Fantasy Football: Mark Ingram Has Workhorse Upside in Baltimore

The Ravens' backfield might look crowded, but Ingram should be in for a big workload in 2019.

The Baltimore Ravens had something of an identity crisis in the 2018 season. They drafted Lamar Jackson 32nd overall, but they opened the year rolling with long-time starter Joe Flacco.

Flacco started the first nine games of the season, and in that time, they averaged a league-leading 45.6 passing plays per game to 25.7 running plays, and their 1.77-to-1 pass-to-run ratio was the ninth-highest in the NFL.

There was a massive shift when Jackson took over in Week 10. From Week 10 through Week 17, they averaged a league-low 25.7 passing plays per game, a league-high 45.1 run plays per game (10 more than any other team) and had an absurdly low pass-to-run ratio of 0.57. The next-lowest was 0.83. For context, the lowest mark in a season for any team since 2000 is 0.64, and only two teams in that time have been below even 0.75.

The Ravens shifted, on a dime, from one of the league's most pass-heavy teams to a team that relied on the run at a historically rare level.

This made their running backs hot commodities in fantasy. Alex Collins landed on injured reserve after starting 10 games, and he had racked up 114 carries in that stretch -- not getting much opportunity to benefit from the shift to a run-based offense. Gus Edwards stepped in and played a huge role, leading the team's running backs with 137 carries on the year. Kenneth Dixon returned from injury late in the season, playing six games and notching 60 carries.

Leading the team in rush attempts, though, was Jackson with 147.

This offseason, Collins was waived shortly after being arrested after a car accident, leaving Edwards and Dixon projected as the team's top backs until they made a splash and signed former New Orleans Saint Mark Ingram to a three-year, $15 million contract.

Ingram has the potential to dominate the work in this backfield, and when you combine that with the Ravens' style of play, it could lead to him seeing huge volume in 2019.

Available Volume

Obviously, it's not likely that the Ravens are going to continue rushing on 64% of their offensive snaps like they did down the stretch last year. For however run-heavy you expect them to be, projecting a team to do something we haven't seen in decades is rarely a winning proposition.

That's okay, though, because they can shift significantly toward the pass and still have great volume to go around in the rushing game.

Even if we cut their run-play percentage from Week 10 to Week 17 down by almost 10 percentage points, they'd still have averaged 38.8 run plays per game. A pass-to-run ratio below 1.0 is rare in today's NFL, but if any team is going to hit that in 2019, it looks like these Ravens have the best chance.

Running the ball not only highlights Jackson's biggest strength, but it covers a glaring weakness -- his struggles throwing the ball. He averaged 0.00 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back in 2019, meaning he was one of only 12 of the league's 43 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times not to contribute positive expected points to their team on a per-drop-back basis.

Don't blame that on his weapons, either, as the notoriously-mediocre Flacco ranked 21st in that group with an average of 0.10. That means he contribute a full expected point more than Jackson for every 10 drop backs. Even if you're projecting some improvement for Jackson in his sophomore season, he has a long way to go to be even league-average, per our numbers, as the league-average Passing NEP per drop back was 0.11 in 2018.

Even below-average passing can be more efficient than running the ball, but we've seen consistently that NFL teams are happy to stay "old-school" and lean on the run. Baltimore let John Brown walk and released Michael Crabtree this off-season, leaving Willie Snead as the only wideout on the team who saw more than even 25 targets last year.

They also inked Nick Boyle to an extension. Letting 197 of your team's 317 wide receiver targets walk while giving a new contract to a tight end who saw only 37 looks last season doesn't exactly hide the Ravens' intentions to run the ball.

Ingram Can Handle the Workload

Even though the New Orleans Saints have traditionally been a team that rolls with a committee in the backfield and Alvin Kamara's emergence has eaten up plenty of volume, Ingram has notched at least 200 carries three times in the last five seasons. His 965 carries are the seventh-most for any running back in that time, and he's one of only four players in the NFL with at least 900 carries and 250 targets in that span.

Rush attempts are the most consistent stat year-over-year for running backs. Not only that, but volume numbers are just about the only thing that is consistent year over year, making Ingram's previous elite volume a promising indicator for what we can see moving forward.

Being involved in the passing game more than most high-volume rushers -- he saw at least 58 targets each season from 2015 to 2017 -- is also an important aspect of why Ingram has so much fantasy potential in Baltimore. Even a shift toward a more pass-heavy approach wouldn't leave him behind like it might for Edwards (two targets in 2018) or Dixon (seven targets in 2018).

Competition for Touches

The incumbents in Baltimore don't exactly pose a huge threat for Ingram.

Edwards had 137 carries, yes, but that volume came in an offense that we know is highly unlikely to be sustainable in terms of how much they ran the ball. He was also an undrafted free agent last year. For sure, his NFL production means we can reduce the weight we give his draft spot, but one season of volume for an undrafted running back has meant very little, historically.

Since 2000, we've seen 18 undrafted rookie running backs notch at least 100 carries. Three of those were in 2018, so we have no data on their second seasons. For the other 15, three of them went on to either not play a second year in the NFL or not see a single carry in that second year. On average, the group saw 69 fewer carries in Year 2 than Year 1, and that average is actually skewed upwards by Ryan Grant -- the median decline is 87 carries.

A one-dimensional rusher doesn't offer a ton of value in today's NFL, even in an offense like Baltimore's. Edwards' value doesn't look to be insulated at all by potential as a receiver, and we've seen that rushing volume as a rookie doesn't ensure any sort of safety for an undrafted back.

Dixon is more of a threat to Ingram than Edwards appears to be. Despite Dixon's low passing game usage in 2018, he did notch 41 targets to go with 88 carries in his 2016 rookie season.

He missed the entirety of 2017 and most of 2018, though, which means he's been in the NFL for three years and has tallied only 148 carries and 48 targets. Ingram has topped both of Dixon's career totals in three of his four seasons.

Dixon didn't return a ton of efficiency, either, a year ago, averaging 0.08 Rushing NEP per carry, compared to Gus Edwards' 0.17. That 0.08 is a solid mark in a vacuum, but the Ravens as a whole were running with some great efficiency down the stretch, with Jackson averaging 0.18 Rushing NEP per carry to go with Edwards' 0.17, so the context really puts a damper on Dixon's number.

As mentioned, Collins is gone, and Javorius Allen, the only other back to see much volume last year, is also an unrestricted free agent, and it doesn't look like he'll be returning, either. Ty Montgomery is also an unrestricted free agent.

Ingram's Fantasy Football Outlook

The Ravens' backfield may appear crowded on the surface, and that's likely why Ingram's Average Draft Position (ADP) in best-ball drafts hasn't moved much since the signing. He's going off the board, on average, as the 45th player (23rd running back) in drafts since March 13, compared to him being the 58th player and 28th running back through March 12, so he's seen a slight boost since signing with Baltimore.

Dixon still being unproven through three NFL seasons and the historically uphill battle that Edwards is fighting for volume has Ingram as a much safer bet for a big workload than he's getting credit for. And with volume being far and away the most important factor for a running back in fantasy football, he's a great pick as a Raven.