You'd never know it from the moves the Saints' front office made in the offseason, but Ingram put together his best NFL campaign in 2016, topping 1,000 rushing yards and 5.0 YPC for the first time while also remaining a threat in the passing game (he caught the first four TD passes of his career). He even played in all 16 games, just the second time he's been able to stay on the field all season, and finished in the top 10 in red-zone touches for the third straight year. At 5-9, 215, Ingram has the frame to dish out and absorb punishment when required, along with the elusiveness and balance to avoid it when he can, and his ability to contribute both at the goal line and through the air gives him the capabilities of a true three-down back. It seems highly unlikely that he'll see anything close to last year's workload, however. New Orleans signed Adrian Peterson to a two-year deal in the offseason and used the 67th overall pick on explosive open-field runner Alvin Kamara, and while the additions could make life miserable for opposition defenses and keep everyone healthier, they should also cut into Ingram's opportunities in all situations. He still figures to be the team's lead back, but 200 touches aren't guaranteed, especially if Peterson has anything left in the tank.
The development pattern is different for all young players, and sometimes it takes a while for the light bulb to go on. Ingram's a case in point —after two ordinary seasons to open his New Orleans career (3.9 YPC; almost no receiving production), he's taken off nicely the last three years. Ingram's averaged 4.5 yards per tote since 2013, and last year he went for a career-best 50 catches in just 12 games. He was No. 3 on the RB PPR leaderboard through three months; a torn rotator cuff cost him the final four games. Sean Payton's Saints tend to get attention for their pass-heavy ways, but this is a scoring offense as much as it is a passing offense. Payton's offenses (includ-ing his Giants resume) have finished top 10 in rushing TDs in 8 of 13 seasons; the last two years, its sixth and fifth. New Orleans goes marching in regularly, and many of those plunges figure to feature Ingram. If you need another reason to be sold on Ingram, consider the New Orleans depth chart. Immediately behind Ingram are two ordinary players: Tim Hightower (a 30-year-old journeyman who was out of football four years)and C.J. Spiller (a talented enigma who was just about useless in his New Orleans debut). The Saints need Ingram, and they figure to lean on him again. He's not as sexy as some, but many fantasy teams will be fine with Ingram.
When Ingram broke his hand in Week 2 last year, it seemed like another disappointing season was in store for the talented but frustrating 2011 first-round pick. By the time he returned, however, the rest of the Saints' running backs had also become banged up, and for the first time Ingram essentially had the backfield to himself. The result was 610 rushing yards in six weeks, leading to the realization that maybe he could handle a bigger role after all. At 5-9, 215, Ingram is a pure power runner who uses his vision and burst to smash into the second level, and while not a burner, he has enough agility to do some damage once he gets there. His real value in 2014 came at the goal line, with his 20 carries inside the five easily tops in the NFL. Ingram, a useful receiver in college, also finally got a chance to show it in New Orleans as his 36 targets more than doubled his career total. The Saints upgraded their offensive line in the offseason, bringing in center Max Unger from Seattle in a move that figures to improve the power-run game, and while free agent C.J. Spiller should see significant touches as his speedier complement, Ingram seems ready to assume lead-back duties.
After two quiet seasons that had the football world questioning Ingram's ability to live up to his 2011 first-round selection, he looked great in limited action last year despite missing five weeks to a toe injury, posting a sparkling 4.9 YPC. Ingram's much harder to bring down than his 5-9, 215-pound frame would imply, as the hard-running back posted the NFL's second-highest broken tackle rate, shedding 15 defenders in just 85 touches – a rate even higher than that of Marshawn Lynch, who led the league in broken tackles.
The two biggest marks against Ingram are questions about his durability – he's had two knee surgeries and hasn't had a 200-carry season since his Heisman-winning 2009 at Alabama – and the fact that he's near-totally uninvolved in the Saints' pass game. However, Darren Sproles and his 71 catches were dealt to the Eagles in the offseason, and Pierre Thomas can't account for all that excess.
That could mean that Ingram – a decent receiver out of the backfield in college – sees more passing work than in past years. Further, he has a very real chance to cut into Pierre Thomas's work on early downs. Now that he's finally healthy and well removed from his surgeries, this could be Ingram's time to shine.
Ingram got off to a slow start in his second season, perhaps the result of an arthroscopic knee procedure he had in May, 2012, but the physical, 5-9, 215-pound back regained the lead role late in the year and closed with 4.2 YPC and four touchdowns over his final seven games. Moreover, after missing six games as a rookie, the former Heisman trophy winner played a full 16-game slate last season.
Only 23, Ingram could still emerge as a workhorse should the Saints ever move away from a committee backfield. Oddly, for the second year in a row, Ingram saw far fewer snaps than Darren Sproles or Pierre Thomas, yet received more carries than either and led the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
In addition to sharing touches, Ingram's other problem is the Saints' penchant for passing in the red zone. They ranked ninth with 142 red-zone plays, but 27th with just 44 red-zone rushes. Until his committee situation in a pass-first offense changes, Ingram's ceiling will be modest.
Ingram had a disappointing rookie campaign, totaling just 520 yards while missing six games due to injuries. Curiously, he received the same amount of goal-line carries (three) as Darren Sproles. Despite seeing 181 fewer snaps than Pierre Thomas and 282 fewer than Sproles, Ingram was given more rushing attempts than both, so he was utilized heavily when on the field. Ingram’s year ended prematurely when he had surgery to repair a turf toe injury, and discouragingly, he also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in May, the second time in three years his left knee has been repaired. It wasn’t major surgery and is expected to keep him out only six weeks, but Ingram might not be 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp. Another variable is how New Orleans doles out carries with Sean Payton suspended for 2012. If the team ditches its past committee approach, and Ingram emerges as the lead back in such a potent offense, big production could follow.
The Saints traded up to draft Ingram with the No. 28 pick, and as a result, he looks like the favorite to lead the team in carries in 2011. After winning the Heisman trophy in 2009, Ingram battled injuries during his junior season last year, though he still managed to total 14 touchdowns on limited carries in 10 games. Not overly fast or super athletic, Ingram is a hard runner often compared to Emmitt Smith. Of course, expecting similar production would be foolish, even in the league’s No. 1 offense for two of the last three years. While the Saints should provide plenty of scoring opportunities, trusting coach Sean Payton is another thing, as he’s unpredictable when it comes to distributing carries. Pierre Thomas seemingly can’t stay healthy, but he’s a more than capable back when on the field, and last year’s team rushing leader Chris Ivory will also be in the mix. Another committee could easily emerge, but if Ingram somehow becomes a feature back in this offense (he only averaged 15.9 carries per game in college), there’s a lot of upside. There’s some concern about the degenerative arthritis in Ingram’s knee, but Dr. James Andrews recently gave him a full clean bill of health.