|Derick Hingle / US Presswire|
|Mark Ingram's decorated college career might not mean a first-round spot for the running back.|
The potential problem for the former standout running back from Alabama, though, is that NFL teams aren't just focusing on talent and production.
They're looking at the fact he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery just before the start of the 2010 season and into concerns about the long-term health of his knees. They're also considering that there are likely to be a large number of good running backs available from the second round on down, giving them the attractive option of selecting perhaps one of the many premiere defensive players first and then grabbing a running back later.
It's conceivable, then, that Ingram could, at the very best, end up as a late first-round pick and, at the very worst, fall out of the first round completely.
Ryan Williams, for one, thinks the latter scenario is preposterous. He is a highly touted running back from Virginia Tech who knows a little something about what it takes to excel at his position, and he sees nothing about Ingram that should discourage teams from investing a first-round pick in him.
"He's the No. 1 running back," Williams said of the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. "Why shouldn't he be in the first round?"
Well, Ryan, since you're asking, here are some reasons being kicked around by talent evaluators and analysts:
» Knee issues. Ingram missed the first two games of last year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery only days before the start of the season. He did bounce back with authority, putting together two 100-yard rushing games in September and scoring a pair of touchdowns in each of his first three games after his return.
After September, though, Ingram didn't have another 100-yard performance and his numbers began to slip late in the season as the Crimson Tide threw the ball more liberally. It also has been reported that an examination by at least one NFL team's medical staff showed that Ingram had signs of degenerative arthritis in his knees. What isn't clear is whether the wear and tear is what is to be expected from a running back or if it could lead to something worse in a fairly short amount of time.
» General wear and tear. Ingram is a collision-style runner. He runs with a low pad level, which is considered a positive, but he solicits some fierce contact with defenders. Some NFL personnel people wonder just how many highly productive years his body will allow him to have.
» Bad information. It has been widely speculated that representatives from at least one NFL team that would like to select Ingram with its late first-round pick have intentionally made negative comments in order to discourage other clubs from selecting him earlier. Some rumors went as far as to say that some teams had actually removed Ingram's name from their draft boards.
The New England Patriots, who own the 17th and 28th overall picks, have frequently been attached to this speculation. But this is a common practice that has gone on for years. And it works the other way, too. If there's a player you really don't intend to take, you talk him up so that a team drafting ahead of you will select him and theoretically drive down a player you do want or simply be stuck with what you think is a bad choice.
» Considerable depth at running back. There are numerous talent evaluators who insist that the position is extremely deep. At least two scouts maintain that close to 20 running backs have draftable grades, meaning that a team that wants help at the position could count on finding it in the middle and perhaps even late rounds.
Williams admits that he and Ingram are "fans of each other." But he says that any NFL team should be able to see the obvious reason to draft Ingram in the first round.
"He had the injury before the season and was still able to be productive, so I really don't feel the need to question his ability or his capabilities of playing because it was before the season, and he produced after," Williams said. "So why is there any question about what he can do?"
Perhaps there shouldn't be, but where Ingram is selected should provide some answers.
Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.