Why Pierre Thomas is a Better Value Than Mark Ingram

With Mark Ingram's third season approaching, fantasy owners are encouraged. But is he even the best fantasy value at running back on the Saints?

I remember going to Three Rivers Stadium as a kid. I went all the time, actually. Growing up with the Pirates was painful, but the experience at any Pirate game was enjoyable. How can you not have fun at a big league ball game?

I loved getting autographs. It wasn’t because I wanted to sell them to make side money as a thirteen year-old. I liked getting them because of the experience; waiting in line with fans just to stand next to some of your biggest idols was an adrenaline rush you’d only feel as a naïve youngster.

You’d wait – sometimes up to an hour – because you wanted the experience. You wanted to strike a conversation with the guys you looked up to. The wait was rough, but the end result was awesome.

Unless, of course, that end result was nothing.

This isn’t to say athletes are arrogant or don’t care about their fans. They have a job to do, and they can’t always stand around to sign baseballs. But there may be nothing more devastating than anxiously waiting for something so special as a child, and getting nothing at the end of the line.

Sound familiar to Mark Ingram hopefuls?

He’s only played two seasons in the league, but we’re already starting to see him walk towards the dugout. Perhaps we’re not giving him a fair chance; two years at the professional level – especially two years that have been injury-plagued – may not be enough time for a fair assessment. But in a league that turns over faster than a burning pancake, evaluations have to happen on a yearly basis. Unfortunately for Ingram, that could spell disaster.

Ingram Versus Saints Runners

One of the benefits a running back has while playing with an elite quarterback is soft defenses. Patriot running backs have gained from it over the years with Tom Brady, and the runners behind Peyton Manning have as well. It’s no different with Drew Brees in New Orleans.

And it’s interesting: How can a player like Mark Ingram, regardless of injury and experience, still only manage a measly 3.9 yards per carry average in the Saints offense? Really, compared to fellow runners (over the last two seasons) Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory (Darren Sproles takes on a different role), Ingram’s yards per carry average is significantly lower.

As with everything here at numberFire though, those metrics never tell the entire story. Instead of looking at yardage, let’s take a look at rushing efficiency. In this case, I’ll analyze the three backs’ rushing net expected points per attempt over the last two seasons, which looks at how each of those players contributed towards the Saints scoring on a per attempt basis.

PlayerYearAttemptsRush NEP / AttemptRanking
Chris Ivory201179.0415th of 80
Pierre Thomas2011110.183rd of 80
Mark Ingram2011122028th of 80
Chris Ivory201240.153rd of 80
Pierre Thomas2012105.0712th of 80
Mark Ingram2012156-.0445th of 80

Again, runners with top-notch passers see favorable defenses, and will be more efficient on the ground. But when each of those runners are on the same team under the same (or similar) variables, you can get a sense of which ones ran the best. For Mark Ingram, he was anything but the best over the last two seasons in New Orleans.

Of 40-plus attempt runners, Ingram has yet to rank in the top quarter in efficiency. That seems fine at face value, but when you consider Pierre Thomas has ranked 3rd and 12th, and Chris Ivory ranked 15th and 3rd, you begin to see that there’s a potential warning sign. Mark Ingram hasn’t been effective.

This is just more evidence to build off of his mediocre-at-best yards per carry average. Ingram has yet to have a positive Rush NEP/Attempt, which is pretty disappointing considering the passing offense he’s running in. To put that another way, Ingram has been worse than an average runner in a similar situation.

And it’s not as though Ingram’s prospects get any better through the receiving game. Compared to Thomas, his biggest competition entering 2013, Ingram doesn’t come close in the pass-catching department. He’s averaged .65 receptions per game played, whereas Thomas has hauled in 2.9 each contest. To make things worse, Thomas has ranked in the top third in receiving efficiency among running backs over the last two seasons.

Value Comparison

Just because a player is more efficient doesn’t mean he’ll be more effective on the fake gridiron. Usage plays a huge role, too. Arian Foster, for instance, hasn’t been the most efficient runner over the last two seasons, but he’s been a top fantasy option. Why? Volume.

Not only have the Saints used Ingram more than Thomas on the ground over the last two seasons, but it looks like they could be planning on using him even more in 2013. That may seem crazy when you look at the numbers above, but improvements can happen in football. That, and the team needs their once first-round choice to produce. He’s capable. He’s got potential.

And that potential has brought his average draft position to Round 8 in 12-team leagues. As of now, Ingram is being selected just over three rounds ahead of Pierre Thomas, which could make sense given projected usage.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we should look at Ingram as the better pick.

Here’s the deal: Mark Ingram’s 8th-round ADP has him listed as the 37th-best fantasy running back. At numberFire, Ingram is ranked as the 31st-best one. In essence, there’s some value in selecting him.

However, before you get overly excited about Ingram, take a look at Pierre Thomas. His current average draft position in the mid-11th round makes him the 48th running back off the board. According to our projections, Thomas should be the 35th running back selected.

Even better value.

It’s usually not advantageous to own two running backs from the same team, especially if you're in a shallow league. Would you want Madden for your PS3 if you had it on Xbox? Exactly.

That’s why, in cases like this, you have to target the better value. Mark Ingram’s cost, albeit still cheap considering our rankings, is higher in comparison to Pierre Thomas. And when you factor in the two runners’ efficiencies, Pierre Thomas looks to be like the one who can do more with less. In other words, since one of the bigger question marks between these runners is usage, if Thomas doesn’t see the level of touches we want him to, he should still produce fantasy worth. Ingram? Not at his current pace.

Ingram could certainly make a jump and be a better running back in 2013. In fact, I expect him to. But considering Thomas’ current draft position, his work in the receiving game and his efficiency, I’d lean towards him in a draft over Ingram.