When the New Orleans Saints lost productive veteran running back Mark Ingram in free agency after the 2018 season, many felt that the team's rushing offense would suffer.
Ingram was a productive back and three-time 1,000-yard rusher in eight seasons with New Orleans. He finished 2018 as the franchise's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and second on the team's all-time rushing yardage list.
Once contract talks stalled with Ingram, the Saints moved swiftly to replace him. The team signed free-agent veteran RB Latavius Murray, formerly with the Minnesota Vikings, to a four-year contract.
Murray had spent his first three years with the Oakland Raiders before playing the previous two with Minnesota. He had rushed for 1,066 yards in 2015 and had accounted for at least 700 yards in each of the previous four seasons.
The Saints hoped that the bruising style of the 6’3 and 230-Lb Murray would complement the dynamic versatility of their star RB Alvin Kamara.
LATAVIUS MURRAY - 2019
Murray got just 8 touches and 18 offensive snaps in his first game with New Orleans. However, one of those plays was a 30-yard rushing touchdown in the season opening win against the Houston Texans.
Kamara, as expected, was the workhorse for the offense over the first portion of the season. Murray saw light duty, accounting for 79 offensive yards on 22 touches in weeks 2 through 5.
Kamara suffered knee and ankle injuries in a Week Six win at Jacksonville. The injuries forced him to miss the next two games, opening the door for more playing time for their veteran backup.
Murray was the offensive star in a Week 7 win at Chicago, rushing for 127 yards on 19 carries and two second half touchdowns. It would be the single-game high for the team in both carries and rushing yardage on the year.
Murray picked up 102 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries the following week against Arizona. He also pulled in 9 receptions for 55 yards and another score in the win.
Kamara returned the following week, but would be hampered by those leg ailments the rest of the year. Murray finished second on the team with 637 yards rushing and tied Kamara for the team lead with 5 rushing touchdowns.
He provided the only two 100-Yd rushing games for the team in 2019 and added 34 receptions for a career-high 235 yards and another score.
Murray accounted for a team-high 38 1st downs rushing and added nine more as a receiver.
MURRAY - 2020
The New Orleans offense was contained by the Tampa Bay defense during the 2020 season opener. Murray picked up 48 yards on the ground to lead the team in rushing during the victory.
Splitting time with the now healthy Kamara, Murray was again the team's leading rusher against Green Bay and Detroit in weeks 3 and 4.
He scored his first touchdown of the year against the Lions, rushing for 64 yards and scoring twice in the victory.
Kamara would go on to have a career year. Murray played an important complementary role for a Saints offense that finished sixth in the league in rushing and led the NFL with 30 touchdowns on the ground.
The Saints had three 100-yard outings by a running back in 2020. Murray had one of those during a Week 12 rout of the Denver Broncos, rushing for 124 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
After missing the regular season finale because of COVID-19 protocols, Murray played a crucial role during a Wild Card playoff win over Chicago. He had just 20 offensive yards on six touches, but broke several tackles on a 6-yard touchdown reception in the 3rd quarter for a critical score.
Murray left the playoff win over the Bears with a quad injury that kept him out of the team’s Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. He finished the year with 656 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns, averaging 4.5 per carry.
The New Orleans offense was limited by injuries to QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas, and throughout their receiving corps in 2020. They had to rely more heavily on their running backs.
Both Kamara and Murray responded well to the extra pressure. Murray accounted for 36 1st downs rushing. He added 8 more 1st downs and a touchdown on 23 receptions for 176 yards.
Brees retired this offseason, leaving a battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill for the starting spot at quarterback. Thomas is back healthy and coach Sean Payton constructs his offensive game plans around an intricate passing attack.
Recent New Orleans offensive attacks have been built around balance. The Saints ask their running backs to not only pick up tough yards between the tackles but to also be effective in space as runners and receivers.
Kamara and Murray make up the league's best 1-2 punch at running back. Both have shown capable of taking on a full load as the team's primary running back.
The 31-year-old Murray has an upright running style that makes him an easier target for defenders. However, he’s a physical runner who is rarely brought down by the first tackler.
Murray is extremely effective between the tackles, but has an underrated burst into the open field.
While not the receiver Kamara is, Murray is an effective option on screens and check-down passes. He’s elusive in the open field and has the physical advantage over most defensive backs.
Balance will be of utmost importance as the 2021 New Orleans Saints break in a new quarterback on offense. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas will still be the focal points of the attack, but Latavius Murray must have a productive season if this offense is going to be effective.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
Read More Saints News:
- Four Saints Who Could Break Out in 2021
- Alvin Kamara: Dual-Sport Influencer, NFL & NASCAR
- Saints All-Time Single-Season Statistical Records
- Alvin Kamara Makes the Saints Offense a Nightmare to Defend
- The Black College Football Hall of Fame Enshrined the Class of 2021
- Saints Players Celebrate Father's Day 2021