It’s taken a while, but New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram is finally being appreciated. It seems like all the talk this year has been around dynamite rookie Alvin Kamara and Arizona Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson, but Ingram is really starting to seize the conversation as the best of the bunch.
Part of it is thanks to head coach Sean Payton’s commitment to a balanced attack going back to the tail of last season. Ingram leads in the NFL in a nine-game streak of 60-or-more scrimmage yards, just ahead of Houston Texans runner Lamar Miller and Kansas City Chiefs rookie sensation Kareem Hunt. But that’s do just as much to Payton’s playcalling as Ingram’s versatility.
Ingram is seeing the second-most rushing attempts per game (14.8) and receptions per game (4.0), clocking in at 555 yards from scrimmage just six contests into the season. That’s already more total yards than Ingram put up in 2011 or 2013, and not far off his 2012 numbers (631). There’s a real chance that this is the most productive year of his career, and that’s wildly encouraging to say about a 27-year-old running back.
It’s kind of weird to say, but the lack of touches Ingram received early in his career may end up having been a good thing. It forced him to round out his game as a pass-protector and route-runner, becoming one of the NFL’s most-complete weapons. It also saved Ingram’s body from the wear and tear most running backs go through; when his current contract expires in 2019, he will be 29-years old and have logged roughly 1,700 combined runs and catches as a pro.
For comparison, Marshawn Lynch acquired 2,396 touches by the time he was 29. Frank Gore had 2,226 and is still trucking dudes for the Indianapolis Colts. Peterson totaled 2,262. The point is, Ingram is on track to play longer and at a higher level than any of those guys because he hasn’t been going through the equivalent of thirty or forty car crashes every Sunday for most of his adult life.
For some more context, here’s how Ingram stacks up in the Saints’ all-time record books. Only one player has more career rushing yards than Ingram’s 4,627 (and counting!), and that’s the great Deuce McAllister with 6,096. Ingram takes a back seat in scores on the ground (35) to just two men: Dalton Hilliard (39), and again, Deuce (49). It won’t be easy for him, but I can see Ingram holding both of those records someday.
Mark Ingram, who "Sean Payton hates," is the No. 1 overall RB in fantasy since the #Saints Week 5 bye. 30 & 26 touches. 4.7 YPC. 3 TDs.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) October 23, 2017
But those are volume stats. If you’re looking for efficiency, Ingram is still your guy. On a yards-per-carry basis, just 12 players have racked up 500-or-more rushes for the Saints. And out of that group, only one name has gotten more yards-per-attempt than Ingram’s 4.4: longtime fan-favorite Pierre Thomas, with 4.6. If Ingram’s late-career boom continues, he might take that record, too.
For the curious Alabama football fans, I wrote earlier this year how Ingram is chasing the records set for Crimson Tide runners by Seattle Seahawks great Shaun Alexander. Ingram still trails Alexander in rushing yards (by 4,826) and rushing touchdowns (by 65), so I don’t think he’ll ever approach those monster numbers. But the gap between Ingram and the other Alabama products in the NFL has only grown, so he can rest well at night next to his Heisman Trophy.