Tale of the Tape: Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson

Story posted February 13, 2012 in

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Last year, many if not all NFL teams slated Alabama’s Mark Ingram as the number one running back prospect on their draft boards. With the 28th pick of the first round, the New Orleans Saints hoped to solidify their backfield by selecting the Heisman and National Championship winner.

This year, the number one running back prospect again hails from the Crimson Tide of Alabama: Trent Richardson. Teammate of Ingram for two years at Alabama, this highlight machine is projected to fall somewhere within the first 10-15 picks of the first round. 

Ingram and Richardson will soon both be in the NFL on their respective teams. Consequently, the question must be asked: which former Alabama player will translate into a better NFL running back? Which of the two from that once daunting Crimson Tide backfield will be the better pro?

On paper, the pick seems to be somewhat clear. Ingram holds more statistical achievements and overall accolades. Rushing for 3,233 career yards and 42 touchdowns on 572 carries, Ingram was the first Alabama player to win a Heisman Trophy in 2009. In the same year, he won a national championship with Alabama over Texas. Thus far in the NFL, Ingram has rushed for 474 yards and 5 touchdowns on 122 carries in 10 games.

Richardson rushed for 3,130 yards and 35 touchdowns on 540 carries at Alabama. He lost the Heisman Trophy to Robert Griffin III in 2011. Like Ingram, Richardson won a national championship with Alabama over LSU in that same season.

Although Ingram’s résumé may be more impressive, Trent Richardson has more potential to become a stud in the NFL.

At 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Richardson possesses the epitome size and physique of a star NFL running back. To complement that size, he has a rare combination of speed, quickness, and strength. Capable of running inside and outside of the tackles, blocking, and catching the ball out of the backfield, Richardson is the full package and should excel at the next level.

While he might not have the Heisman Trophy sitting in his living room, Trent Richardson’s numbers from this past season were better than those that won Mark Ingram the Heisman Trophy in 2009. He also did so with a freshman quarterback handing the ball off to him, and much less experienced running to help carry the season long load.

On the other hand, Mark Ingram measures at 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds. Although quick and strong, Ingram doesn’t possess the vertical speed that smaller running backs can use to their advantage.

Throughout college and his short experience so far in the NFL, Ingram has also been injury prone. At Alabama, he sat out the first few games of his junior season after a knee surgery. At the latter end of his first season in the NFL, the Saints placed him on injured reserve with a sprained toe.

Ingram also plays in a running back-by-committee system in New Orleans where he will not be given the opportunity to become an every-down back. Come late April, an NFL team will draft Trent Richardson and make them their every-down, franchise running back.

When you look closer at in-depth statistics, it becomes clearer which running back to pick between the two.

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As you can see from the statistical breakdown above – Ingram and Richardson had very comparable career averages during their times at Alabama. The only glaring difference seems to be the fact that Ingram averaged more attempts per season than Richardson. However, their production rates ended up being the same at the end of the day.

The situation with the two running backs year-by-year involvement is very similar as well. Both had one season as the second option, another season as the feature back and another season sharing the load with the other. This makes it much easier to compare the two based on their ComRadio Draft Show Rating (CDSR). For an explanation of this new statistic click here.

The CDSR comparison for the two should help show which player helped lead a more efficient offensive campaign throughout their career. By looking at the numbers above, a few things stick out. They show that the two played very similar strength defenses, and that they both had virtually identical workloads throughout their careers. The numbers also reveal that the Alabama offenses during Trent Richardson’s career were more efficient than they were during Mark Ingram’s career. These combined elements result in a higher CDSR for Richardson in comparison to Ingram.

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It is the efficiency of Richardson that separates the two running backs for me. Mark Ingram was a great collegiate running back, but the numbers show that Richardson is a more desirable prospect based on his elite efficiency and superb statistical output throughout his career.

So, who is the pick? Who will become the better NFL running back? Ingram or Richardson?

Putting money on Richardson seems like the smart thing to do.


Jon Blauvelt is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email jrb5637@psu.edu.