Many Saints fans since day 1 have been hell bent on the idea that Mark Ingram should be the Saints’ first round selection. Conventional wisdom has all along suggested that Ingram would be the first running back selected, but recent news of knee issues have Ingram’s stock plummeting. Saints fans can’t soon enough forget the rash of injuries the team endured at that position last season. Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill were both sidelined for the year before the season even started. Then Pierre Thomas sprained his ankle severely enough to basically render him useless for the season, Reggie Bush broke his leg, and Chris Ivory continually battled shoulder, knee and hamstring issues. The Saints shuffled guys like Julius Jones, Ladell Betts and DeShawn Wynn into the mix due to all the injuries their backs suffered… and those weaker players saw way more reps in key situations than we could ever hope they would.
While drafting a runningback given the Saints’ health issues last season seems like a good idea, Ingram’s durability concerns conflict heavily with the very reason why the Saints want to add more depth at the position. Ingram has a bad knee, and NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi has reported that at least two teams have taken Ingram off their board completely due to their evaluation of what kind of shape the knee is in. This could mean Mikel Leshoure of Illinois may be the first running back drafted in the first round, and it could also mean that Ingram will drop out of the first round alltogether.
Could the Saints take Leshoure at 24, then?
I don’t think so. If you look at the stable of backs the Saints have: Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Lynell Hamilton, as well as the guys they brought in who likely won’t be back: P.J. Hill, Julius Jones, Ladell Betts, DeShawn Wynn… only Reggie Bush was drafted by the team. While Bush was a 1st round pick, Thomas, Ivory, Hamilton and Hill were all undrafted. The other guys were signed via free agency, and so was Mike Bell who was a useful contributor in 2009. The bottom line is this regime has proven they can find good running backs without spending a 1st round pick to get one. While Bush was a 1st round selection, Sean Payton believed Bush was a unique talent that created matchup nightmares. I’m not sure there’s a back that fits that description in this year’s draft. Therefore, I could see the Saints easily targeting a guy like Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech 2nd round, or even waiting till much later in the draft to land a promising prospect they like. Again, the Saints have shown that finding contributors later in the draft at that position (or after the draft more specifically) is something they are good at. I stand firm in my belief that the Saints will either pick a defensive tackle with their first pick, or a linebacker/defensive end that can bring pressure off the edge.
One thing is for sure, they won’t risk a 1st round pick on a talented running back with bad knees. They’ve got enough of those already.