Mark Ingram's Injury Brings Clarity to the New Orleans Backfield. For Now.
The NFL has been in full-blown Jumanji mode lately, as plagues and horrible things have been unleashed upon the entire league in the form of suspensions, injuries and scandal.
The injury in question for Ingram is a broken hand, which is obviously concerning for a skill position player handling the ball on a regular basis. He'll be sidelined until his hand is capable and comfortable holding a football again. Until then, what do we make of an already nightmarish New Orleans running back situation?
Waking Up From the Fantasy Nightmare?
Last week, I wrote about how the New Orleans backfield is a fantasy football nightmare because of how unpredictable it's been, and how there was no clarity through Week 1 of the NFL season.
But after the second week of the season, things started to become a bit more clear, as Mark Ingram posted a second-straight impressive game, earning goal-line work and finding the end zone once again. In fact, Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2014 season were probably the most impressive two-game stretch in Ingram's career.
He was dominating red-zone carries for New Orleans, and seemed to be the back to own, as he outclassed Khiry Robinson on the ground, and even saw some targets in the passing game despite the presence of Pierre Thomas. But his injury now brings clarity to the backfield that we didn't have before.
Similar to the situation in San Diego, there are now only two backs with clearly defined roles, rather than a three-headed monster bound to cause fantasy football headaches. So what can we expect from Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas moving forward, and what does the future hold for Ingram?
Last season, Pierre Thomas was the best back in New Orleans by quite a wide margin. In addition to his ridiculous production through the air, Thomas was the most efficient runner on the team while also seeing the most volume.
|Name||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP per Rush||Success Rate|
As you can see above, Thomas was the most productive and efficient according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) data, and the most consistent according to Success Rate. Success Rate measures how often a player gains positive NEP on a play, which means Thomas helped increase the Saints' chances of scoring on nearly half of his rushes, which was among the best rates in the NFL.
And while every New Orleans runner was bad in the red zone last year, Thomas was the best among them, meaning he likely reassumes a portion of that role with Ingram, 2014's lead goal-line back, on the sidelines.
Robinson was as unheralded of a player as you could find on your fantasy football draft board this summer, boosted up into the mid-to-late rounds of drafts after seeing time late last season over Mark Ingram for the Saints.
But Ingram passed Robinson and assumed his role as the "bruiser" for the New Orleans offense, leaving Khiry as little more than a change-of-pace back sitting in the third chair of the Saints backfield. This injury clarifies his role in a major way.
Pierre Thomas won't see all of the rushing attempts he did last year as he transitions into the "Darren Sproles" role in the passing game, so Robinson will likely take a large portion of Ingram's carries as a result. Robinson was just as efficient as Ingram last year, and started off this season looking rather similar to his more highly-touted teammate as well.
Robinson isn't a special athlete, but he's more than capable of doing his job. And as our own JJ Zachariason explained this summer, a running back who can "do his job" in an efficient passing offense is a fantasy asset.
So look for Robinson to see the other portion of goal-line work for the Saints while also carrying the ball between the 20's. He could easily be a start-worthy running back - especially given the injuries in the NFL - until Ingram returns.
So what is the long-term prognosis for Ingram? Obviously we won't be sure when he returns until surgery is successful and he begins rehab, but a hand injury for a skill position player can be a major concern. Not only does it impact his primary job of holding onto the football, but it's also an injury that can be easily aggravated or re-injured because of how exposed the hands are in the running game.
But Ingram is worth that risk, as he's been running better than he ever has in his career through two weeks, and was the top choice inside the 20 for the Saints. If he's dropped in your league, you should stash him on your bench. If you can get him as a cheap throw-in in a trade this week, you should do that, too.
The former Heisman winner is the most talented runner the Saints have given Thomas' age, and when he "puts it all together," his skill shines through in his metrics. He dominated the running back position in Week 1 according to our numbers, and was on that same pace in Week 2 despite the injury. As soon as he's back, you'll want him in your lineups, as he's finally looking to settle into his role in the New Orleans offense.
Once he's healthy and proves he's comfortable with his hand on the football, the Saints will resume being a fantasy football nightmare at the running back position. But Ingram is the best fantasy option of the bunch, especially in standard leagues, and is worth hanging onto while he sits on the sideline with a hand injury.