Saints’ Mark Ingram proving he belongs

It wasn’t long ago that Saints fans were calling for Ingram’s head. Whether they wanted him traded, benched, or straight up released, fans had grown discontent with the former Heisman Award winner.

The concerns reached a climax against Seattle, when Ingram fumbled early in the contest. That was his second straight week with a fumble, the first a crushing turnover at the end of the Chiefs game. Sean Payton took Ingram out of the Seattle game and rode Tim Hightower the rest of the way. Hightower went on to have the first 100 yard game of the season for any Saints RB. And despite the fact that Ingram has had great ball security over his career, for many fans the Seattle game was the final nail in Ingram’s coffin.

Nov 27, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) is defended by Los Angeles Rams middle linebacker Alec Ogletree (52) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 49-21. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

But it’s not as if fans had been happy with Ingram before these two fumbles. His career with New Orleans has been plagued by criticisms and trade rumors. And whether it was Tim Hightower, Khiry Robinson, or Chris Ivory, it always seemed like fans wanted Ingram benched for his backup.

There’s certainly a reason for the widespread discontent.

It starts with his draft spot. Sean Payton traded up to grab Ingram in the first round, giving up a second round pick along with the next year’s first. A player like that is going to come with some elevated expectations. And while Ingram has and should continue to have a long career in New Orleans, he failed to put up impressive numbers early.

And then there’s Ingram’s running style. He isn’t a flashy back, and he doesn’t typically explode through the line as some players do. His approach is more methodical. He doesn’t cut back or do anything unexpected, he hits his holes hard and moves the pile. He’s rarely dropped for losses, but also rarely breaks out big runs. He’s the sort of between-the-tackles runner that Sean Payton likes, but he’s no fan-favorite speedster like, say, LeSean McCoy.

Then when you have guys like Robinson and Hightower who always poised to explode for big runs, it’s natural that there would be some desire for change. But if you look at the actual production of those players, you’ll see why Payton values Ingram over all these other backs.

Not to mention his versatility as a pass-catcher and pass-protector.

And now he’s showing fans that he belongs.

Since his “benching” against Seattle, (I add the quotes because it was plain that Payton would never keep Ingram on the bench) Ingram is averaging a touch over 8 yards per carry. Over a four-game stretch. That’s monstrous. He’s also caught 8 of 10 passes for 94 yards. And he’s scored four times.

Against L.A.’s scary front seven, Ingram ran for 146 yards on 21 ypc. Many of those runs were opened up by great blocking. But more of them were made by Ingram. On his very first run of the game, he ran for 18 yards and broke four tackles. The whole game he was possessed. And considering how versatile of a player he is, it’s clear. That’s the sort of back you want on your team.

The L.A. game brought his season average to up to 5.3. He’s on pace to, for the first time in his career, eclipse the 1000 yard rushing mark.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what are the Saints most pressing needs in the offseason. And as much as I love the idea of Fournette in Black and Gold, I just don’t see the need. He’s too similar of a back to Ingram. And Ingram is just too good to warrant a draft pick when the team has so many holes.

If the Saints look for any additions at RB, it’s going to be in the mold of a satellite back to replace Travaris Cadet. Which, in my mind, is actually a pressing need.

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