The 2020 New Orleans Saints offense finished fifth in the league in scoring and 12th in total yardage.
It was a bit below the normal offensive production we've been accustomed to in the fifteen years Sean Payton has been the head coach.
New Orleans finished 19th in passing yardage, their lowest output in Payton's tenure on the sideline with the team.
Injuries throughout the receiving corps, including a severe ankle injury to All-Pro WR Michael Thomas, along with a decline by QB Drew Brees contributed to the struggles.
New Orleans was still able to have an effective offense thanks to an outstanding running game. New Orleans ranked sixth in the league with 2,265 rushing yards, highest total since 1983, and led the NFL with a franchise-record 30 touchdowns on the ground.
The Saints report to their 2021 training camp in just one week. Despite major personnel changes at several positions, their running back room remains largely unchanged.
The Saints have perhaps the deepest group of running backs in the NFL, led by the league's best offensive weapon.
SAINTS RUNNING BACK DEPTH CHART
- Alvin Kamara
- Latavius Murray
- Ty Montgomery
- Alex Armah (FB)
- Dwayne Washington
- Tony Jones, Jr.
- Stevie Scott III
Twenty-six-year-old RB Alvin Kamara is coming off the best season of his spectacular four-year career.
He led the team in rushing with a career-high 932 yards, averaging five yards per carry and rushing for a franchise record 16 touchdowns.
Kamara also led the team with 756 receiving yards and a career-high 83 receptions. He led the NFL with 21 total touchdowns, also setting a new franchise mark. His six rushing touchdowns during a Christmas Day rout of the Vikings tied a 91-year-old NFL record, as he rushed for a career-best 155 yards.
A human cheat code for Sean Payton's offense, Kamara is a lethal weapon anywhere along the offensive formation.
Kamara's proven that he can pick up tough yards between the tackles, runs routes like a wide receiver, and has elite vision and balance with the ball in his hands.
Capable of shouldering the offensive load, Kamara remained effective even with extra defensive attention because of injuries to the receiving corps.
The 31-year-old Murray could be a featured back for several teams. Providing a terrific 1-2 punch with Kamara, Murray rushed for 656 yards and scored five touchdowns in 2020.
Murray ran for 124 yards in a mid-season win at Denver, the second highest rushing output for the team last season.
A power runner at 6’3” and 230-Lbs., Murray has an underrated burst into the open field and is a capable receiver out of the backfield.
When Kamara was slowed by injuries in 2019, Murray proved up to the challenge of the team’s top back. He is arguably the NFL's best Number 2 running back.
New Orleans brought the 28-year-old Montgomery in as a free-agent last season to bolster depth.
A wide receiver early in his career, Montgomery converted to running back and brings terrific versatility to the team's offense. He saw little offensive action early last year and missed six games with a hamstring injury.
Kamara and Murray were sidelined during the regular season finale at Carolina because of COVID-19 protocols. Montgomery stepped in and rushed for 105 yards in the victory.
Montgomery, six-feet tall and 216-Lbs., runs with decent power and can pull away from defenders in the open field. He’s also an accomplished receiver and gives the team a solid fallback option to Murray and Kamara.
THE NEW FACE
The Saints use the fullback position more than most teams. When FB Michael Burton departed in free agency, the Saints responded by poaching a division rival for his replacement.
Twenty-seven-year-old Alex Armah was signed as a free-agent away from the Carolina Panthers. Entering his fifth season, Armah has just 29 career touches for 64 yards, but has scored four touchdowns.
A huge lead back at 6’2” and 255-Lbs., Armah's primary responsibility will be as lead blocker for the dynamic duo of Kamara/Murray. He must also show that he can be a reliable short yardage option as either a runner or receiver.
ON THE BUBBLE?
Reserve RB Dwayne Washington has been with the Saints for three seasons. One of the team’s best special teams players, Washington has been used little in the offensive attack.
Washington, 27, has just 43 carries for 229 yards with New Orleans. One of those was a 108-yard outing in the 2018 season finale against Carolina.
Washington runs with outstanding effort, but adds little explosiveness to the offense. He’s a valuable member of the special teams unit, but his roster spot could be in jeopardy from one of two promising young backs.
WATCH OUT FOR:
The Saints have had tremendous success with undrafted running backs during Sean Payton's tenure. Pierre Thomas is one of the most popular players in team history. Other unheralded backs like Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson, and Travaris Cadet also made important contributions to the team.
Second-year RB Tony Jones Jr. made the team as an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame last year. He saw just three carries for 13 yards during the season finale before leaving with injury, but impressed coaches with his running ability in practice.
The 5'11" and 224-Lb. Jones runs with good vision and power between the tackles. He’ll have to prove himself as a receiver, but has a shot to provide efficient depth.
Undrafted rookie RB Stevie Scott III from Indiana was also added this spring. The 6’0” 225-Lb. Scott runs with tremendous power and has shows excellent instincts between the tackles.
Scott doesn't have breakaway speed and isn't a great receiver, but has a nice feel for pass blocking responsibilities. He’s a powerful finisher and is a load for defenders in short yardage and goal-line situations.
Sean Payton has never hesitated to keep an undrafted back over an established veteran.
Washington has an edge to keep his roster spot because of his special teams contributions. If either Scott or Jones show that they can excel on special teams and provide an offensive upgrade, his job could be up for grabs.
Taysom Hill has also been a major factor in the running game over the last three seasons. Locked in a battle with Jameis Winston for the starting quarterback job vacated by the retired Brees, Hill figures to still be a big part of the offense regardless of where he lines up.
No matter who wins the quarterback competition, Alvin Kamara will continue to be a major part of the offense, with Murray playing a crucial complementary role.
The Saints will always feature a diverse passing attack as long as Payton is in charge. For the next quarterback to have optimal success, the New Orleans running backs must come up big again in 2021.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook and on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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