When news of Pierre Thomas' release from the New Orleans Saints broke earlier this month, Mark Ingram's stock skyrocketed. Prospective fantasy owners were beaming at the idea that Ingram may finally become the workhorse back that we've all wanted him to be. However, all of that changed in the past week when the Saints signed veteran running back C.J. Spiller to a hefty 4-year, $18 million contract. While the Saints are clearly going to benefit from signing Spiller, fantasy owners are at a loss and it's tough to get a good read on the situation. Will Spiller be relegated to "change of pace" duties, or are we going to see another true timeshare in New Orleans? In this article we will break down the strengths and weaknesses of both players and try to make sense of this headache of a backfield.
Numbers Don't Lie...
Although the Saints most likely plan on using these two great running backs in tandem, the simple truth is that both of them perform better when the spotlight is solely on them. Last year when Mark Ingram was finally given the reins, he posted a modest, yet respectable 4.3 yards per carry average. Though not eye-popping, his 9 TD's in 13 games shows that he has what it takes to produce as a starting fantasy RB. Likewise, during C.J. Spiller's breakout 2012 campaign, he averaged an incredible 6.0 yards per carry along with 8 total TD's. Although his numbers have been less than stellar since 2012, Spiller has undoubtedly proven that he has what it takes to be a viable starting fantasy RB. Additionally, both of these young veterans have been cursed by playing behind fan-loved veterans in Pierre Thomas and Fred Jackson. Now that both are free of that burden, the numbers will decide who gets the spotlight next year.
Rushing vs. Receiving
When looking at the numbers, both Ingram and Spiller have proven to be quality running backs, each averaging 4.2 and 5.0 yards per carry throughout their careers, respectively. However, in today's NFL an RB must be multi-dimensional. The days of 25+ carries per game are over. Today, it's about making the most of what little opportunities you have, and more importantly, being a threat in the passing game. This fact becomes even more important when talking about the Saints offense, as they attempted to pass on 61.8% of all offensive plays in 2014. So what does this mean for Spiller and Ingram? The simple answer here is that Spiller dominates Ingram in the passing game. In five seasons Spiller accumulated 158 receptions for 1,195 yards and 6 TD's. Likewise, in four seasons Ingram was only able to accumulate 53 receptions for 288 yards and 0 TD's. Although Ingram was playing with Pierre Thomas, a receiving back specialist, it is clear that Spiller will be the receiving back in New Orleans' offense, further boosting his stock in PPR formats.
Outlook for 2015
So far we've come to two simple conclusions. First, both Spiller and Ingram are capable of handling starting RB responsibilities and thrive in a workhorse back setting. Second, C.J. Spiller has proven to be the superior pass catching RB, a trait necessary to thrive in the Saints offense. Unfortunately these two facts lead to the likely conclusion that Ingram will handle 1st and 2nd down duties, while Spiller will come in on 3rd down and other passing situations. Unfortunately this means the worst for fantasy owners as neither Spiller nor Ingram will reach their true fantasy potential in 2015. However, there is a bright side. As both running backs have proven to be quality starters, and both have a seemingly unfortunate injury history, this combination should be looked at as one of the most valuable handcuffs going into 2015. If either Spiller or Ingram go down at some point in the season, expect the other to thrive as the sole rusher in the Saints backfield. Additionally, because Spiller is the more proven back, him taking over starting RB duties is not outside the realm of possibility. At the end of the day, against most mocks to date, I would take Spiller before Ingram come draft day (especially in PPR formats). Either way, if you decide to take either of these RBs in 2015, you had better make sure to grab the other while you can.