something no running back has done in New Orleans under Sean Payton--average 20-plus carries. 

Of course, we all know that didn't happen—not even close, in fact. In 10 games he carried the ball 122 times (12.2 attempts per game). With those carries he gained a pedestrian 474 yards and five touchdowns. That equaled out to a 3.9 average per carry which, of course, isn't very good. 

Mark Ingram had some great moments in 2011 (especially in the preseason). Saints fans hope for many more in 2012.

And that is the rhetoric most are using to tell you Mark Ingram is a terrible running back. A "bust," someone no longer worthy of being drafted in your fantasy league. And, worst of all, no value to the New Orleans Saints. 

Don't buy it. For the love of all things sacred and just, do not buy it! 

Yes, of course, Mark Ingram was hurt for six full games a season ago, did not play in the playoffs and has a legitimate question mark on his resume of if he can stay healthy. 

But when the rookie was healthy, he was actually quite good. Using a similar measure to that of Football Outsiders' DOA, I took a look at five of Mark Ingram's games from this past season (Green Bay, Chicago, Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit) and charted his carries. 

Each carry was labeled either a base down and distance (meaning first and second down) or a short-yardage carry. In base downs, the goal of the run play is to gain four-plus yards. In short-yardage it is to pick up half the distance to the goal (or the first down if it's a third down carry).

I used some subjectivity in my grading to determine if Ingram did all he could to achieve the desired result, account for poor offensive line play and account for great effort on Ingram's part.

Here were the results:

  Runs to the Left Runs Up the Middle Runs to the Right All Runs
Base Runs 10/14 20/26 9/12 39/52
Short-Yardage 1/3 5/10 0/1 6/14
Total 11/17 25/36 9/13 45/66

That is a lot of data to take in. Let me break it down for you this way.

On 68 percent of all runs, Mark Ingram does extremely well. That 68 percent represents a runner who is instinctive and incredibly quick-footed. He is very agile, despite his bulky build. He hits the hole hard and fast and uses elusive burst to get to the second level. 

The remaining 32 percent represents a runner who is tentative and lacks tremendous power in a pile (at least most of the time). Despite that bulk and strength, Ingram is not a typical power back. Instead, he is a great zone runner who excels in space. 

More important, look at his base run percentages and his short-yardage percentages. On base runs he is 75 percent overall and no worse than 71 percent to any of the three running zones. It isn't until we start talking about short-yardage where Ingram's percentages and capabilities start looking dire. 

You can blame it on some poor blocking—we know the Saints are not the most physical offensive line in football—or a relative lack of attempts or even poor play-calling. No matter what, though, it is clear Ingram was not very successful in 2011 in short-yardage situations.

And he is unlikely to be in 2012. 

Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are much more effective in short-yardage situations. Even the diminutive one, Darren Sproles, elicits more fear in the hearts of opponents in short-yardage situations. 

As I've noted already, don't allow this to sway your opinion of Ingram and decide he is a bust. He is, in fact, the Saints' best base down runner. There is no one on the team I want with the ball at the 30-yard line on 1st-and-10 needing to "stay on schedule."

Who is the Saints' best short-yardage runner?

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Often he will not only keep the team on schedule, but put them in a very favorable situation such as 2nd-and-short where playaction and a myriad of other options avail themselves to Pete Carmichael and Drew Brees

In other words, Mark Ingram will be the Saints' most improved player in 2012 because Carmichael and the offensive staff will recognize Ingram's fit is as a base down runner.

His yards-per-carry average will likely make a huge leap from the 3.9 of a season ago. More than likely it will go well beyond 4.5, due to the team's pass-first-and-foremost nature. 

They will stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and give the majority of the short-yardage carries to Thomas and Ivory, and the occasional give to Sproles as well. Ingram's efforts can be maxed as he takes approximately 50 percent of the base down carries and the red zone (five yards and out) carries. 

Because of that burst in space, he'll still score somewhere between the five touchdowns he had in 2011 and eight if he stays healthy. 

Look for him to step on the field more often on passing downs due to the fact he's been in the building for a full offseason. This will allow him to get comfortable with the Saints' protection schemes and running back route responsibilities. 

It is pretty well assumed Ingram will be ready to go when training camp starts later this month. If he can stay healthy through camp and preseason games, look for the young back to begin his second NFL season as the official starter—though that label means nothing in the Saints' four-headed backfield. 

More importantly, look for a healthy Ingram to accrue somewhere north of 200 carries in 2012, with hopefully 180 of those coming on base downs.

If he does that, Ingram should be a fantasy starter and, more importantly, a key player on a Saints team that has its sights set on playing in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on February 3, 2012. 

 

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