Saints Running Backs have depth; Who's behind Kamara and Murray?

The New Orleans Saints go into 2020 with a pair of dangerous playmakers at running back and the young talented ones to watch.
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The New Orleans Saints averaged 108.6 yards rushing per game in 2019, ranking 16th in the league. That was down from 2018, when a 7th ranked rushing attack averaged 126.5 yards per contest. One reason was the free agent defection of running back Mark Ingram in free agency and his replacement Latavius Murray taking a few games to get integrated into the offense. Various injuries also hobbled Pro Bowl back Alvin Kamara throughout the season last year. Kamara enters the 2020 season in the last year of his contract, and amid speculation that he could hold out if they do not reach a new deal before training camp.

Despite the contract situation with their star back, the Saints had very little offseason activity at the position outside of re-signing backup Dwayne Washington. Let’s have a look at the team’s depth chart at running back now that the NFL draft has concluded.

Nov 24, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Carolina Panthers in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 24, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Carolina Panthers in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACKS

  • Alvin Kamara
  • Latavius Murray
  • Dwayne Washington
  • Tony Jones Jr.* (Rookie)
  • Taquan Mizzell
  • Michael Burton (Fullback)
  • Ricky Ortiz (Fullback)

Alvin Kamara led the Saints in rushing for the second straight year, picking up 797 yards on the ground and rushing for five touchdowns despite missing three games and being hobbled in others. Kamara is one of the league’s top receiving threats at running back, finishing second on the team in receptions, catching 81 passes for the third consecutive season. He finished with just 533 receiving yards though, down from 709 in 2018 and 826 in 2017. Kamara also scored just six total touchdowns in 2019, far down from his 18 scores in 2018 and 14 scores as a rookie. Injuries to his knee and ankle were obviously a factor in the slightly lower production, but defenses also gear their game plans to contain the gamebreaking running back. The 24-Yr old Kamara remains one of the NFL’s most dangerous dual threats.

Oct 27, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray (28) runs against the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 27, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray (28) runs against the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints signed Latavius Murray to replace Ingram, and he rushed for 637 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2019 while catching 34 passes for 235 yards and another score. Murray is a bigger back who runs well between the tackles and has underrated speed in the open field, but was underused by the Saints, especially early in the season. He had back-to-back 100-Yd rushing games when Kamara was sidelined and played well down the stretch of the year. The 30-Yr old Murray should be used more extensively in the offense in 2020.

New Orleans re-signed 26-Yr old backup Dwayne Washington during the offseason. Washington has rushed for 214 yards in limited action during his two years with the Saints but is one team’s top special teams contributors. Backup quarterback Taysom Hill had the third most rushing yards on the team, picking up 156 yards and scoring once. They use Hill all around the offensive formation and he is one of the offense’s top rushing options in short yardage situations.

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Undrafted rookie Tony Jones Jr. from Notre Dame could push for Washington’s roster spot. Jones is a power runner that needs to improve his receiving skills, but is an excellent pass blocker who could improve the team’s struggles in short yardage situations from last season. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Khiry Robinson who went from undrafted rookies to key offensive contributors. Ricky Ortiz and Michael Burton will compete for the fullback spot vacated by the retirement of Zach Line. The Saints use their fullback not only as lead blockers but also as receivers in short yardage and near the goal line.

New Orleans Saints RB Tony Jones, Jr.

The Saints have one of the league’s better running back combinations in Kamara and Murray. Kamara’s contract status bears watching, but when healthy he’s a nightmare for opposing defenses. Murray will play a bigger role in the offense this season and offers a bruising change of pace to the slashing Kamara. Both backs are also a major factor in the passing game, making the New Orleans offensive attack dangerously diverse to opponents.