With Adrian Peterson in New Orleans, Mark Ingram Could Become a Big Fantasy Football Value
Sean Payton hates Mark Ingram. Or, at least, it seems like he hates Mark Ingram.
And it's created a fantasy football mess.
Yesterday, the Saints signed Adrian Peterson to a two-year deal, pushing one of the league's potential 200-plus attempt running backs -- that's Ingram -- down fantasy football draft boards. Instead of a fairly clear-cut situation in the Saints' backfield, we've got one with two players -- albeit one of them being the NFL's version of a geriatric -- who've seen multiple high-volume seasons.
How in the world should fantasy owners approach this newly-formed duo?
Ingram's never seen more than 226 carries in a single season. You could argue it's because his coaching staff rotates the running back position too much, but you could also say that it's due to the Saints having such a high-volume passing attack. Take a look at Ingram's volume profile over his last three NFL seasons, the three where we've seen him as a reliable fantasy starter.
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Relatively speaking, the overall usage for Ingram hasn't been that dramatically different over the last three years. His market share -- the percentage of rushes by a back in a particular backfield -- did dip in 2016 thanks to a questionable coaching decision that pushed Tim Hightower to relevancy, but even still, Ingram finished with the 17th-highest backfield market share in football. That could be far worse.
Aside from a few missing carries, Ingram's true upside did take a hit last year near the goal line.
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While he had plenty of shots to score in 2014 and 2015, that opportunity dwindled in 2016 with the aforementioned Hightower actually seeing three more carries within the opponents' five-yard line, scoring two additional times.
No wonder Mark Ingram was throwing sideline temper tantrums.
Ingram still finished 2016 with six rushing touchdowns, and he was the eighth-best fantasy running back in PPR formats thanks to four additional scores through the air. In 2014 and 2015, despite seeing 96 total targets, he failed to find the end zone as a receiver. (That's regression to the mean at its finest.)
But what's this going to look like with Adrian Peterson in the mix?
The Backfield With Peterson
If you want to look at Ingram's new situation with a glass-half-full approach, it's that the Saints didn't go after a pass-catching running back. And the fact that they brought in Peterson means there's a smaller likelihood they'll draft a higher-end rookie back, which could -- and I stress the word could -- allow Ingram to still do work as a receiver in the Saints offense.
That's a pretty big deal, especially in PPR formats. Over the last three seasons, while Ingram's goal line carries have generally dropped, his volume in the passing game has risen: he ranked 37th in running back targets in 2014, 11th in 2015, and 14th in 2016. This all coincides with Pierre Thomas' departure from New Orleans, so there's at least some reason for it.
How the backfield attempts will be shared is a big question mark. No one actually knows the answer at this particular time.
But let's just pretend Peterson is more of the workhorse, while Ingram is the one who takes last year's Hightower role. That would mean Peterson is looking at roughly a 50% market share, while Ingram's will more than likely be closer to 35%.
Over the last three seasons, the Saints have run the ball 406, 397, and 404 times. For argument purposes, let's make the assumption that they run the ball 400 times in 2017. Seems fair, no?
That results in 200 carries for Peterson and 140 for Ingram.
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Not a whole lot is changing, at least at this point, on the receiving end, too. Hightower's departure opens up over 25 targets from last year, which can slip into Peterson's pocket. Meanwhile, the Saints will continue to feature a mix of Travaris Cadet and our boy, Ingram. In other words, a 50- to 60-target season is reasonable for Ingram.
That, on top of a 140-carry season, would appear to be the Ingram scenario with a healthy, clear-cut number-one Adrian Peterson.
But that brings up another point...
At This Point, Ingram Is Probably Better
The exercise above is looking at a setting in which Adrian Peterson is the obvious top running back in the Saints backfield. Is that a fair assumption to make, though?
Peterson will be playing the 2017 season as a 32-year-old running back coming off two major injuries over the last three years. The last time we saw him carry the load (2015) he had a 0.01 Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush average with a 40.67% Success Rate. For reference, the per-rush expected points average in 2015 was -0.04, while an average running back Success Rate -- or the percentage of positive expected point runs made by a running back -- generally hovers around 40%.
Adrian Peterson, for all intents and purposes, was above average and good in 2015.
Ingram -- a 27-year-old who's not coming off a major injury -- has bested those numbers in each of the last three years, though. Granted, he's been aided a bit by playing in a stronger offense, but we shouldn't and can't ignore the fact that Ingram has been a lot better than his coaching staff thinks. In fact, in two of his previous three seasons, Ingram's had a Success Rate north of 45%. That's only done by the top-15 or so most efficient backs each year.
Let's not pretend Ingram's upside is completely capped by Peterson's presence.
Your Approach in 2017
Here's the bottom line: there's a good chance fantasy owners over-adjust Mark Ingram's fantasy potential in 2017 because the average owner won't factor in receiving enough into the equation. Because even in a Hightower role, Ingram could find himself with 140 or so carries, 50-plus targets, and top-25 numbers close to the goal line. That type of volume makes Ingram, at worst, an RB3 in fantasy football.
And then you realize Ingram's playing in one of the best offenses in the NFL, that Adrian Peterson is almost old enough to serve as President, and that he, Peterson, has played significant time in just one of his last three seasons.
As a result, today, Ingram is the back you want to target -- as long as his average draft position falls and Peterson's rises -- in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, though, there's another bottom line: it's always tough to completely count out Adrian Peterson.