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First Down: Ingram to be ‘heavily involved,’ proceed with caution

Brad Evans
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Place your ear to the ground outside any training facility and chances are you'll hear enough juicy sound-bites to drive your fantasy libido wild … this wide receiver, that running back is bigger, stronger and poised to absolutely annihilate every tackler who dare crosses his path. As a result, gullible drafters seduced by coach's speak or inflated beat writer expectations take these tidbits as fact, rocketing commodities up preseason cheat sheets with a flaming arrow.

Case in point, Ryan Mathews.

This time last year, the hype machine cranked out volumes of propaganda about the youngster. Nearly everyone, including yours truly, bought into it hook, line and sinker. At the time it seemed justified. The Bolts rookie, blessed with a first-round pedigree, was expected to be the centerpiece in a high-powered offense. Abundant 100-yard games and double-digit touchdowns were a virtual guarantee. Of course, that story never unfolded. After going in the late-first in many drafts, he finished a disappointing 24th in per game output among RBs.

Mathews' cautionary tale has placed more realistic expectations on this year's talented rookie RB class. Despite several favorable environments (e.g. Daniel Thomas (Mia), Mikel Leshoure (Det), Mark Ingram (NO) and Ryan Williams (Ari)), no first-year rusher is currently going in the top-50 of average drafts. Lesson apparently learned.

However, with camps in full-swing and the start of the exhibition season only a week away, enticing quotes are bound to emerge.

Will you fend off temptation?

Down on the bayou, Ingram is already making fantasy headlines. On Thursday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan Tweeted the former Heisman winner is "coming on fast" and is expected to be "heavily involved" in a prolific offense that has finished inside the top-six in total yards per game for five consecutive seasons "from the get-go". Additional insights from a host of former coaches and current players make Ingram out to be a rusher on the brink of superstardom. From NOLA.com:

From tackle Jon Stinchcomb: "I've seen Mark make a few wicked cuts, the kind that come from good vision," said Stinchcomb, a nine-year veteran. "He's someone who can run for an 'ugly' 5 yards, but it's still 5 yards. Know what I mean? He's always moving forward."

From Drew Brees: "From what I've seen, Mark reminds me of DeAngelo Williams (the Carolina Panthers running back). Mark's smaller, but he's quick, extremely powerful."

From Ingram's coach at 'Bama Nick Saban: "I'll remember Mark for the intangibles, the whole package," Saban said Tuesday. "You hear a lot about work ethic. Mark is so competitive, the kind of competitor who'll make everyone around him better, sometimes you have to rein him in. He's that explosive by nature. He might not be someone who could beat you in a 100-yard dash, but over 10-12-15 yards, he packs a burst of speed that changes the angles of the people chasing him. He's a game-changer."

Assuming his knees hold up, it's clear Ingram will carve out a substantial role. He's a finely skilled gut-buster blessed with considerable power, vision and patience. However, prospective buyers who invest heavily into the preseason hype, outstretching arms to acquire the youngster's services well ahead of his current 55.8 ADP (RB23), may live to regret it.

Sean Payton is Mike Shanahan dressed in black.

Last season, Pierre Thomas, when healthy, Christopher Ivory and Reggie Bush were rotated continuously, utilized under a variety of different circumstances. No roles were concrete, particularly near the goal line. Ivory and PT were the primary red-zone rushers each netting roughly 2.3 carries per game, but even Bush, normally used on third/passing downs, was occasionally sprinkled in within striking distance.

Most importantly, Brees ranked No. 1 in the league in red-zone pass attempts. Overall, almost 68-percent of the red-zone plays Payton barked through his headset were of the vertical variety. This is a franchise with a specific offensive agenda in mind: throw-first, run-second, no matter where the ball is spotted on the field.

The Saints' offensive line is rock solid. And the offense, collectively, will likely again finish among the league's elite. But with the PT Bruiser repaired, Darren Sproles sliding into Bush's vacated spot and the slow-recovering Ivory eventually expected back, there are no guarantees Ingram will be the rookie rusher to own this season. Right now, he's more RB3/Flex material in 12-teamers. Miami's Daniel Thomas (62.5 ADP, RB27) and Detroit's Mikel Leshoure (103.6, RB45) appear to have better defined and more attractive roles.

Call the Noise a blind nincompoop — I'm sure many of you will come up with more explicit descriptions in the comments section — but given New Orleans' crowded backfield and propensity for throwing in any and all situations, and the Alabama Slammer's history of knee problems, Ingram could trigger migraines this season.

Fearless Forecast (15 games): 209 carries, 920 rushing yards, 16 receptions, 137 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns

Razz the Noise on Twitter. Follow Brad @YahooNoise.

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Image courtesy of the AP

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