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Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Is Mark Ingram an NFC South fit?

By Pat Yasinskas

Mark Ingram is taking part in the University of Alabama’s pro day, and it’s worth pondering the running back because his name seems to be connected to some NFC South teams in some mock drafts.

Mark Ingram
Running back Mark Ingram thrives running between the tackles.
There’s some logic behind that, although no team in the division has a dramatic need at running back. But three of the four can use some depth, and that’s where Ingram could come in. Forget the Carolina Panthers because they’re picking first overall and going with a different position. They're well stocked at running back even if DeAngelo Williams leaves as a free agent.

But the other three NFC South teams are picking in the 20s, which is where a lot of people are projecting Ingram to go. So, with the help of ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at Ingram.

The thing that jumps out most about him is that he’s a power runner. Last season, 42.7 percent of Ingram’s yards came after contact. Ingram averaged 4.7 yards per carry when running between the tackles, and had five touchdown runs of 20 yards or more on plays up the middle.

If he sounds a little too much like Atlanta’s Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, and Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount, that’s only partially true. Ingram is much more of a receiving threat than any of those three. He was targeted 62 times and caught 53 passes last season. Of the nine incompletions, only three were drops. That gave Ingram a 94.6 catch percentage. The NFL average catch percentage for running backs last season was 92.6 percent.

I’m thinking Atlanta and Tampa Bay are probably longshots on Ingram. The Bucs need a competent backup for Blount, but they have other needs they probably want to address early in the draft. They can get a running back a little later or through free agency. While Ingram certainly would be much more of a receiving threat than Turner, I don’t see him really fitting with the Falcons.

Atlanta’s got enough power with Snelling and Turner. If the Falcons do anything at running back, it will be to add a speedster to fill the role Jerious Norwood never did because of his long history of injuries.

That leaves New Orleans. The Saints pick No. 24 and they also have other needs that might seem more pressing, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But Sean Payton’s an offensive coach and he likes new toys. Even though the Saints just re-signed Pierre Thomas, and Chris Ivory did a nice job when pressed into duty last season, I wouldn’t rule out the Saints at least considering Ingram if he’s available when they pick. The Saints still haven’t tipped their hand on the future of Reggie Bush. Even if the Saints extend and restructure Bush’s contract, last season’s string of injuries at that position showed the importance of depth at running back.