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Missing the Mark: What will Saints do with Ingram?

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Mark Ingram and the New Orleans Saints may soon be waiving goodbye to each other (Photo: Parker Waters).Mark Ingram and the New Orleans Saints may soon be waiving goodbye to each other (Photo: Parker Waters).NEW ORLEANS -- At halftime of Sunday's 31-7 victory against the Arizona Cardinals, the New Orleans Saints had minus-6 yards rushing. Quarterback Drew Brees lost 1 yard kneeling down to kill the clock, equaling the team's longest run from scrimmage.

I joked to colleagues in the pressbox - "Where's Mark Ingram when you need him?''

Fact is, the Saints could have used No. 22 but he was inactive with an injured toe.

In his place dressed undrafted rookie free agent Khiry Robinson, who made his NFL debut in the final four minutes and picked up 38 yards on four consecutive carries with runs of 4, 11, 21 and 2.

At the time, I wondered if we have seen the last of Mark Ingram, figuratively speaking, of course. More succinctly, will Ingram play another meaningful down of football for the Black and Gold?

The league trading deadline is Oct. 29. Last week, the Cleveland Browns dealt RB Trent Richardson, Ingram's former teammate at Alabama, to the Indianapolis Colts for a No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft.

Reports surfaced Sunday that Ingram is another trade possibility in the coming weeks. I wouldn't disagree with the premise of those reports, especially with the group of solid running backs on the Saints roster, beginning with Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles and ending with second-year URFA Travaris Cadet and the rookie Robinson.

Of those four, only Sproles was drafted into the NFL, by San Diego in the fourth round of the 2005 draft.

My point is this: I questioned the Saints' decision to trade back into the first round with the New England Patriots in 2011 to select Ingram with the 28th overall pick.

Yes, he won the 2009 Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship. But he ran a pedestrian time in the 40-yard dash (4.61 seconds) at the scouting combine and left college one year early with lingering injury issues.

The bottom line: Mark Ingram is a good running back. not a great one and certainly not worth what Saints officials invested in him back in April 2011 (a first-round pick in 2012 and a second round pick in 2011).

Mark Ingram can be a productive player in the NFL in the right offense. The Saints' offense under Coach Sean Payton is not the right offense for Ingram, nor is there a pressing need for a back like Ingram to play in this offense. Payton uses multiple formations with a variety of personnel packages.

Running backs in Payton's playbook are interchangeable parts.

Ingram needs to be with a team that emphasizes running the football. He probably needs to get 18-22 carries a game to maximize his skill set, with a fullback leading the way. Is he a featured back in the NFL who could carry a team? In my opinion, no.

So what could the Saints get for Ingram in a trade? In April, the Saints picked up a fourth-round pick from the New York Jets for RB Chris Ivory, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010 with tight hamstrings who runs hard and has some speed.

Ingram is worth at least a fourth-round pick, maybe with conditions attached. He is in the third year of a fully guaranteed four-year, $7.417 million contract, and is scheduled to make a base salary of $1.386 million in 2014.

I recently talked with Russell Lande, director of college scouting for The National Football Post and a former scout for the Browns and Rams. Lande confirmed what I suspected all along about Ingram.

Here are excerpts of that interview:

-- "I was surprised when they took him where they did. Trust me, I'm not trying to second-guess Sean Payton. But, to me, it was an odd choice because Payton wants an explosive, big-play offense, and that couldn't be more the opposite of what Mark Ingram is.''

-- "It seems a lot of the Saints' offense is predicated on the backs getting out and making plays in space, and that's not Ingram's strength. His strength is between the tackles but even then he needs a hole, a crease. He's not going to get it on his own.''

-- "He's never going to be a super effective outside runner because if any defenders cause the play to be disrupted, he doesn't have that burst to get it on his own.''

-- "The issue with Ingram is he needs that little bit of space to get where he needs to be. He's not going to make guys miss or create something where there is no initial hole. He's a guy who needs a hole. He's a strong runner but I don't think he's the type of guy who can drive a pile backwards like a Jerome Bettis.''

-- "In this day and age of the NFL where throwing the football is so much more vital to a team's success than running it, I'm just not a believer that you take a running back in the first round unless he's an Adrian Peterson type. Ingram's a solid back but he's not a special player.''

So my question to Who Dat Nation is this: Are the Saints better off with Khiry Robinson or Mark Ingram getting the ball on fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1?

Heck my answer is neither. Let Drew "Crazy Legs'' Brees dive over the top. Just one more reason why the Saints didn't need to draft Ingram.

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