All players that will be on the final 53-man New Orleans Saints roster are going to be important in their own way, but some more than others. Whether it's a role player, starter, or depth, the pieces of the puzzle are going to be crucial to Sean Payton and company. Today, we start a series that will take us well into training camp that focuses on the 25 most important players to the team's 2020 successes and failures.
The list of players itself wasn't terribly difficult to come up with, but ranking them was another story. It'll surely cause some nice debate.
Just Missed the Top 25 Cut: Tre'Quan Smith, Sheldon Rankins, Zack Baun, Adam Trautman, Alex Anzalone
No. 25 - Latavius Murray
Latavius Murray joined the Saints via free agency last offseason after spending time with Raiders and Vikings. There was a huge void left behind from Mark Ingram's departure, and Murray had big shoes to fill. It wasn't like Murray was an unknown. In fact, Murray is actually sixth in the NFL in rushing touchdown production (31) since 2016.
Murray started two key games for the Saints on Oct. 20 against the Bears and the following week against the Cardinals without Alvin Kamara in the picture. He did not disappoint. Against Chicago, Murray had a career-high 27 carries for 119 yards with two rushing touchdowns. He also had 5 receptions for 31 yards en route to his most productive game with the Saints.
As an encore, Murray had 21 carries against the Cardinals for 102 rushing yards. He also racked up 9 receptions in Drew Brees' return for 55 yards. Murray also had his first career receiving touchdown against Arizona. The two-game stretch was so significant that it became the first time in his career that he finished with multiple touchdowns in back-to-back games.
Murray's 2019 saw him finish playing in all 16 games, tallying 144 rush attempts for 639 yards (4.4 average) with 5 rushing touchdowns. He also had 34 catches for 235 yards and a receiving touchdown. It was very comparable to Mark Ingram's 2018 season with New Orleans. In that season, Ingram finished with 645 rushing yards on 138 rushing attempts (4.7 average) and 6 rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, Ingram had 21 receptions for 170 yards and a score.
Murray's Outlook in 2020
This season, Murray should be even better in the Saints offense with a year under his belt, and that's factoring in a fully healthy Alvin Kamara in his contract year. He's demonstrated that he can be an asset in both the run and passing game, as well as strength in blitz pickups. It's hard to dismiss his value and not stack him up to the one-two punch that Kamara and Ingram were, and another successful season should only help his case as to why New Orleans signed him in the first place. Murray's 379 touches last year could increase, and is certainly some of the best running back insurance you could have if you're the Saints.