Whether or not Mark Ingram will emerge as the New Orleans Saints' lead back in 2013 remains to be seen. But that's the role he'll be playing in Friday night's preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs since fellow tailback Pierre Thomas has been sidelined by an undisclosed ailment.

And as a result I have a feeling that Ingram's fantasy football stock is about to rise.

I'm not ready to project a "breakout" season from Ingram since I think he'll be sharing the workload with Thomas and Darren Sproles this season. And I think Ingram needs to prove he can deliver when it counts after failing to live up to expectations the past two years.

But I do think Ingram will turn some heads under the national spotlight Friday night if he looks anywhere near as impressive as he has looked throughout these summer practices.

Ingram has looked strong fast fluid and a little slimmer -- a result of being fully healthy for the first time throughout an entire offseason since he joined the NFL. And the Saints have talked about using him in a more versatile way after pigeonholing him as the short-yardage/base offense running back the last two years.

I think all three of the Saints' top tailbacks will have nice bounce-back seasons this year especially now that coach Sean Payton is back and making the run game a top priority. But of the three Ingram is clearly the one with the most to prove.

I'll have more expanded thoughts on all the Saints' skill position players next week when I take a shot at projecting all of their roles and statistics for the 2013 season -- an interesting exercise whether you're into fantasy football or not.