It is fitting that Mark Ingram is finally healthy for the first time since college and he’ll be donning his old No. 22 instead of No. 28 this season.


It is too early to call Ingram a bust after just two injury-plagued seasons, but dynasty owners are the ones carrying the torches and pitchforks on that proclamation. Just note his rookie ADP from 2011. Yes, I would bet most people would rather have A.J. Green or Julio Jones in a do-over of the first overall rookie pick.

At least my rankings in 2011 went A.J. Green, Julio Jones then Mark Ingram – so I don’t have that much egg on my face.

We’ve already made a strong case for Ingram as a one of our 10 redraft targets in 2013, but I’m going to dig in a little deeper into his usage numbers and see if there is any merit to the training camp buzz surrounding him.

First off, let’s get the training camp buzz out of the way:

“Ingram has looked strong, fast, fluid and a little slimmer — a result of being fully healthy for the first time throughout an entire offseason since he joined the NFL. And the Saints have talked about using him in a more versatile way after pigeonholing him as the short-yardage/base offense running back the last two years.”

-Mike Triplett, | The Times-Picayune

Now, Triplett is one of the best beat writers in the NFL and isn’t likely to throw around too many puff pieces like some of his peers might at this time of the year. So let’s assume for a second there is some merit to this report.

As I mentioned at the top, this is the first season Ingram won’t be recovering from offseason surgery. Ingram missed two games in the middle of his rookie year with a heel injury and then missed the final four games with a toe injury that ultimately needed surgery. And then last May, Ingram underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and missed OTA’s and June minicamp. Taking this into consideration, it is not surprising that Ingram is finally flashing some of his first round talent.

The second part of Triplett’s statement about Ingram being pigeonholed was right on the money. I’ve always wondered why Ingram had such a structured role, so with the help of the Premium Stats at Pro Football Focus, I took a closer look at Ingram’s usage.

Ingram’s carries and receptions by down told a pretty clear picture:

Rush att. / Down20112012Rec / Down20112012

Ingram mostly plays on early downs, and is primarily in the game to run the football. That isn’t much of a surprise given the presence of pass-catching back Darren Sproles and utility man Pierre Thomas on the roster also.

As a casual observer, if you notice that a player in mostly used on running plays – don’t you think opposing defenses will pick up on that trend also? Of course they will.

This chart shows a clearer picture of Ingram’s usage:

YearGamesSnapsRunPassRun BlockPass BlockRunPass

For example, last season the Saints ran the ball on 63 percent of Ingram’s snaps. That is almost two-thirds of the time. The team was essentially telegraphing to the opposing defense their intentions.

To put Ingram’s usage into context, he had the highest percentage of run plays of any running back in the league last season.

Highest % of Run Plays Called, min 200 snaps
PosPlayerTeamGamesSnapsRunPassRun BlockPass BlockRunPass
HBMark IngramNO162591567172563%37%
HBAlfred MorrisWAS16699335192878560%40%
HBBernard PierceBLT1621210863172459%41%
HBStevan RidleyNE16534290177214658%42%
HBShonn GreeneNYJ16549276170366757%43%
HBMarshawn LynchSEA16645315210447656%44%
HBDeAngelo WilliamsCAR16407172147484054%46%
HBJamaal CharlesKC16563284205165853%47%
HBPeyton HillisKC132028565193351%49%
HBMichael TurnerATL1646122314988150%50%

There are some notable names on this list that most would consider feature running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles – and Ingram had them all beat.

On the flip side of that, it isn’t surprising to see Ingram’s teammate Sproles led the league in lowest percentage of run plays called.

Lowest % of Run Plays Called, min 200 snaps
PosPlayerTeamGamesSnapsRunPassRun BlockPass BlockRunPass
HBDarren SprolesNO1342548335103214%86%
HBRonnie BrownSD143334621906814%86%
HBDanny WoodheadNE163997627744220%80%
HBEvan RoysterWAS1621923148212720%80%
HBWilliam PowellARZ122815914277323%77%
HBJoique BellDET163728224573824%76%
HBJacquizz RodgersATL1644794266177025%75%
HBMontell OwensJAX1022142111165226%74%
HBShaun DraughnKC142285913533127%73%
HBPierre ThomasNO1537410522054429%71%

In fact, most of the running backs on this list are what you would consider as passing down running backs.

Triplett hasn’t been the only one noticing Ingram’s health this season. More importantly, the coaching staff has taken note:

“I know we have high expectations for Mark and he has high expectations for himself.  He is in great shape right now.  I know he is anxious, healthy, and probably I would say going into his third year as healthy and as good of shape as he has been.  I expect him to be a big part of what we do running the football.”

- Saints coach Sean Payton

Looking back at Ingram’s 2012 campaign, it is clear that he had two distinctive seasons. Even interim head coach Joe Vitt made mention that Ingram was slow to get going during the season and then finally hit his stride after Week 9. Here are his splits:

Mark IngramRushingReceivingFantasy – PPR
Weeks 1-8NO747134102.921-1020.30.30
Weeks 9-17NO9109468404.38530078.80.49

One of the big reasons Ingram only averaged 3.9 yards per carry on the season was his slow start. After Week 9, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Ingram was 15th among running backs from Weeks 9 through 17 last year with a PPO of 0.49. Fantasy Points per Opportunity (PPO) is calculated by taking a player’s total fantasy points scored, and dividing it by his carries plus his pass routes run. He also was 31st in total points during that stretch as a part-time player.

So what does this all mean for 2013? Well, the good thing is that we can remove Chris Ivory from the equation because of his trade to New York. Then, we are left with the same three running backs from last season. Darren Sproles’ role is etched in stone as much as a role can be predetermined. That leaves Ingram and Pierre Thomas as the primary ball carriers. If you believe the beat writers and coaching staff – then it appears Ingram is in line for an uptick in carries this year. Last season, the Saints ran the ball 370 times, and Ingram accounted for 42 percent of those carries. I have the Saints projected to run the ball 384 times this year, with Ingram seeing a modest 8 percent increase in carries:

1116HBNODarren Sproles30.223320%17%773722109877135
3035HBNOMark Ingram23.715450%4%192778726201450
5247HBNOPierre Thomas28.79222%4%85369226211691
PPR ADP according to Fantasy Pros

My somewhat conservative ranking puts Ingram as a strong flex option in PPR leagues. If he can see even more additional carries, then he’ll have weekly low-end RB2 value. For my money, as you get further down the running back rankings, few players have Ingram’s potential upside in a high-powered offense. Under the best circumstances, Ingram could replicate Stevan Ridley’s 2012 campaign. Their situations and talent levels are eerily similar. Of course, that takes a leap of faith and is pure speculation at this point. But Ridley was also thought of just a running down back without a ton of upside.

It is also worth noting that Ingram got the start in the first preseason game against Kansas City. He finished with three carries for 12 yards (4.0 YPC) with a long of six yards.

Target Ingram before his ADP of RB35 in PPR leagues and reap the benefits. At worst, you have a strong flex option and your best case scenario may also have the next Stevan Ridley.

Bryan Fontaine is a Senior Editor for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bryan_Fontaine.


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    Bryan Fontaine has been a fantasy football veteran since 2004 and specializes in daily fantasy sports and dynasty leagues. He can be found on Twitter – @Bryan_Fontaine