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Friday, March 11, 2011
The intriguing case of Mark Ingram

By Kevin Seifert

Friday is a wild day here in the NFL, which could be headed toward a player lockout within hours. Or there could be an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Or talks could be extended. It's enough to drive anyone toward some crazy talk.

My version: There is no way that Alabama running back Mark Ingram lands in the NFC North.

Is there?

Mark Ingram
Would one of the NFC North teams be willing to take Mark Ingram if he was available?
A few of you have asked whether, say, the Detroit Lions would consider Ingram with the draft's No. 13 overall pick. And if Ingram takes an unexpected slide amid questions about his speed, could the Chicago Bears resist him at No. 29? What about the Green Bay Packers at No. 32?

I realize this isn't a topic on the tip of any NFC North team's tongue right now, but I find Ingram to be a really intriguing prospect at a position that teams take disparate views on. In a passing league, how important is a running back -- especially one who might not have breakaway speed?

Ingram is no secret to anyone after winning the Heisman Trophy in 2009, but there have been some developments that make him a relevant topic this week. Ingram ran his 40 at the scouting combine in a relatively slow 4.62 seconds, but he improved that time to 4.48 during his pro day this week.

Ingram has never been considered a speed-based runner, but Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders Insider used a speed/weight formula to conclude that he is on the far reaches of the scale for most first-round running backs. (FO research shows that combine times are more reliable and more predictive of future success than pro days, according to Barnwell.)

There will almost certainly be a team or two that devalues Ingram for that reason. On the other hand, speed has never been the first thing that draws you to Ingram. He was one of the toughest runners in college football during his career, drawing comparisons to Michael Turner's style more than, say, Chris Johnson's.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, in fact, Ingram gained 42.7 percent of his yards last season (374 of 875) after first contact. If you're an NFL team predicting short- and long-term success, how much do you allow strength and instincts to compensate for speed in the final analysis?

Here's what ESPN analyst Todd McShay Insider wrote this week in reaffirming Ingram's status as the best running back in the draft: "He is a very tough runner who gets stronger as games wear on. He shows the burst to turn the corner on film, his vision and patience are excellent, and he runs with great balance. Those things are enough to make him worthy of a mid-to-late first-round pick regardless of his 40 time."

Which brings us back to the Lions. Would a combination of Jahvid Best and Ingram be too much of a luxury? I have to admit the combination of Best's speed and Ingram's bullish style sounds pretty good to me, especially when you consider Ingram proved to be a pretty solid receiver in college as well. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ingram caught 53 of the 62 passes he was targeted on over the past two years. Of the nine incompletions, only three were recorded as drops. The Lions like to throw to their running backs, and Ingram would fit right in.

Again, most of this is just fun crazy talk. Scouts Inc. ranks Ingram as the No. 17 overall prospect in the draft. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Insider puts him at No. 12. With that said, I don't think the Minnesota Vikings will consider Ingram at No. 12, not with Adrian Peterson on the roster and a year after trading up in the second round to select Toby Gerhart.

With the No. 13 overall pick, the Lions wouldn't necessarily be reaching, but they would be overlooking multiple other positions of greater need. To be clear: I would have no quibbles if they pulled the surprise. Many people consider running backs to be the proverbial "dime a dozen." To me, the decent running backs might be. The really good ones, however, are more difficult to find.

Most draft observers would be stunned if Ingram is still on the board when the Bears or Packers pick in the first round. Neither has an obvious need at the position, although the Packers found out last year how quickly a backfield can be depleted by injury.

No worries. Just giving you a dose of crazy talk on a crazy day.

Then again...