Fantasy 5: Mark Ingram could be a big-time value

Why the Saints' RB has top-5 upside. Plus, why Le'Veon Bell is our top-ranked RB, what to make of Braxton Miller, and a sleeper RB in Detroit.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Fantasy 5: Mark Ingram could be a big-time value

Every weekday, the Fantasy 5 will take a look at the five most important NFL news stories for fantasy football players, giving you the advice you need to improve your team.

Can you feel it? The excitement in the air is palpable. The Fourth of July has passed, meaning we are now officially in fantasy football draft season. Fantasy drafts are less than two months away. There’s no better time to start prepping than now. Here are five things you need to know from the holiday weekend:

1. Mark Ingram’s receiving ability makes him a value.

If you plan to use a wide receiver-heavy approach early in drafts, it’s important to be able to identify quality running backs who have top-5 upside in the third and fourth rounds. This year, Saints RB Ingram might just slip through to the front end of the third round.

While Ingram once appeared to be on the fast track to Bustville, the former Heisman winner has steadied and emerged as one of the league’s better feature backs. That is, when he’s on the field. Ingram tore his rotator cuff last year and landed on injured reserve with four weeks left in the season. He’s also twice dealt with turf toe and suffered a broken hand in his pro career. Over the last three seasons, Ingram has missed 12 games.

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Entering last year, the assumption was Ingram would be the thunder to C.J. Spiller’s lightning, with the latter serving as the primary receiving back. Well, that isn’t what happened. In 12 games, Ingram saw 57 targets, catching 50 for 405 yards. That was good enough for eighth among running backs in catches and 10th in yards, despite only playing three quarters of the season.

Ingram told The Advocate that his goal is to “keep doing it” in the passing game. We have him conservatively projected to roughly equal last year’s target total, but he’s certainly capable of being more involved in the New Orleans offense. While injuries are a concern, Ingram is a true feature back who you can get at a good value on draft day.

2. Why Le’Veon Bell is PFF’s top-ranked fantasy RB

Players are now making contract demands through rhymed verse. That’s a development that Back to the Future never saw coming. But it’s exactly what we got from Bell, who suggested he’s going to be looking for $15 million per year in his new song “Focus.” For fantasy purposes, this story doesn’t matter at all. However, it does give me a chance to talk about Bell, who currently sits atop our consensus running back rankings despite returning from a torn MCL and PCL.

At this point we can’t really speculate on his recovery until seeing him play, but I would like to address the concerns about DeAngelo Williams taking carries away from Bell. Last season, Bell started from Weeks 3 through 8. Over that span, only one running back – Devonta Freeman – touched the ball more frequently than Bell. Perhaps more importantly, over those five games, Williams played a combined 32 snaps. Not 32 snaps per game, but 32 total snaps. That’s just under 6.5 snaps per game.

This is how the Steelers tend to use their running back. When they have a guy capable of being a bell cow, that player gets the lions’ share of reps. Pittsburgh did the same thing with Williams after Bell went down. So if Bell is fully healthy, he’s going to slide right back into that feature role and dominate the touches. His fantasy ceiling is still enormous.

3. Who will be under center for the Broncos?

The defending Super Bowl champions enter the preseason with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding their quarterback situation. Denver signed veteran Mark Sanchez and drafted Paxton Lynch to go along with incumbent former seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian. While there was some excitement about Lynch grabbing the job and running with it, Troy Rench of The Denver Post believes 2016 is “setting up as a redshirt year.”

Lynch enters the league as a raw prospect who didn’t play in a pro-style offense in college at Memphis, so Rench’s take isn’t hard to believe. However, if Lynch isn’t an option for this year, the Broncos are left with either a career-backup in Sanchez or relative unknown in Siemian to be under center in Week 1. The ripple-effect here is significant for the rest of the Broncos skill-position players.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanual Sanders have been strong fantasy assets in Denver, but both need to be moved down draft boards. Thomas is now more of a mid-pack WR2, with Sanders in the WR3 range. A lackluster quarterback situation will also have an impact on the run game, so C.J. Anderson gets a downgrade, and we may have to wait for rookie Devontae Booker to emerge. Of course, the defense will still be very good, but Denver’s offense isn’t going to do us many fantasy favors in 2016.

4. What will Braxton Miller’s role be with the Texans?

The Texans took big steps to upgrade their offense this offseason, drafting wide receivers Miller and Will Fuller to play alongside free-agent signings QB Brock Osweiler and RB Lamar Miller. Of this group, Miller’s role is the least certain in 2016, but it appears he’ll be a multidimensional player in the offense.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise given Miller’s background. A converted quarterback, Miller caught 26-of-38 targets, and forced 16 missed tackles on 68 touches in 2015. Despite just 28 receptions, he posted three catches of 45 yards or more. He’s fast – 4.41 40 time at his pro day – and he racked up 6.9 yards after the catch per reception.

In his lone season at wideout, Miller ran mainly out of the slot (293 of 373 snaps). Cecil Shorts was the Texans’ primary slot receiver last season, so Miller isn’t likely to step right in as a starter. However, his athleticism and versatility will get him on the field. In the short term, it’s tough to envision much fantasy value out of Miller. However, he’s a very intriguing dynasty option, especially given the rise of the slot receiver in the NFL.

5. Know the name: Zach Zenner

Discussing the Lions’ running back situation, MLive’s Justin Rogers pointed to Zenner as the early frontrunner to play the complementary big back role in Detroit’s offense, with Theo Riddick primarily a pass-catching option out of the backfield and 2015 second-rounder Ameer Abdullah slotted for the lead-back role. A popular sleeper in the draftnik community, Zenner rushed for over 2,000 yards in three out of four seasons at South Dakota State. He’ll compete with Stevan Ridley, who sat out mandatory minicamp and has been completely ineffective since his early-career success with the Patriots. George Winn is also in the mix, but he figures to be more of a contributor on special teams.

Zenner appeared in four games last season, rushing just 17 times for 60 yards. However, the Lions did give him 10 carries in Week 5 against the Cardinals. A SPARQ score freak, Zenner ranked seventh among 2015 draft-eligible running backs in the metric. Of course, the top score went to his teammate Abdullah, who has a stranglehold on the lead job. But as the “thunder” back in this offense, Zenner has the potential to be a viable fantasy option in deeper leagues. He’s worth monitoring through training camp.

| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

  • Kofi Bonney

    I’m considering Ingram and a handful of other players. I’m in a 16 team .5ppr IDP league and I am drafting at the wheel 16/17. Would you consider Ingram or someone else(WRWR) at the wheel?

    Our starting positions are QB,WR,WR,RB,W/R/T,W/R/T,TE,K,D,D,DB,DB,LB,LB,DL 5BN.