When free agency kicked off back in March, the Saints didn’t hesitate to let Mark Ingram walk and sign Latavius Murray. At this point in the offseason, the move seems to be an afterthought. With so much hype surrounding the new rookie class and the potential second-year breakouts, Murray is being underrated as a potential league-winning player.
Murray landed in the ideal spot for a free agent running back. Over the past two seasons, the Saints have quietly transitioned from a pass-heavy team to one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL. Drew Brees and Sean Payton both arrived in New Orleans in 2006. The table below shows the passing and rushing attempt averages over their first 11 seasons together, then the clear shift to the run over the past two.
|Years||Pass Attempts/Season||Rush Attempts/Season||Rush TDs/Season|
Not only have they become more or a run-heavy team, but they’ve been extremely successful on the ground, especially when it comes to finding the endzone. The 24.5 TDs/season is easily the best in the NFL over the past two seasons, with the Rams coming in second at 20 TDs/season on the ground.
There’s a combination of factors that have led to this running success. Drew Brees is a generational quarterback and having him under center commands opposing defenses to respect the pass. They also have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, which has paved the way for the league’s best one-two punch of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram over the past two seasons.
But as you probably already know, Ingram is gone to Baltimore and Murray is primed to take his place in the backfield.
The Ingram Void
Kamara will be the lead dog in the Saints backfield, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a workhorse. Even with Kamara’s impressive first two seasons, Mark Ingram always maintained a significant role. Below is a breakdown of how involved Ingram was in the Saints offense over the past two seasons, and what kind of fantasy success came of it.
|Year||Touches/Game||Fantasy Points/Game||Fantasy Points/game Finish|
The Saints aren’t going to fill the void left by Ingram by overworking Kamara. They signed Murray to a four-year, 14.4 million dollar contract in the opening hours of free agency. Clearly, they have a plan for him.
Latavius Murray’s Career (so far)
None of this really matters if Murray is just an average running back, but here’s the thing: Murray may be one of the most underrated athletes in the NFL.
Let’s start by comparing his athletic profile to Mark Ingram, the back he’s tasked with replacing in New Orleans. Murray wasn’t invited to the combine, so his numbers in the chart below were taken from his pro day at Central Florida.
Charts via mockdraftable.com
Murray’s measurables blow Ingram’s out of the water. He’s a scary combination of bigger, faster, and stronger. Perhaps most impressive is his 95th percentile 40 yard dash time of 4.38 seconds, especially given his size.
Of course, we all know that being a good athlete doesn’t always translate to success on the field. So how has Murray faired in his first six seasons in the NFL? Let’s take a brief look at his career, season by season.
Murray was a sixth-round draft pick out of Central Florida, not exactly the kind of draft capital you typically see translating into a contributor as a rookie. He struggled through foot and ankle injuries during camp and the Raiders placed him on season-ending IR before the start of the season.
Five years ago, Oakland was a very different team than they are today. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired after starting 0-4 and was replaced by interim coach Tony Sporano. Darren McFadden and what remained of Maurice Jones-Drew were the veteran backs Murray had to compete with. He ended up starting three games and accumulated 424 rushing yards, 143 receiving yards, and two TDs. He had an impressive 5.2 yards per carry, easily the best on the team.
Murray got his chance to be a workhorse back in 2015. He dominated carries for the team, toting the rock 266 times. The next highest ball carrier was quarterback Derek Carr with 33. He totaled 1,066 yards on the ground and added another 232 through the air. He also rushed for six TDs. He finished the season as the RB11 in Half PPR leagues.
The Raiders took a running-back-by-committee approach in 2016 with rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard supplementing Murray, who remained the lead back. He again led the Raiders with 788 rushing yards, 264 receiving yards, and career-high 12 rushing TDs. He finished as the fantasy RB13.
Murray left Oakland for Minnesota via free agency to theoretically be the Adrian Peterson replacement in 2017. He was in line to be the feature back before the Vikings selected Dalvin Cook in the second round of the NFL draft. Cook was given the starting job to start the season but went down with an ACL tear in Week 4. Murray started 11 games and rushed for 842 yards, added 103 yards in the air, and found the end zone eight times. He finished the season as the RB24.
In 2018 Dalvin Cook returned to the starting role but struggled with injuries again, allowing Murray to start six games. He rushed for 578 yards and six TDs behind one of the worst offensive lines in football and an offensive coordinator who was fired for not running the ball enough.
Murray has made some splashes through six NFL seasons. He’s shined at times and had a few chances to be a feature back. His career average of 4.1 yards per carry is on par with Le’Veon Bell (4.3) and Melvin Gordon (4.0). Since 2015, he’s averaged 8 TDs per season. His team situations in Oakland and Minnesota were less than ideal and far worse than the situation he finds himself in with the Saints.
Why He Could be a League Winner
While his ADP has been rising, he’s still a huge value in the 7th Round as the 33rd running back off the board. Just one year ago Mark Ingram was being drafted late in the 4th Round, even while facing a four-game suspension. Murray now steps into Ingram role of the offense as a better athlete with more gas left in the tank. He’s practically the same age as Ingram but with 522 fewer career touches.
Don’t view Murray as a handcuff. Remember, New Orleans produced two top-six fantasy running backs in 2017. He won’t get overwhelming volume in New Orleans, but he’ll likely see double-digit touches per game and have ample opportunity to find the end zone. He has double-digit touchdown potential, even with Alvin Kamara as the lead back. On the off chance that Kamara ever misses time to injury in 2019, Murray would immediately be viewed as a top fantasy running back.
I’m not forecasting an RB1 season for Murray, but I am saying that you shouldn’t ignore the fact that it’s within his range of outcomes. At worst he’ll be a running back on your roster that can be trusted to start as an RB2 or Flex every week and comes with RB1 upside. It’s extremely likely that he outperforms his ADP, and I expect to see him on a lot of #FootClanTitle fantasy teams in 2019.