5 Reasons You Should Be Drafting Mark Ingram This Year
The feelings I have about Mark Ingram are a lot like the feelings I have towards my Nintendo 64.
At first things were great -- Ingram entered the league as a first-round pick after a successful college career, and I, like most, were ready to use him in some capacity in fantasy football.
Same deal with my N64. This wasn't me, but it very well could have been.
Then Ingram didn't show up. Injuries got in the way, and he failed to even come close to a high-end fantasy football season at the running back position.
I matured and outgrew my Nintendo 64. So I bought an XBox and played way too much Halo (did you think a fantasy football analyst wasn't a nerd?).
Last year, though, Ingram reemerged. He was healthy for arguably the first time in his career to start the season, and the Saints relied heavily on him, as he rushed 226 times, reached the 900 rushing yard mark and scored 9 touchdowns in just 13 games.
I now get more enjoyment out my N64 than any other console. Go ahead and play Mario Kart with beer and try not to have fun.
I'm still all about my 64. And in 2015, I love me some Mark Ingram, too. Here are five reasons why.
1. His 2014 Season Was Really Strong
If you're new to numberFire, you may not know about our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Essentially, NEP measures how well a player performs above or below expectation, assigning real point values to each play based on historical performances. You can read more about it in our glossary.
Last year, we saw 17 running backs tote the rock 200 or more times. Among this group, Ingram ranked eighth in Rushing NEP -- points added on the ground -- and seventh in Rushing NEP per rush.
Not bad at all.
Ingram's Success Rate, too, was 45.58%, which was eighth best among the cohort. This tells us that big runs and important plays (say, touchdowns) weren't really skewing his NEP totals, which is a good sign.
All in all, Ingram had a good year, and it was certainly better than any other season of his career. Previously, Ingram's per-rush NEP -- and keep in mind, the average here usually hovers around -0.03 each year among starting backs because rushing is less effective than passing -- over his first three seasons were 0.00, -0.04 and -0.07, respectively. Last year it shot up to 0.04.
Don't underestimate his skill.
2. He's More Consistent Than Most Realize
Ingram was just as solid from a fantasy standpoint as well. His cumulative numbers don't look amazing because he missed some time due to a hand injury -- he finished as the 15th-best PPR running back last year, behind Matt Asiata.
But his weekly numbers tell a different story. In terms of top-24 PPR performances -- we're using top-24 here because that's an RB1 or RB2 performance in a 12-team league -- Ingram finished with nine (Week 17 excluded), which was bested by only nine running backs. And each of the running backs ahead of him in top-24 games played more contests overall aside from Arian Foster, who, when healthy, has been the most reliable fantasy football running back in the NFL over the last five years.
Ingram's rate of being a top-24 running back -- again, Week 17 doesn't count here -- in a given week (9 out of 12 weeks) was actually higher than Marshawn Lynch's (11 out of 15 weeks).
And it's not as though Ingram didn't have better-than-above-average outings, too. Only seven backs had more top-12 performances (RB1 in 12-team leagues) than Ingram did last season, and every single one of those running backs currently has a first-round average draft position according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
3. He's Their Man Near the Goal Line
A key reason for Ingram's success last year was touchdowns. And a big explanation for his nine scores is opportunity.
No running back had more attempts inside the 5-yard line than Ingram last season, who had 20. The next closest was DeMarco Murray, who was given 17 rushes close to the goal line. And remember, Ingram played in only 13 games.
This may seem like an obvious sign for regression, but a lot of this has to do with the fact that New Orleans has an efficient offense that was able to set Ingram up. After all, in 2014, they ranked eighth in red zone plays and third in plays from within the five.
The other positive is the fact that the Saints really didn't use any other backs substantially close to the goal line. Pierre Thomas, who's now looking for a team to dance with, had three carries within the five, while Khiry Robinson added three of his own.
The Saints' addition of C.J. Spiller really shouldn't make potential Ingram owners fearful, either. Spiller has 11 career rushing touchdowns, and only two have come within the 5-yard line. Why? Because he's not a goal-line back, and Fred Jackson usually took the role during Spiller's time in Buffalo.
For Ingram, having these touches is important. Very important. The next point shows you why.
4. He Plays in a High-Powered Offense
Last summer, I took a look at why you should draft running backs from teams with efficient passing offenses. The hypothesis of the piece is pretty straightforward: a good passing game leads to scoring opportunities and more overall plays, and having touchdowns and volume is important for a running back in fantasy football.
But the math was revealing. Here's one of the conclusions found:
In essence, if you have a bottom 8 to 10 passing offense, in order to post in the 65th percentile in rushing touchdowns in a season (56/160), you’ll need to be one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, or have a future Hall-of-Fame running back.
You already know this, but Ingram plays on a team with Drew Brees, who has been one of the best quarterbacks of this era. Though some are calling for a big drop-off from Brees thanks to Jimmy Graham exiting the offense, a dip won't mean Brees is all of a sudden an average quarterback leading an average offense.
The Saints' passing game, as long as Brees is healthy, will be effective. Because of this, they'll score rushing touchdowns.
And given last year's use of Ingram close to the end zone...
5. The Saints Could Be More Run-Heavy
Since Drew Brees took over the Saints offense in 2006, they've averaged 659 drop backs (includes sacks) per season. To put that into perspective, 659 drop backs would've ranked fourth in the NFL last year. And that's the Saints' average over nearly a decade.
Over this time, they've dropped back to pass fewer than 600 times just once. That came in 2009, which happened to be the season they won the Super Bowl.
The Saints and Sean Payton like to throw the ball. But their moves this offseason -- trading Jimmy Graham for center Max Unger, sending wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Dolphins, signing CJ Spiller -- make it seem like this team is looking to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage in 2015.
New Orleans had 406 rushing attempts last season, which ranked 19th in the NFL. Ingram played in 13 games and saw 226 carries, good for 56% of the team's touches. Had he played all 16 at the same rate, he could have seen close to 280 rushing attempts, which would have given him a 69% share in the team's backfield.
Even with Spiller -- and even if folks think Khiry Robinson will be more involved -- it's hard to envision a healthy Ingram not seeing the number of carries he did last year. This is especially true if you assume they run the ball closer to 430 times. If that's the case, we could see Ingram reach the 250 mark and still not accumulate 60% of the team's carries.
The volume will be there, and it's just another reason to like the rejuvenated back in fantasy football this year.