Mark Ingram and the Saints RBs in fantasy football

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One of the toughest backfield situations to gauge this offseason has been that of the New Orleans Saints. The incumbent, Mark Ingram, returns for his seventh season with the team after a career-best campaign in 2016. The team added veteran Adrian Peterson in free agency for depth, and to cloud matters further they drafted Tennessee product Alvin Kamara. This has left fantasy analysts scratching their heads, myself included, as to how to value this group of backs. So let's dig in and see if we can't unearth some clarity as to where you should look for each back on draft day.

*ADP data comes from FantasyPros.com consensus rankings

Mark Ingram (ADP 51 overall, RB21)

What's a guy gotta do to earn some respect?

I mean, 10 total touchdowns should do the trick. No? Well, surely 1,362 yards from scrimmage is legit enough. Still not moving the needle? Then 251 touches and a 5.1 yards per carry average is worth a lot more than a sixth-round pick, right? According to Mark Ingram's ADP this season, that's right about where he's valued, which to me is pure lunacy.

With an average of 14.5 rush attempts per game over the last three years, he added some pass-catching prowess to his arsenal of abilities recently. Ingram has averaged 59 targets and 48 receptions over the last two seasons. He's a three-down back and has a goal-line role too.

Just one of 19 running backs to receive 200-plus rush attempts in 2016, he's simply not getting the respect he deserves among fantasy circles ahead of the 2017 season. I understand why folks are skeptical after the offseason moves the Saints made to improve the backfield. But Ingram has been a consistently productive presence in the Saints backfield the last few seasons and has spent his entire six-year career in New Orleans with Sean Peyton as his coach and Drew Brees as his signal-caller.

He knows the system better than Adrian Peterson. He has more experience than Alvin Kamara. That's worth something, right?

Plus, there's no denying Ingram's production last season, even if he was benched for a few quarters for ball security issues. He was still the most efficient running back in the entire NFL with an average 3.5 yards traveled per rushing yard gained, per NextGenStats running back efficiency metric (min 200 carries).

Furthermore, respected Saints beat reporter Nick Underhill said on a recent episode of the RotoViz podcast that he expects Ingram's role to remain the same. If that means upwards of 200 touches including 40-plus receptions, we'll take it. Surrounded by Spencer Ware, C.J. Anderson and Mike Gillislee with Round 6ish ADPs, use this value opportunity to your advantage on draft day.

Adrian Peterson (ADP 70 overall RB27)

Heading into the season, Adrian Peterson is one of the toughest running backs to project from a fantasy perspective.

In his prime, Peterson was the best running back in the league and in fantasy. In fact, he remains the NFL's leader in rushing yards (11,747) rushing touchdowns (97) and 100-yard rushing games (49) since entering the league in 2007, and that accounts for his 28 missed games due to suspension and injury in the past three seasons. So folks in many leagues will probably draft him too early solely for nostalgia and name value reasons. I suggest not being that person.

He's 32-years-old, with 2,659 NFL touches on his resume and is entering a committee backfield in New Orleans. We've heard reports out of Saints camp earlier in the summer about Peterson wowing his new teammates with his flashes of explosiveness and all-around smooth running style. After all, he's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent. Anyone who hadn't seen him run in person before would likely be wowed, even at his advanced age.

Obviously, Peterson is an upgrade on Tim Hightower, the guy who's played a secondary role to Ingram the past few seasons. But again, Nick Underhill said on that same RotoViz podcast that while AP has flashed in camp, his fl`ashes are inconsistent. He'll flash one day, and then not again for a while. So maybe he's lost a step since his heyday. It's only natural with age.

The thing is, if Ingram misses time with injury (which he's wont to do; 2016 was the first season since 2012 that he played a full 16-game slate), or Sean Peyton decides to bench him for fumbling, Peterson's value would skyrocket and vice versa.

It's hard for me to see Ingram's role becoming more of a split, and I see Peterson as a compliment more than a 50/50 kind of deal. But a compliment to Ingram has some stand-alone value in an offense as high-octane as the Saints. And in the Sean Peyton era (since 2006), Saints running backs have averaged a combined 32.0 offensive touches per game, which is the most in the NFL during that span. Underhill also said that New Orleans wants to run the ball even more this year than they have in the past.

Depending on where you look for ADP data, Peterson is ranging from about Round 4 to Round 8. It's evident that along with Saints beat writers, most drafters are unsure how to value Peterson. Is it cool if I just get in line with you guys?

Alvin Kamara (ADP 210 overall, RB65)

This rookie running back has shone brightly for the Saints in the preseason thus far with some huge plays including an eye-popping 50-yard touchdown run against the Chargers.

Alvin Kamara is a natural pass-catcher and projects as the third-down, two-minute drill back, a la C.J. Prosise in Seattle. He's worked with the first team in preseason action, but that's because the Saints have been resting Ingram and Peterson, so don't expect Kamara to slot in as a starter in Week 1.

But he's still shown well as a runner between the tackles, something he wasn't touted for coming out of college. Perhaps Kamara has earned himself more looks in that respect, but barring injury he'll likely remain third on the depth chart.

There's a chance the Saints split Kamara out wide on occasion, given his abilities as a pass catcher. A scenario where Kamara and any combination of Ingram/Peterson are on the field at the same time, which could help his playing time outlook.

An obvious upgrade over Travaris Cadet in the passing-down role for New Orleans, Kamara should be viewed as a free flier in redraft formats. He's an immediate injection of youth and explosiveness that the Saints backfield has lacked for the last few years, but his consistency from a week-to-week standpoint will be difficult to pin down. Still, given the advanced ages and injury-prone tag of both Ingram and Peterson, it's not silly to think Kamara would be handed the keys to the backfield if either veteran missed time or is slow out of the gate.

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