By Tom E. Curran
Heading into the NFL draft, Tom E. Curran plans a series of looks at potential Patriots draftees. Today's player: Mark Ingram.
Mark Ingram, Alabama5-9, 215Running Back
The Skinny: The highest-rated running back in this draft. Won the Heisman Trophy in 2009 when he ran for 1,658 yards. He was dinged up in 2010 but still averaged 5.5 per carry. He's compact and very solidly built. Thick. He's got elusiveness in small spaces, runs with excellent patience and finishes his runs. He's played against the highest competition, which is something the Patriots value in their evaluations. Also, he played for Bill Belichick's buddy Nick Saban, so the Patriots will get a solid review of Ingram's skills. He's not exceptionally fast but accelerates quickly to his top speed and has excellent quickness.
Gotta Have Him: The Patriots got excellent production from BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2010 (1,008 yards) but the cupboard is nearly bare around him. Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor are both free agents and both are aged and injury prone. It will be a minor upset if the Patriots re-sign either, a stunner if they keep both. Ingram is a classic "bell cow" -- the kind of player you give the ball to 20 to 25 times a game. Yet his style is similar enough to Green-Ellis' that you could split carries and not lose rhythm with the offensive line. You need two solid running backs in today's NFL and a third-down back. Ingram would be the best back here since Corey Dillon.
Don't Need Him: The notion that teams need to build around big-ticket running backs with impressive resumes has vanished. Consider Green-Ellis. Or the NFL's leading rusher in 2010, Houston's Arian Foster. Both were undrafted. And there are many more examples of guys plucked from the bargain bin who are major contributors. Hence, would the Patriots want to spend a first-round pick on a position that can be ably filled later in the draft?
Forecast: Ingram will be there for the Patriots at 17. He could actually be there at 28 or 33, as well. Wes Bunting at National Football Post has Ingram as his seventh-rated player but doesn't have any team taking him in the first round of his mock draft. It just shows how the value of the position has dropped. The Patriots like Ingram. And his consistency, dependability and performance against top-tier competition makes it exceedingly easy to project him into the NFL. The last time the Pats took a running back in the first round it was Laurence Maroney and he didn't work out so good. But Ingram is kind of the anti-Maroney in style and resume.
Pats Draftability (1-10): 8