Why Mark Ingram's Season Is About to Get Even Better
Coming out of Alabama with a Heisman in hand, Mark Ingram immediately earned the label as the New Orleans Saints' running game savior before ever playing a snap. His arrival in New Orleans was easy to understand, as the year before, the Seahawks, behind Marshawn Lynch and his earth-rocking Beast Mode run, shockingly knocked off New Orleans in the playoffs.
In 2010, Drew Brees threw for almost 5,000 yards, but the Saints rushing offense just barely topped 1,500 yards, with Chris Ivory the leading rusher producing just 716 rushing yards. Between their own lack of rushing success that year and losing to a run-oriented team in the playoffs, the Saints adding Ingram to improve the running game was easy to understand.
For his first two seasons, Ingram didn't look like the back that he was expected to be from his time at Alabama while not even averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Finally, last year, Ingram received a true lead back load with 226 carries where he produced 964 rushing yards.
Now, Ingram quietly is looking even better than before as the lead back in New Orleans, and he has a chance to improve on what he's already started this year in the second half of the season.
After Week 8, Ingram is the 10th leading rusher in the NFL with 530 rushing yards, and he is averaging 4.5 yards per tote. He's on pace to have more carries than he had last year, as he already has 118 rushing attempts. This production translates to his deeper success in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics.
Ingram sits fourth in Rushing NEP, only behind Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley, and Giovani Bernard. Additionally, Ingram ranks eighth in Rushing NEP per rush -- he's not just accumulating numbers through volume.
Ingram has 48 rushing successes, which is eighth most among running backs. Rushing success measures runs that contribute positively toward a positive Rushing NEP. His 40.68% Success Rate does fall compared to the rest of his metrics, though, as he is 26th. While this is a letdown, he's still in the company of Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, and Ivory showing that this is still effective production from him.
Through Week 8, Ingram didn't receive as many opportunities as he could have because the Saints have one of the game's better vultures in Khiry Robinson. Prior to getting injured in Week 8 against the Giants, Robinson stole 56 carries in the backfield. He turned his carries into only 180 yards and 4 touchdowns, primarily operating as a goal-line back. This helps explain how Ingram only has five touchdowns on over twice as many carries.
For the season, Robinson has taken 4 goal-to-go carries compared to Ingram, who has taken 12 goal-to-go carries. Robinson turned his 4 carries into 3 touchdowns while Ingram turned his 12 into 4 touchdowns. While Robinson has had more goal-to-go success over Ingram this year, Robinson's goal-to-go carries should now end up in the hands of Ingram. These additional carries should improve Ingram's value going forward.
Last year when Robinson was active, Ingram only averaged 13 attempts per game, but without him he saw that increase to 21.1 attempts per game. Ingram is averaging 14.75 rushing attempts per game so far this year, and should now see that increase to at least 20 per game based on last years usage without Robinson.
Even though the Saints signed Tim Hightower to the team this year, he last received meaningful NFL touches in 2011. He should not have the vulturing prowess that Robinson has because, on top of time away from the game, the last time he saw meaningful action he was inefficient averaging under 4 yards per carry.
Pass Game Incorporation
While the Saints brought in C.J. Spiller this offseason to take over the team's passing game role, Ingram has been the one taking on most passing down work. Much to the surprise of everyone, even though Ingram has played in one more game than Spiller, he has caught 10 more passes this year. He already has 33 receptions, which is four more than he had over the entire 2014 season.
Ingram has turned his 33 catches into only 274 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per showing that he is a decent receiving back, but Spiller is the bigger threat in the passing game although not by as much as expected. Spiller has only turned his 23 catch into 196 yards with 2 touchdowns. His 8.5 yards per reception is only 0.2 more than Ingram's, but his 14.21 Reception NEP is 11th among backs with at least 20 targets while Ingram's 5.36 Reception NEP is 27th among the same qualifiers.
While Spiller is the passing down back, Robinson had 17 catches on 20 targets this year before getting injured on top of his goal line work. Since Robinson is in the game more to spell Ingram than Spiller, it's fair to predict that his targets should go toward Ingram going forward. While Ingram is not the strongest in the passing game, he was on pace to amass almost 70 receptions with Robinson healthy, and should see that increase now that Robinson is hurt.
Even though passing game work is not Ingram's strength, his usage in it has added to his overall value.
Ingram faces a soft schedule for the rest of the year, and our projections list him as the sixth ranked running back from here on out. While most of his value is on the ground, the passing game work he is receiving is a nice bonus in his arsenal.
Robinson's injury adds volume to an already heavy workload, and even though the Saints brought in Hightower he should not be counted on for immediate production after being out of the league the past few years.
Ride Ingram the rest of the year as he is a bona fide RB1.