Nov 9, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
NFL free agency kicks off on March 10, marking the day teams and players can begin the negotiating process. With RB Mark Ingram expected to test the market, the New Orleans Saints have not yet initiated contact with the team’s top rusher since Deuce McAllister in 2006.
If it weren’t for a broken hand he suffered in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns that forced him to miss three games, Ingram would have surpassed the 1,000- yard mark in 2014. The former Heisman Trophy winner had a breakout season, falling just short of the milestone with 964 yards in 13 games played.
Mickey Loomis, the Saints general manager and monetary extraordinaire, has a tough road ahead in the 2015 offseason. Getting the club under the salary cap (about $21 million over at the moment), filling voids on both offense and defense via the free agent market and financially accommodating Ingram to preserve his talents in the Big Easy are all on the to-do list.
The good thing is, Marky Mark is really the only notable free agent the Saints must work hard at detaining. However, the former Alabama standout may be more comfortable signing with a team that he feels may have a better shot at a championship run. New Orleans has some major work to do to get back on track, but a turnaround in 2015 is certainly not out of the question.
So, what to do if Ingram does decide to take his talents elsewhere? The initial idea and likely scenario, based on the club’s past, would be to draft a late-round running back or rely on the undrafted free agent market. Look at Pierre Thomas — he was undrafted in 2007, but has become one of the most productive players in franchise history.
Of course, Khiry Robinson is an admirable option, but a single running back committee does not exist in today’s league. Injury issues are also becoming a problem for Robinson, who was also signed as an undrafted rookie. What about looking early in the draft?
The Saints have far more significant voids to address than a running back, which for now, is not even an issue. For example, a cornerback, which should be resolved in free agency, a pass rusher and protection for QB Drew Brees are all areas of concern.
However, when the time has come and New Orleans is on the clock in the first and second rounds, there will likely be two freakishly amazing running backs still on the board — Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley.
Gordon, the Wisconsin standout, led all NCAA running backs with a mind-blowing 2,587 yards on the ground, which is good for second all-time behind only THE Barry Sanders (2,628).
Oct 11, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon (25) rushes for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Heisman Trophy finalist also set the single-game FBS record with 408 yards against Nebraska in 2014, breaking LaDainian Tomlinson‘s record set in 1999 when he was at TCU. Unfortunately, Gordon’s record was somehow broken the very next week when Oklahoma true freshman Samaje Perine rushed for 427 yards against Kansas.
Records aside, I haven’t seen a running back dominate like Gordon did in 2014 in a very long time. He’s obviously first-round potential, but the idea of selecting a ball carrier so early is quickly diminishing. I don’t see Gordon getting past the first round. If the San Diego Chargers don’t take him at No. 17, the Arizona Cardinals likely will at 24.
He is elite in many aspects of the ground attack with his balance and acceleration being his capital attributes, pulling in heavy comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, but running with more size and power. Gordon’s future in the NFL is bright, very bright.
Before the 2014 season kicked off, Georgia‘s Todd Gurley was the clear No. 1 prospect in college football and a leading Heisman Trophy contender. However, after a suspension handed out by UGA in early October and a devastating ACL injury that followed, Gurley may no longer be a first-round candidate, and should absolutely not be picked up by New Orleans that early, but does and should warrant second-round consideration by any team in the market.
He remains an intriguing specimen, running with muscle and power that draw comparisons to Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch, but he is a gamble with a timetable for return around mid-August, just a few weeks before the kickoff to the regular season.
Oct 4, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) runs against Vanderbilt Commodores defensive back Torren McGaster (5) during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Vanderbilt 44-17. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Gurley’s talent is undeniable — he is built and ready for the NFL, and success is very likely. His past may actually be better for teams that are unwilling to take the risk in the first round.
Since his freshman year, Gurley’s attempts have decreased due to the suspension and injury, but his yards per carry average took a major jump in 2014. He averaged 6.2 YPC in 2012, 6.0 in 2013 and 7.4 in 2014, which was good for ninth in all FBS Division I-A play.
The chances of the New Orleans Saints going the running back route are slim, but it is an idea if Mark Ingram does decide to sign with another team. Remember, Drew Brees doesn’t have too much left in the tank, so a solid ground attack will be crucial for the future.
Again, an edge pass rusher is the likely scenario in the first or second rounds, but it will be tough to pass on such an extraordinary talent like Melvin Gordon, or even Todd Gurley. Let’s just all hope Ingram remains with Sean Payton and company in the Who Dat Nation.