With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on February 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Alabama running back Mark Ingram. By far the most complete and pro-ready back in this draft class, and there are some who believe that in 2011 at the running back position, the draft is comprised of ‘Mark Ingram and everybody else.' While we're a long way away from being able to make such value judgments, Ingram's production against elite competition - and when he was frequently a point of focus of enemy defenses - was impressive enough to insure his status as a sure top-of-the-first-round draft pick.
In 38 games for the Crimson Tide, Ingram ran 560 times for 3,202 yards and 40 touchdowns. In all those carries, he rushed for just 62 negative yards, and under 10 negative yards in a game just once in his entire career. 2009 was his banner year, when he won the Heisman Trophy and Alabama won the national championship. Ingram rushed 271 times for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. 2010 was a disappointment from a productivity standpoint, he gained just 816 rushing yards on 146 carries after missing the first two games recovering from knee surgery.
Pros: Great on-field awareness - Ingram doesn't outrun his blockers and can start and stop in short spaces with impressive efficiency when he needs to hit a seam or find his way out of a flock of impending defenders. Has a very quick burst upfield; when he gets going in a straight line, he's very tough to stop. Has a well-muscled build (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) and he's able to bounce off first contact. Runs low and hard through tight gaps at the line. Ingram can read and make cuts in short areas at top speed, and his speed to and through the hole makes him an especially effective runner on draws and delays. Good receiver on screens, swing passes, and quick throws up the middle - he turns upfield quickly and accelerates for yards after catch.
Cons: Though he has great on-field speed, he's not an elite burner, and there are a few things that give pause when projecting him at the NFL level without his current supporting talent. Quite often, Ingram went straight through a chute at the line because his blockers were able to overwhelm enemy defenses. He may be more of a rotational back in the NFL because he doesn't push the pile very hard - he may struggle in short-yardage situations against more stubborn and resistant defenses. ON a strong team with a good offensive line, he should be good to go, but may not be able to transcend a less optimal situation.
Conclusion: Perhaps Ingram's primary appeal is that while he does a few things exceptionally well and he does have a high ceiling, he also has an impressively high floor - there just aren't too many things he doesn't do well. He can provide just about any kind of running you want, understands blocking and ball security (just two fumbles at Alabama), he's a good receiver, and he's a team leader. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who isn't known to be impressed by much, has spoken as well of Ingram as just about any player he's ever coached. It's often seen as slightly pejorative to call a player a safe pick - the thought being that the player in question isn't impressive in a flashy sense. Ingram has as much flash to his style as you'd like, but his main asset as a pro prospect is that he has such a well-defined skill set.
NFL Comparison: Tiki Barber, New York Giants
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue