Just two days remain in our 2015 season previews for Alabama players that are now in the NFL. The final two articles will focus on the former Crimson Tide players that are now stars in the league. Today we look at two of the biggest running backs in recent Alabama history. One of them being the university’s only Heisman Trophy winner and the other being on two national championship teams while combining for 72 rushing touchdowns. Nick Saban has won three national titles during his time in Tuscaloosa and not one of them came without Mark Ingram or Eddie Lacy in the backfield. The two have gone on to great things in the pros and could still have great careers ahead of them.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, Running Back
5’9″, 215 pounds
4 years, $16 million
Ingram enters into his fifth season in the NFL after signing a new contract to keep him in New Orleans for at least four more seasons. He was one of the Saints’ first-round selections in the 2011 draft and has bounced back and forth from the injured reserve to the start for Sean Payton’s squad. During his rookie year, Ingram played in ten games including four starts before suffering a season ending toe injury that has bothered him throughout his career. During his second and third seasons with the Saints, Ingram played in 27 games including eight starts while running for a combined 980 yards and six touchdowns. Last season was Ingram’s year to prove himself worthy of a new contract and he took advantage of his opportunities.
In 2014, Ingram missed three more games due to a hand injury but his production in the other 13 games made up for it. He gained 1,109 yards from scrimmage (964 rushing, 145 receiving) and became a huge part in one of the league’s best offenses. Ingram had a career game against the Packers, outdueling Lacy and finishing with 172 rushing yards and a touchdown. Ingram finished tied for third in the league last season in rushing touchdowns with nine and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He will hope to see another jump in numbers for this season.
The Saints have always been a primarily passing offense but the running backs are still often used. Ingram will now be the number one back in New Orleans and has already seen a lot of action in the passing game. He has 18 touches for 103 yards so far in his limited preseason action. If Ingram can stay healthy for all 16 games this season, he could end as one of the league’s best running backs while pushing the Saints toward the playoffs. The Saints open the season on September 13 at Arizona.
Fantasy: The Saints’ offense last season finished 19th in the league in rushing attempts but 13th in yards and 5th in touchdowns. Ingram was a big part of that, getting a look on 25 percent of plays – passing or rushing – ran by New Orleans last year. That is a huge role in an offense with such high production and those numbers should go up again this season. There are a lot of good backs in the NFL and Ingram may not have shown the same consistency as the rest of them, but getting Ingram in the third round or later would still be a steal.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers, Running Back
5’11”, 234 pounds
2 years, $2.14 million
Lacy has come a long way since his freshman year in Tuscaloosa when he was redshirted after signing as a four-star recruit. He was a back up for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson before taking the starting role in his junior season and rushing for 1,322 yards with 19 touchdowns. Lacy was passed up by many teams in the 2012 NFL draft, making his decision to leave early seem like the wrong one at the time. Since then, Lacy has proven himself to be worthy of the NFL and as one of the league’s best running backs. Lacy won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2014 after starting 15 games for the Packers and running for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. His addition to a stellar, yet pass heavy, offense has helped Green Bay stay as one of the best teams in the league.
Last season, Lacy started all 16 games but saw his rushing numbers go down from his rookie year. A lot of that had to do with the number of carries he got with a healthy Aaron Rodgers all season. Lacy improved his yards per carry to 4.6 in 2014 and rushed for 1,139 yards with nine touchdowns. He did become a major weapon in the passing game, catching 42 passes for 427 yards and four touchdowns last season. Lacy may be looked at as the number one weapon this season as the Packers deal with some injury issues to their receiving core.
All-Pro receiver Jordy Nelson has been ruled out for the entire season after tearing his ACL in a preseason game. Randall Cobb is still expected to play in the season opener but he may not be 100 percent with swelling in his shoulder after spraining it last weekend. Lacy has shown that he can be consistent in all aspects of the offense and the Packers know that. He will be used as the workhorse in Green Bay this year as Green Bay has yet to sign get major help in the backfield other than veteran James Starks.
So far in the preseason, Lacy has seen playing time in all three games, rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He is ready to take on the role for the Packers and will help keep this as an elite offense.
Fantasy: Lacy is one of the top backs going in to the 2015 seasons and it shows on the draft boards. According to ESPN, his average draft position is 3.8. If you manage to draft Eddie Lacy outside the top three picks, you may have the steal of the draft. The consistency that we have seen from Lacy in his two seasons has been stronger than any other back. To add to that, Lacy is in possibly the best offense in the league. No one can truly know how good Peterson will be after taking a year off and Le’Veon Bell is suspended for the first two games of the season. Lacy might be your best bet at getting 12-plus points every single week.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.