Fantasy Football News

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Orleans Saints: Does the Drafting of Mark Ingram Fix the Backfield Issue?

In 2010 the New Orleans Saints finished the season at 11-5, capturing a wild card berth and the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs.

Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 404 yards and two touchdowns on 60 pass attempts against the underdog Seattle Seahawks in the opening round of the playoffs. Saints running back Julius Jones scored on the ground twice, but was the team's leading rusher with just 59 yards.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch took the game over with 131 yards and one of the greatest touchdown runs in NFL playoff history to seal the game.

As it was all season long, New Orleans' rushing attack cost the team the game, as they averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on 22 attempts.
Injuries devastated New Orleans' running backs early and often throughout the 2010 season. One of the NFL's biggest disappointments, Reggie Bush, missed eight games due to a broken leg he suffered while returning a punt. He ran for just 150 yards on 36 carries in six starts this past season, and his lone touchdown came through the air against the 49ers in Week 2's matchup.

Bush, 26, was replaced by Pierre Thomas, who also suffered an injury. Thomas, also 26, injured his ankle against the 49ers in Week 3, and didn't make a return until December. In total, Thomas ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns on 83 attempts. His average of 3.2 yards a carry proved very ineffective, as he was the biggest threat coming out of the backfield and catching passes from Brees.

Combined, Bush and Thomas started just nine games in 2010.

The Saints were forced to rely on the 22-year old rookie Chris Ivory.The 6'0''/222 pound running back impressed early and often, stepping up as the third-string running back. The team's only two 100-yard performances came from Ivory (158 against Tampa Bay and 117 against Cincinnati). He also had 99 rushing yards against Seattle in Week 10.

Ivory finished the season as New Orleans' leading rusher, with 716 yards and five touchdowns on 137 carries. With an average of 5.2 YCP, this would likely have translated in to a 1,000 yard season had he played in more than 12 games (only started four of those games).

As a team, the Saints collected 1,519 yards (28th in league) and nine TD (26th in league) on the ground, averaging out to just 94.9 rushing yards per game. Only Indianapolis, Washington, Seattle and Arizona had a worse rushing attack in 2010.

First of all, I think you could blame all of that on the fact that they were decimated by injuries. But more importantly, I think the lack of production comes from not having a true No. 1 go-to guy on the ground.

Once Ivory took over, New Orleans got much more production on the ground. In fact, they were 4-0 in games that he either broke 100 yards or scored.
The running back draft class was very shallow this year, which is why I think the Saints jumped all over Mark Ingram when he was still on the board at No. 28 overall, acquiring the pick from the New England Patriots for their second round pick and first round pick of 2012. Being the only running back taken in the first round, Ingram seems ready to get 2011 underway.

While most people seem to be pointing towards the quarterbacks for potential rookie of the year winners, I think Ingram will be an immediate success with the Saints, taking pressure off Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees (threw career-high 22 interceptions last year).

Bush's days already seem numbered with the Saints, as he has been a huge disappointment, so I would expect to see Ingram getting the starts with Ivory and Thomas getting limited carries on third downs and goal line situations.

Bush will remain as returner, but I don't see him in the backfield much unless he's lining up wide in certain situations.

There's no doubt that New Orleans' backfield will be rather crowded again in 2011, but at least they have a true No. 1 running back with the drafting of workhorse and Heisman winner Mark Ingram.

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