Most NFL teams experience roster turnover from season to season. Salary cap issues, free agency, the draft, and general impatience from players, coaches, and front offices lead to few teams having the same look from one year to the next.
Even perennial contenders like the New Orleans Saints experience roster changes at key spots. The Saints have done a magnificent job at keeping their talented core together over the last four years but suffered some key personnel losses this offseason.
Legendary quarterback Drew Brees retired. Salary cap issues forced the team to release key contributors like Janoris Jenkins, Kwon Alexander, Malcom Brown, Thomas Morstead, Emmanuel Sanders, and Josh Hill. Starters Sheldon Rankins, Alex Anzalone, and Trey Hendrickson also departed as free agents. The Saints could not add replacements in free agency with so little cap room, other than former Kansas City defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.
New Orleans added six players in the NFL draft and could add more free agents before the start of training camp in July. While several positions might have a different look in 2021, one spot that did not change was the running back position. The Saints averaged over 141 yards on the ground in 2020, ranking sixth in the league, and had an NFL-best 30 rushing touchdowns.
Here is a look at the Saints current roster of running backs (number and age).
- Alvin Kamara - #41 (25)
- Latavius Murray - #28 (31)
- Ty Montgomery - #88 (28)
- Tony Jones Jr. - #37 (23)
- Dwayne Washington - #24 (27)
- Stevie Scott* - #34 (21)*
- Alex Armah (FB) - 340 (26)
* = rookie
Kamara had the most productive season of his spectacular four-year career. He rushed for a career-high 932 yards and was second in league with 16 rushing touchdowns.
Kamara was also the team's leading receiver, catching a career-best 83 passes for 756 yards and 5 more scores. His 21 total touchdowns were the most in the league, and his career-high 1,688 yards from scrimmage were the 3rd most in the NFL.
Despite being the major focus of defenses week after week, Kamara continues to flourish. He tied a 91-year-old NFL record with 6 rushing touchdowns in a Christmas Day victory over the Vikings, adding a career-high 155 rushing yards.
Kamara is one of the NFL's most feared players and will continue to be a major part of the offense, especially without Brees.
Latavius Murray gives New Orleans the league's best 1-2 punch at running back along with Kamara. Murray picked up 656 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns, adding 176 yards and another score on 23 receptions.
He had 124 rushing yards in a Week 12 win at Denver and provided power between the tackles for the offense.
Veteran WR/RB Ty Montgomery struggled with injuries and provided little production last season after signing with New Orleans as a free agent. When Kamara, Murray, Washington, and FB Michael Burton had to sit out the season finale at Carolina because of COVID-19 protocols, Montgomery stepped up to show how valuable he could be.
He rushed for 108 yards in that win over the Panthers and should factor more in the team's offensive plans as both a runner and receiver in 2021.
Dwayne Washington is one of the league's better special teams players, making it hard for newcomers to displace him from the roster. Washington has just 43 carries for 229 yards in three years with the Saints but has proven to be an effective backup. He will likely need to shine on special teams again to keep his spot on the roster.
TONY JONES, JR.
Tony Jones, Jr., an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame last season, spent most of the year on the team's practice squad. He carried the ball 3 times for 13 yards in the finale at Carolina before leaving with an injury. Jones was an effective runner between the tackles in college and could be a dark horse to earn a spot on the active roster.
Stevie Scott, an undrafted rookie from Indiana, signed after the draft, is a rugged between the tackles runner who could push either Jones or Washington for a spot on the active roster. Scott and Jones both look to continue a long New Orleans tradition of finding undrafted gems at running back.
Alex Armah hopes to continue another New Orleans trend of ‘‘throwback’’ contributors at fullback. Signed as a free agent away from Carolina, Armah has 29 career offensive touches for 65 yards in four seasons. He has rushed for three touchdowns and at 6’2” 255-Lbs. could be a massive lead blocker for Kamara, Murray, and Montgomery.
Kamara is an unquestioned focal point of the New Orleans offense. Some were surprised that Murray wasn't among the offseason releases to create salary-cap space. With the re-signing of Montgomery, the team could still release Murray after June 1 if they have confidence in Jones or Scott to provide depth.
Moving on from Murray would create over $3.1 million in cap space and elevate Montgomery to the backup role behind Kamara. Expect a fierce battle between Jones, Scott, and veteran Washington for the final roster spots at the position.
Going into the 2020 season without Drew Brees, the Saints will rely on the elite versatility of Kamara. For the offense to remain successful, they'll also need rushing and receiving contributions from their complementary backs.
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