New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram has a fairly disappointing first two NFL seasons, with just 1,076 combined rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in 26 career games. Injuries have played a role, as he had knee and toe surgeries after his rookie season, but a deep group of running backs in New Orleans has also limited his role in certain situations.
Ingram played all 16 games in 2012, and finished strongly with 250 rushing yards on 58 carries (4.3 yards per carry) over the final four games of the season. Taking a wider look to the final eight games, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry (424 yards on 102 carries) with four of his five rushing touchdowns for the season over that span.
Can the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner build on last season’s solid finish and become a good option for fantasy football owners in 2013?
The Saints unclogged their running back rotation a bit by trading Chris Ivory to the New York Jets, but Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles still remain to compete with Ingram for snaps and touches. Ingram should now get the lion’s share of the early-down and goal line work with Ivory gone, but his lack of prowess as a pass catcher (17 career receptions) should continue to limit his overall role in the New Orleans offense.
Saints’ head coach Sean Payton has said he wants to improve the team’s rushing offense, and Ingram could be the driving force to help make that happen. But New Orleans had the 29th-most rushing attempts in the league in 2012 (23.1 per game), and they have not finished higher than 20th in rushing attempts in any of the last three seasons.
The Saints were last in the NFL in total defense (440.1 yards per game) and 31st in scoring defense (28.4 points per game) in 2012, but new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should help bring improvement for a unit that has nowhere to go but up. That should also yield closer games next season, and theoretically a significant role for Ingram as the Saints attempt to run clock late.
I don’t expect Ingram to become a top fantasy running back in 2013, but better health from the start of the season and an increased role gives him nice upside potential. I think 250 carries for around 1,000 yards and 5-10 touchdowns is a reasonable projection, which would make him a solid RB3 or perhaps even a low-end RB2 in most league formats. But Ingram will surely continue to cede passing down work to Sproles and Thomas, which puts a significant ceiling on his value in PPR leagues.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.