Make no mistake: The New Orleans Saints’ backfield belongs to Alvin Kamara. But just because Kamara will be dominating the touches and receptions out of the backfield does not mean that this dynamic offense can’t produce two fantasy football assets. Since Sean Payton’s inaugural 2006 season with the Saints he has put an emphasis on utilizing multiple running backs in his dynamic offensive attack—Deuce McCallister/Reggie Bush, Reggie Bush/Pierre Thomas/Mike Bell, Ingram/Thomas/Darren Sproles, etc. Kamara is a no brainer top 5 selection in any type of fantasy league for the 2019 season, but his former backfield mate, Mark Ingram, is now out of the picture; clearing a path to stand alone fantasy value for the newcomer, Latavius Murray.
Before departing, Ingram racked up these numbers for the 2017 and 2018 seasons:
2017 – 230 att, 1124 yd, 4.89 ypc, 12 TD, 70.3 yd p/g, 14.4 att p/g.
2018 – 138 att, 645 yd, 4.67 ypc, 6 TD, 53.8 yd p/g, 11.5 att p/g
2017 – 71 tgt, 58 rec, 416 yd, 7.2 yd/rec, 0 TD, 26 yd/gm, 3.6 rec/gm
2018 – 27 tgt, 21 rec, 170 yd, 8.1 yd/rec, 1 TD, 14 yd/gm, 1.8 rec/gm
It is important to remember that Ingram was also suspended for the first four weeks of 2018 for PEDs, resulting in a reduced stat line. His prorated 2018 numbers were 184 attempts for 860 yards, 8 Touchdowns, 36 targets, 28 receptions, 227 yards and 1 Touchdown, giving him 1,087 total yards and 9 total Touchdowns—good for Running back 20 overall in standard scoring leagues (Ingram finished as Running Back 6 overall in standard scoring for 2017.
Enter Latavius Murray.
It is safe to assume most—if not all—of the touches (11.5 carries and 2.3 receptions per game) left up for grabs from Ingram’s departure will go to Murray. While roughly 14 touches per game isn’t anything to write home about in a normal offense, the Saints offense is no normal offense. Albeit, this is not the New Orleans offense of 5 years ago, but New Orleans still finished 6th in rushing yards and rushing yards per game, 12th in passing yards and passing yards per game, 8th in total yards, and 3rd in points and points per game. A player expected receive roughly 14 touches per game in this offense is, at worst, a viable flex consideration in standard leagues.
However, Latavius Murray has been the epitome of mediocrity his first 5 years in the league with a career 4.1 yards per carry on 899 totes. But, in his defense, 3 of his 5 seasons have been with the dreadful Oakland Raiders. Murray’s yards per carry did not improve in his 2-year stint in Minnesota filling in for the injured Dalvin Cook, but he did post respectable numbers. The department where Murray does excel is in touchdowns. Murray has never had fewer than 6 rushing touchdowns outside of his 2014 rookie campaign. This bodes well for him in his new home as the Saints rushed for a league leading TWENTY-SIX touchdowns in 2019. Murray is a safe bet to once again eclipse 6 rushing touchdowns and make a strong push for double digit TDs.
Even with Murray’s prior mediocrity, in all likelihood he will improve his efficiency numbers in New Orleans. According to Pro Football Focus, the New Orleans Saints Offensive Line ranked 8th in run blocking while the Vikings, his former squad, finished ranked 29th. While the Saints lost Center Max Unger to a surprise retirement, they have viable replacement options in Nick Easton (a former teammate of Murray’s in Minnesota), Cameron Tom, and second round draft pick Erik McCoy from Texas A&M. From the rumblings out so far from Saints OTAs and Mini-Camp, McCoy has received rave reviews and I expect him to get the starting nod at center when it is all said and done. Based on offensive line quality alone Murray should improve his yards per carry.
Latavius Murray has also never played with a quarterback like the future first ballot Hall of Famer Drew Brees. No disrespect to Kirk Cousins, but he is not in the same area code of commanding respect and attention as Drew Brees. The mere presence of Brees under center, along with the innovative play calling of Sean Payton, constantly have defenses on their toes and unable to key on any particular player. These are obvious upgrades from Murray’s previous teams in Minnesota and Oakland and, as a result, should pay dividends from a fantasy and efficiency perspective.
I saved the best for last on Murray: his current average draft position (ADP) is sitting at 92 in standard leagues. You read that right: overall ADP of 92 and 39th running back selected. This is absolute madness and a steal getting a player with the potential to reach double digit touchdowns and crack 1,000 total yards at pick 92 overall. To put this into perspective, Mark Ingram had an ADP of a whopping 45 spots ahead of Murray’s current position last year even with his 4-game suspension. Murray is being seriously undervalued early in the fantasy offseason and owners need to take advantage of his shockingly low ADP. I would feel comfortable drafting Murray at least 25 spots ahead of his current ADP and would be confident with him as a flex option in 2019.
If Murray is available in round 7 of your draft and you need a running back do not hesitate to pull the trigger. Murray’s floor (barring an injury) is around the 600 total yards and 6 TD mark while his ceiling is Mark Ingram’s 2017 numbers. While Murray would see a significant uptick in value if Kamara were to get injured, I do not foresee the Saints using Murray as a true workhorse due to his limitations in the receiving department. However, he would certainly be in the RB1 mix. View Murray as a standalone flex with weekly RB2 upside.