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MMQB Mail: Leshoure gaining on Ingram in race to be first RB taken

Two of this draft's verities over the past couple of months has been that Alabama's Mark Ingram will be the first and only running back chosen in the first round from a weak crop.

Based on those I've spoken with around the league, both of those things might be wrong, for a couple of reasons. One: Teams have some questions about the condition of Ingram's left knee, which was scoped last summer and plagued him in the fall. Two: Teams have no injury concerns about Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, who, according to one college personnel scout, "is clean and fits the one-cut style that a lot of teams want to see out of their running backs.''

Three teams I've spoken with in the past couple of weeks -- and who have a need in the backfield -- all said it will be a contest to see which back goes first, Ingram or Leshoure. Ingram doesn't see it as a two-horse race, but Leshoure was adamant at the Scouting Combine that he felt he should be the number one back picked.

DON BANKS: Why RB draft value is diminishing

That this is even up for discussion shows how much the running back depth chart has shifted. After Ingram won the Heisman as a sophomore in 2009, it was widely considered a lock that he'd be the first back taken in 2011 if he chose to come out. He's a worker bee of a back, a good blocker and good inside-the-tackles runner with decent speed to the edge. But after Ingram had surgery last year, the other strong 'Bama back, Trent Richardson, played so well that it raised questions about whether Ingram was even the best back on his own college team. (Not that this would eliminate him from being the first back picked; several teams in recent years, including the Arkansas team with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, have shown that multiple first-round picks can come from the same school.)

The questions about Ingram now seem to be centered on his ability to play a long career with the condition of his left knee. He still could have a good career, but there's a perception that the knee could give him trouble early.

There are no such concerns about Leshoure, but he has a couple off-field issues he's had to explain to teams. He broke his jaw in 2008, reportedly in a fight with a teammate, and was suspended for a game for violating team rules in 2009. He may have matured now. He was a force as the season went on last year for the Illini. In his last four games, he rushed for 733 yards. In 281 rushes last year, he never fumbled. At 5-foot-11½ and 227 pounds, Leshoure shows better ability to get around the corner than Ingram, and he's nearly the tackle-breaker that Ingram is.

It's clear that some teams with a first-round running-back interest -- Miami, New England, New Orleans, Seattle -- are studying both players hard, and it could come down to whether they trust that Ingram's knee won't give him trouble for the next few seasons.

"The question is whether you think Ingram's toughness and physicality sets him apart from Leshoure," one coach said at the league meetings last month. "I've seen a lot of Leshoure being physical himself, and he [Leshoure] is faster to the corner. I think he's going to have a very good career.''

Sounds like it's a contest Leshoure can, and very well may, win.

Now onto your e-mail:

• VERY INTERESTING, MARK. "Supposing that the NFL season will start on time, the first Sunday of the NFL season is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The Jets play the Giants this year in the regular season, what do you think the chances of a Giants at Jets game to open the Sunday night season on NBC? I would think it's a no-brainer but the NFL might not want to put two New York teams on opening weekend.''--Mark Epstein, Oradell, N.J.

A brilliant idea I hadn't considered. I hope Dick Ebersol has. It sounds absolutely perfect. I don't see any downside.

• ANOTHER GOOD QUESTION. "Do you think any player/owner relationships will be hurt by the current NFL situation? I'm thinking in particular the relationship the Colts have with Peyton Manning. The Colts have already stated on the record that they will make Peyton the highest paid quarterback in the NFL. Peyton's name is one of the names on the players lawsuit. Is this going to damage their relationship in any way? Are the Colts regretting making this promise now?''--Trevor Ford, Calgary

I think if the relationship ends up being damaged, Trevor, it will be as much because the Colts didn't redo Manning's contract last year, when Manning played out the last year of his contract. He wanted a new deal, and the Colts said, "Let's see what happens,'' because the money Manning wanted was unreasonable in the eyes of the team. I think bygones will be bygones once this labor deal is over, unless we see Manning take the stand and talk about how restrictive and unfair the NFL's system of player movement is. I don't see it getting that far.

• WHY THANK YOU. "Great analysis on the dynamic quarterback situation in this year's draft. It seems like the problem is compounded by the lockout and teams not being able to evaluate who they have on roster. Three teams come to mind: Browns, Broncos, and Seahawks all have QBs -- Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, and Charlie Whitehurst -- with limited time under center and less time this offseason working with new (Cleveland and Denver) or one-year (Seahawk) coaching staffs. Do those teams burn a high pick on a QB or go with who they have? The lockout is making things crazy.''--Brent Berarducci, Dallas

My feeling is the Browns are borderline sold on McCoy and won't do anything about a quarterback in this draft, unless it's taking one down the line. Seattle could choose one. Denver could too, though I think it'd be a big mistake. But you're right, teams like San Francisco, Arizona and Minnesota just don't know what to do right now because they're not sure what they can get in free agency and whether that should impact what they do in the draft. It's a very tough deal.

• HMMMMM. "It seems to me swapping disgruntled players with teams in similar situations is win-win for both teams. Why doesn't it ever seem to happen? When the league season starts up again, why don't the Skins don't just trade Donovan McNabb to Cincy for Carson Palmer? A fresh start would do both QBs good and get the teams off the hook facing next to nothing in compensation for losing a guy they are going to lose/ditch regardless. Any chance of this working out?''--Terran, Manassas, Va.

Much would have to happen for that scenario to play out. The Bengals would have to agree to trade Palmer, which I don't see happening. The Bengals would have to believe in McNabb, and I have no idea if they do. The Redskins would have to be convinced it's smarter to give the job to Palmer than to go draft and develop a young quarterback or play Rex Grossman. But it is an interesting thought.

• I LIKE THIS THOUGHT. "Peter, with Tex Winter being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame -- mostly for the way he revolutionized the game while being an assistant coach -- do you ever envision a scenario where Bill Arnsparger would get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on similar merit?''--Rick D., New York

Maybe, but the problem there with Arnsparger, or with any defensive mind, is who gets credit for doing certain things? If you read the bright book that Ron Jaworski wrote last year about the games that changed NFL history, you'll come away thinking, "I don't care how bad a head coach he was -- Buddy Ryan was so impactful to defensive football that he has to make the Hall of Fame.''

It's a tough call when you weigh the contributions of Arnsparger, Ryan and Jim Johnson, for example. We wouldn't vote all of them in, I don't think. So which one makes the most sense? I don't know.

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