The New Orleans Saints have a few running backs that could be fantasy-relevant this year, but Mark Ingram remains a true No. 1, every-down back for them. You can draft him with confidence as a top-10 overall running back.
Here is my analysis of how the Saints’ running backs will fare against ESPN’s projections for 2016:
ESPN Fantasy projection: 989 rushing yards, 389 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns
Over or under: Those numbers seem just about right, especially if Ingram misses a couple games. But I guess I’ll go with the over on rushing yards and predict his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Ingram was on pace for 1,025 rushing yards and 540 receiving yards last year before he missed the final four games with a shoulder injury, and I expect his role to remain the same in 2016.
Fantasy owners might be scared off by how well Tim Hightower did in Ingram’s place over the final four games. And it is possible that Hightower will earn a handful of touches per game. But Ingram has earned the Saints’ trust as a runner, a receiver, a goal-line option and their best pass protector.
Ingram’s injury history also shouldn’t scare fantasy owners away. Although he has missed 18 games in five years, they have all been minor, unrelated issues (toe, heel, hand, shoulder). He is fully healthy now. And he has a solid build that shouldn’t make him any more injury-prone than most backs.
ESPN Fantasy projection: 325 rushing yards, 73 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
Over or under: I’ll go with the under on rushing yards, based on what I wrote about Ingram being an every-down back. However, Hightower is definitely the proper handcuff. If Ingram ever misses a game, snatch up Hightower, because he proved he could handle 30-touch games when needed.
Hightower’s December performance was spectacular last season -- and a great story after he spent three-plus years out of the NFL. I’m sure several fantasy owners will draft him as a thank-you for winning their titles last season. But they shouldn’t expect any sort of 50-50 timeshare.
Who else could see time: C.J. Spiller is the big mystery here. His 2015 was so disappointing that I’m sure many fantasy owners have sworn him off. But now that he’s healthy, he is showing some of his old cutting ability in training camp. You could do worse with a late-round flier, considering New Orleans’ history with dual-threat backs. … If Spiller is injured again, keep an eye on Travaris Cadet as another runner/receiver. Young backs Marcus Murphy and Daniel Lasco have intriguing potential but likely won’t play much on offense.