Going Deep: Latavius Murray a Worthy Handcuff

There is little question as to who will be the top option in the New Orleans Saints backfield in the 2019-2020 NFL season. Alvin Kamara is a supremely talented player, and at 23, the best is yet to come. The past two seasons showed that even with Kamara being a star, the other guy at running back can be more than just “fantasy relevant”. Mark Ingram is now a Baltimore Raven, and New Orleans seemed to find a more than capable replacement in Latavius Murray. There are several things to like when looking at Murray as a runner, and to me, even more to like with the situation he finds himself in.

 

1. Latavius Murray Vs. Mark Ingram Player Profiles

 

It is important to look at Murray replacing Ingram, and how he matches up to him, in terms of physical traits and ability. Murray is a bigger back with 522 fewer career touches. Here’s a comparison of the two players:

HT WT AGE Career Touches (Rush + Receptions)
Murray 6’3″ 230 29.5 1,027
Ingram 5’9″ 215 29.5 1,549

Both players run hard and are not afraid to create contact. With that style typically comes goal line opportunities, and Ingram saw his fair share of those during his timeshare with Kamara. With Murray being a full 6 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier, I would expect him to see just as many goal line opportunities as Ingram had. Murray is known to run with a “standing straight” approach, which is typically frowned upon. Despite running with this unconventional style, he has not fumbled as much as one would think. I think it is a fixable issue, and if the coaching staff in New Orleans can get him getting lower consistently, we may see him take it to another level of power and production. Here, we can see Murray’s ability to stiff-arm in the open field. He is a big strong back that could have also added more yards at the end of this run by lowering his shoulder and plowing ahead:

If he does a better job at getting lower, we could see more runs like this, where he lunges forward rather that getting stood up due to his form:

 

2. Latavius Murray Vs. Mark Ingram Production Analysis

 

For purposes of this article, I analyzed the entire career of Murray, and only the past two seasons for Ingram since Kamara forced a split backfield the past two years. The numbers were pretty close, which makes me believe New Orleans did a great job finding a replacement for Ingram. A numbers comparison for both players:

Rushing GP ATT/YR YDS/YR YPC AVG TD/YR FIRST DOWNS/YR
Murray 15.4 179.8 739.6 4.24 6.8 36.8
Ingram 14 184 884.5 4.8 9 42

 

Receiving GP REC/YR TGTS/YR YDS/YR YPR AVG TD
Murray 15.4 25.6 32.2 176.6 7.08 0
Ingram 14 39.5 49 293 7.65 0.5

The surprising stat that jumps out to me is that Murray is a more capable receiver than I initially thought. That was one of my concerns, because Ingram was utilized in the passing game some during his tenure. Looking at the numbers shows us that Ingram would appear to be the better runner. I do think that, overall, he is the better back of the two, but it is closer than I initially thought based on numbers.

To be fair to Murray, we have to look at the surrounding players in the situation he is coming from compared to where is now. One of the biggest things I take a look at is the success of the offense as a whole. New Orleans has been a top-4 offense four years in a row. New Orleans has one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in Drew Brees. New Orleans has a Super Bowl-winning head coach. New Orleans has one of the best wide receivers in all of football in Michael Thomas. This trend spells success for all parties involved, something that Murray hasn’t been used to in his career. Take a look at the teams Murray has played with during his five-year career:

Year QB HC W-L-T
2014 Derek Carr Dennis Allen/Tony Sparano 3-13
2015 Derek Carr Jack Del Rio 7-9
2016 Derek Carr Jack Del Rio 12-4
2017 Case Keenum Mike Zimmer 13-3
2018 Kirk Cousins Mike Zimmer 8-7-1

2016 and 2017 pop out as years where he played for a very good team, and to no coincidence, his numbers reflect that. In those two seasons, Murray averaged 10 rushing touchdowns and 230 touches per season. Wins and losses are a good predictor of how running backs will perform as teams with leads typically run the ball more to kill clock and rack up time of possession. New Orleans was fifth in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2018. New Orleans has led the NFL in rushing touchdowns two years in a row. Murray scores touchdowns when playing for a good team. Ingram scored touchdowns when playing the role Murray will be playing.

 

3. New Orleans Offensive Line Vs. Murray’s Offensive Lines

 

Outside of a runner’s talent, I would argue that the offensive line is the most important thing in regards to the success of a running back. New Orleans run-blocking line grades are fantastic, while Murray has never ran for a top ten line. The numbers are eye-popping and lead me to believe that we will see a major uptick in production from Murray. Offensive run block grades according to footballoutsiders.com:

Season New Orleans Murray
2014 2 28
2015 13 19
2016 1 11
2017 2 19
2018 2 23

New Orleans has strategically built a powerhouse run game, to go along with their aging hall of fame quarterback. The numbers show this with the combination of offensive line, rushing attempts, rushing success, and most importantly, success in the win column. Ingram (184), actually averaged more carries per season than Kamara (157), during their time together. Receptions saw Kamara (81) take the advantage on a per season basis over Ingram (39.5). I believe that Kamara can get more carries, but with him being a smaller back, I believe that New Orleans will continue to move forward with a similar game plan as in the past.

The case can be made for the other side of the argument as well. In all fairness, we can try to predict what New Orleans will do with the rushing attack, but at the end of the day that is all it is…a prediction. Maybe Kamara takes another leap forward as a workhouse back. Maybe Murray doesn’t fit well in the offensive scheme. My personal prediction is Murray will be close to what Ingram was for New Orleans. I believe the Saints want to control clock, keep Brees standing upright in his older age, and run for touchdowns just like they have proven they can the last two seasons.

All things considered, Latavius Murray finds himself in a dream scenario for a “backup” running back. I for one do not believe that he will be a backup, but more of a 1B to Kamara’s 1A. Playing for the most successful rushing attack of the last 2 seasons. A great line with a hall of fame quarterback. A home-field advantage up there with the best in the NFL. A winning culture can do amazing things for a player’s motivation, and allow him to reach heights that he never has on the field. As of this writing, Murray is being drafted with the 77th pick in fantasy football drafts. Looking at the names I am seeing around him at that spot, I would take him 10 times out of 10. He is one injury away from being a lead back in the best run offense in football. An expensive handcuff for sure, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when he is spiking pigskin on end zone logos double-digit times this season.

(Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire)

Mike McGraw

Mike McGraw lives for 3 things: his 4 kids, his 1 wife, and late draft steals. At 31 years old he has many regrets in his life...the biggest being when he drafted C.J. Spiller in the first round. Richmond, Virginia is home, but opponents heads are where I own real estate. I spend way too much time pondering fantasy sports on the toilet while my wife yells at me to come help with dinner.

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