My case for Mark Ingram is slightly more simple than I’m about to make it. The case is about 80% “I ran projections which only included data from after week 8 last year and those projections showed Mark Ingram to be a low end RB2 in a 12 team league.” and the other 20% of my case is Ingram’s generally cheap draft cost in the 7th round of drafts. But if that’s all I wrote, it wouldn’t be very satisfying to read and it would also ignore some other important components that are included in my thinking. Those components are as follows:
From 2007 to 2011, the Saints ran the ball inside the opponent 10 yard line more than all by 6 NFL teams. In 2012 they dropped to bottom 10 in the league in that stat. I think the pendulum has room to swing back in the other direction.
The Saints have somewhere around 23-25 rushing attempts per game to distribute among their running backs. They just lost 40 total attempts from 2012 when they traded Chris Ivory. Darren Sproles is turning 30 this year.
In the part of the draft that Ingram is being taken, the RBs coming off the board generally require an injury to get onto the field or they are getting the small end of a time share. Only Ingram is being drafted in the mid-30s among RBs and is at least the marginal leader in his own backfield. Below are the Saints’ RB carries over the last half of the season:
Ingram’s position as at least the marginal leader in his own backfield provides some safety that future value could be built on. You know you’re getting at least something out of him. Gio Bernard is going in front of Ingram and while we can speculate as to his talent and the Bengals’ expected usage of him, we don’t really know. But with Ingram we have at least some level of certainty.
If you’re willing to sit around and wait for a player to get injured, why not take a player that already has a locked in number of touches to start with, so that if/when that injury does come, the touch ceiling is higher? For instance, if Mark Ingram is almost guaranteed 13-14 touches per week and then either Sproles or Pierre Thomas gets injured, Ingram’s touch count probably goes up.
The widespread objection to my point above about using the expected usage as a base to build future value on will be something along the lines of “Well we know Ingram’s not the guy. The Saints will bring in someone else to help carry the load. Ingram will never get more than 12 touches per game.” That type of thinking drives me batshit crazy. My eye is twitching right now. Not only do we not know what NFL teams will do if confronted with some unforeseen circumstance, they often don’t even know what they’ll do and they have to do things all of the time that they don’t want to.
Do you think New England wants to roll with either a rookie WR or Mike Jenkins to start the season? Is that the plan they cooked up when they got all of the football geniuses in the same room? It seems to me that it’s more likely that their decision was a difficult one driven by a number of less than attractive potential scenarios. Football teams are faced with these scenarios all of the time. As I’ve pointed out before, that’s how Arian Foster became Arian Foster. This idea is the cornerstone behind taking guys who have usage potential. Sometimes their teams are forced into playing them.
All we know about Mark Ingram is that he’s in the best usage situation in his career. We know he’s getting some touches. How many touches per week should we pencil in for Eddie Lacy (ADP: RB28)? How many touches per week can we expect out of Montee Ball (RB22)?
Let’s think about Ingram’s usage situation compared to Montee Ball, who is being drafted 13 RB spots in front of Ingram. What are the expectations for Ball, when we know that John Fox has shown some reluctance with rookie RBs in the past? What are the expectations given that Ball is just as physically unimpressive as Ingram is? What are the expectations for Ball given that we have no idea what the carry split will be? Fantasy drafters are assigning a premium to Ball just because there’s some uncertainty there, and then they’re discounting Ingram because there is certainty that they don’t like. I still don’t understand why people are willing to pay more for something just because they don’t know what it is.
There’s a common theme that’s running through this post and that is that people are assigning premiums to the rookie running backs. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise given that people did the exact same thing when Ingram was a rookie. They overvalued his potential production when they didn’t have any information as to how he would play as a pro. That’s worth thinking about as you calibrate your expectations for any of the rookie running backs. The same skills that made them good in college may or may not translate to the NFL. Of the rookies that are going in front of Ingram, they’re all about on par with Ingram in terms of being pro prospects. None of them boasts an elite Speed Score (one predictive variable) and none of them was drafted higher than Ingram in their draft (another predictive variable).
Just so I don’t get too far out over my skis here, let me say that if the usage situation for any of the rookie RBs becomes extremely clear during training camp or OTAs, or if they have injuries in their backfields that force their teams to play them, I’ll change my tune. Last year I drafted Doug Martin in a few leagues because it looked like Greg Schiano wanted to give him the ball a lot. If any of the rookies look like they’re in a similar situation this year, then maybe that will justify their draft spots.
As I’ve written before, I usually find WRs to target first because I have more confidence in them and I can find better bargains. For instance, I expect Mike Williams to finish a good 20 WR spots in front of his ADP. I have less confidence that I can get bargains with running backs. Mark Ingram is going around RB35 and I think he could finish somewhere in the range of RB20-RB24 or so. So I think he’s something of a bargain and I like his safety a lot, but I’m also being realistic about what I’m getting when I take Ingram. I think I’m getting an RB whose most likely outcome is that he racks up 13-14 touches per week and gives solid yet boring production. But I also think it’s possible that he could see 15-20 touches per week in which case his value would be a lot higher. That’s a potential outcome, just not the most likely. But if you compare Ingram’s baseline (along with his potential upside and the likelihood of that upside materializing) with the other RBs in his part of the draft, I think he’s a bargain.
As a refresher, here’s what my draft targets would look like on an actual draft board:
That’s nine guys down and just 1 to go. I think in the last installment of the post I’ll discuss in general how I would fill out the first three rounds of the draft depending on league format. Stay tuned.