BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Mark Ingram won't admit it, but those who know him well know the truth. He's angry, and he had a legitimate reason to be upset.
Ingram has to compete with a future Hall of Famer for touches this season.
The Saints signed Adrian Peterson this offseason, and he is a threat to Ingram's workload this year. Heading into training camp, Ingram is expected to remain the starter, but Peterson is an upgrade in talent and obviously pedigree to Tim Hightower, the No. 2 back in New Orleans last year.
While Ingram said all the right things in a recent interview with CBS Sports, there is a frustration level on his part now having to compete, in whatever capacity, with Peterson. Tony Villani from XPE Sports, who trains Ingram and has worked with him for years, has seen it with how Ingram has prepared for this season.
"Yeah, he's mad," Villani said. "But he should be."
Ingram is coming off a career season in 2016, with 205 carries for 1,043 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and six touchdowns, and 46 catches for 319 yards and four touchdowns. He was the No. 10 running back in standard leagues, and he's in his prime at 27, after six seasons in the NFL.
Villani said Ingram is in tremendous shape, and he doesn't expect Ingram's production to fall off this year at all. Villani said Ingram wants more work this season, but he told Ingram that if "the Saints aren't using you up on mileage, take it as a blessing." That could help Ingram's long-term outlook.
But the impression, especially from Fantasy owners, is that the Saints are trying to replace Ingram with Peterson, which isn't the case. Peterson is expected to take over for Hightower as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart. And rookie Alvin Kamara, who was drafted in Round 3 from Tennessee, will likely replace Travaris Cadet as the No. 3 option and passing specialist.
Ingram, if healthy, should be able to post a similar workload to what he had in 2016 with at least 200 carries and 45 catches, which should put him in the range of 1,300 total yards again. And he should have the chance for at least six touchdowns, which he's done each of the past three seasons.
Peterson can still be a significant contributor in New Orleans if he stays healthy, since Hightower already cut into Ingram's work to the tune of 133 carries and 22 catches last year. That kind of production would be a letdown for Fantasy owners who are hoping Peterson can turn back the clock, but it should be the reality.
Peterson is the backup to Ingram, though Hightower did pick up 20 carries in consecutive games when Ingram fell out of favor mid-season. However, after being limited to three games last year with the Vikings because of knee problems, it's hard to expect Peterson to once again be a dominant Fantasy running back at 32.
Still, Fantasy owners are viewing the two as almost equals. Based on Average Draft Position on FantasyPros.com, Ingram is being selected just two spots ahead of Peterson in the running back pecking order. Ingram is the No. 23 running back off the board; Peterson is at No. 25.
That shouldn't be the case -- I have Ingram at No. 16 in my standard rankings and Peterson at No. 38 -- though this kind of perception is motivating Ingram this year.
"It's a business. They're always going to bring people in to compete," Ingram said of the Saints adding Peterson. "I just want to show that I'm the best. That's what I work for, that's what I do this for -- to be the best. I have hefty aspirations to be the best running back to ever play this game."
Ingram said there is no animosity between him and Peterson, and that it should be a healthy competition for touches. Ingram said he's trying to learn from Peterson as much as possible given his career accolades. Peterson has played 10 seasons in the NFL, all with Minnesota, and he has 2,418 career carries for 11,747 yards and 97 touchdowns, and 241 catches for 1,945 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's been through a lot of adversity, and he's probably the best back of our generation," Ingram said. "Even though we're competing, it's definitely an honor to learn from him and pick his brain."
Peterson might be competition for Ingram this year, but Ingram is still the No. 1 running back in New Orleans. His ADP puts him in early Round 6, which is stealing if he delivers the type of production we saw last year. And if you want to gamble on Peterson also, that's fine, but the earliest that should happen is Round 8.
Ingram is the best running back for the Saints. And hopefully he channels the anger he has over the addition of Peterson into production on the field.
That would definitely make Fantasy owners happy.