Christopher has long been a favorite of the fantasy football community. I myself have speculated on the future of his career. As bit player for the Saints, Ivory electrified fantasy footballers with his physically violent running style. Sigmund Bloom from FootballGuys loves to compare him to Marshawn Lynch, but unfortunately, like Lynch, Ivory has been anything but durable. His short career has been fully riddled by a variety of ailments. The most sereve has been a hamstring injury that plagued him for the last 2 seasons. His injury troubles in combination with the cadre of running backs that the Saints had prevented him from ever receiving a full workload. The worry about his injuries is going to depress his redraft price and dynasty stock, providing a unique opportunity
Ivory hails from Texas, the breeding grounds for college football players. He intially attended Washington State where his injury problems began. He played in 22 games, rushing 91 times for 534 yards and 4 touchdowns, and 23 kickoff returns at 22.8 yards a pop. He was kicked off the squad and Washington State and enrolled at a small Division II school, Tiffin. Ivory only played in 5 games at Tiffin, recording 39 rushes for 223 yards before suffering a knee injury that ended his college career. His attempts at getting a medical redshirt were denied and he went undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft. However, his impressive 40 time and physical stature intrigued the Saints and he signed with them as a priority free agent.
To say that Ivory is physically impressive is understanding the situation. His Speed Score, an incredible metric produced by Football Outsiders, is 116. 116 almost breaks the scale of the metric. 100 is average and 120 is beyond elite. For comparisons sake, Ivory’s number best’s Marshawn Lynch’s 112, Ray Rice’s 108 and Maurice Jones-Drew’s 111.
Ivory immediately showed that he belonged with the Saints, performing incredibly in the preseason, including a 76 yard touchdown in a game against the San Diego Chargers. Injuries forced Ivory into action right away, and he averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie. His freshmen effort included a 15 carry for 158 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a 15 carry for 117 yard game against the Bengals. Per Pro Football Focus, Ivory forced an incredible 31 missed tackles on 137 carries, meaning that he made a defender miss on 22% of his carries. For comparisons sake, league leader in missed tackles in 2010, LeGarrette Blount (I know I was shocked too!) caused a missed tackle on 24% of his carries. Additionally, Ivory’s yards after contact per attempt was 3.3 which was good for 9th in the league.
Ivory’s sophomore season was overshadowed by the Mark Ingram debacle. Why the Saints spend a first round pick on Ingram, a back that was slower and less efficient than Ivory, will be beyond me. The Saints backfield was incredibly crowded the emergence of Darren Sproles as an elite weapon, Pierre Thomas playing his usual effective role and Ingram demanding touches when he wasn’t battling turf toe. Despite all the adversity, Ivory still had 4 games with 13 or more carries, including a sublime 19 carry for 127 yard game against the Carolina Panthers. Ivory’s yards per carry average dropped to 4.7, which was ironically identical to Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, and Ray Rice. Again, Ivory was crazy productive when given the opportunity, but due to the Saints scheme, was not handed the reigns.
In 2012, Ivory didn’t even receive a carry until Week 9 against Philadelphia, where he of course, produced. For the season, Ivory again averaged over 5 yards a carry, including an absolutely astonishing 56 yard touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons. Ivory’s 4.7 yards after contact number was 3rd in the league, and first place finisher Marcus Thigpen had a grand total of one carry. In only 40 carries on the year, Ivory gained 217 yards and forced 12 missed tackles.
While Ivory didn’t get a tremendous amount of playing time his three years, what he did produce was historical. I ran a search on ProFootball-Reference for running backs since the merger who are within 2 inches of height and 4 pounds of weight within Ivory and their production in their first 3 seasons. On a per carry basis, Ivory is the 4th best running back since the merger in his size profile.
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All of this is a roundabout way of saying that in limited time, Ivory is a legit candidate for most underutilized weapon in the entire league. Every time the Saints used him, he was beyond impressive and while he was hamstrung by injuries (GET IT?! HAMSTRUNG!), Sean Payton and company had no excuse to not use Ivory. The only reason they didn’t was the awful selection of Ingram. However, our boy Ivory has finally been freed, via a trade to the New York Jets.
Ivory’s competition on the roster consists of journeyman Mike Goodson, unimpressive Bilal Powell and part-time cornerback Joe McKnight. We will speculate all season on if Goodson or Ivory will get the first carry, but several things indicate that Ivory is the Jets immediate plan at running back. First, they actually gave up something of value for Ivory, a 4th round pick. While a 4th round pick isn’t exactly a kings ransom, it’s more than teams would pay for a running back. Ivory and Goodson are both on 3 year, approximately 6 million dollar deals, but Ivory’s deal includes more performance incentives, indicating a belief that he will be given the opportunity to reach these incentives.
If we operate under the belief that Ivory will the Jets starter, what does that mean? Shonn Greene was obviously not productive last year, but let’s be real, Shonn Greene sucks. The Jets offensive line will be a huge upgrade for Ivory to run behind. The left side of the Saints offensive line was definitively better in 2o12. They created 6.3 yards per carry on the left outside end and 6.5 yards per carry on runs to the left tackle. Fortunately, where the Jets line excelled, so did Ivory. In 2012, Ivory averaged 3.8 yards per carry to the Middle-Left of the line, 7.3 to the Middle-Right, 4.5 behind the right guard, and 7.9 around the right end. Jets centers accumlated a 15.8 positive run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. Jets right guards accrued a 12.8 and their right tackles were rated out at 13.6. Jet’s lineman Willie Colon, Nick Mangold, Stephen Peterman, Austin Howard, Vladmir Ducasse, and D’Brickashaw Ferguson all graded out as positive run blockers per PFF. 2 out of the 5 starting Saints lineman graded negatively as run blockers. Unfortunately, both Ivory’s fullback Lex Hilliard and his tight end, Jeff Cumberland grade out as negative run blockers. In the end, that won’t be as damning as playing for a pass first team with bad run blocking.
The last 4 years, the Jets have ran 30.7, 27.7, 32.8, and 37.7 times a game. Over that same time frame, the Saints ran the ball 23.1, 26.7, 23.6, and 28.6 times per game. The contrast becomes even more stark when we break it down by percentage of called runs. Over the last 3 years, the Jets called runs on 45.88% of plays and the Saints did so on 36.99% of plays. So the scenario that we arrive at is simple. Ivory is on a team with a better run blocking unit, more commitment to running the ball, less competition for carries and a team that desired his services his so much that they were willing to give up something of real value acquire him.
There will be fantasy football outlets that urge you to pump the breaks on Chris Ivory. They will point out that Goodson is signed to a similar deal and that there is no guarantee he will get carries. To them, I would point out that Ivory has graded out as 100% efficient in pass blocking all 3 seasons his career, essentially guaranteeing him playing time. His detractors will also note his long and extensive injury history. Never taking gambles didn’t ever win anybody a fantasy football championship. Ivory’s ADP will likely end up in the 5th or 6th round of 12 team leagues at and at the price, you could acquiring your RB2 for an RB3 price. For both dynasty and redraft, I am all in on Chris Ivory and smart fantasy owners will be too.