The New Orleans Saints came within an incompetent official's no-call last season from reaching the Super Bowl. The Saints have been one of the NFL's elite teams over the last two seasons, each of which has ended in rage and heartbreak for the franchise and their faithful following. 2019 training camp is now just weeks away, and it's back to the drawing board for all 32 teams. Today, we have a look at one of the Saints most dynamic units, but one that will face a big question as the players don the pads and head toward the regular season.
Latavius Murray, Javorius Allen
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One of the faces of the offense, running back Mark Ingram, departed over the offseason as a free agent to the Baltimore Ravens. Ingram, who had been with the team since 2011, departs as the franchise's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and just 89 yards shy of surpassing Deuce McAllister as the Saints all-time rushing yardage leader. While his contributions on the field and as a locker room leader will be missed, Ingram's role in the offense had been reduced, thanks to the continued improvement of one of the most versatile weapons in the NFL.
Alvin Kamara won the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 on the strength of 81 catches, 1,901 all-purpose yards, and 14 total touchdowns. Kamara answered the only remaining question about him in 2018, when he showed that he could take on the role of a featured back while Ingram served a four game league suspension to start the year. The former 3rd round pick proved that he could take on the added rushing attempts while still being effective as an all-purpose threat, and without wearing down late in games. Although Ingram would still get his touches upon his return, the mantle of top running back had been passed. Kamara would lead the Saints in rushing with a career high 883 yards, and would break George Rogers' 37-yr. old franchise record with 14 rushing touchdowns, which would be second best in the league. Although his receiving yardage was down just a bit from his rookie year, Kamara still caught 81 passes for 709 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 18 offensive scores were also the second highest total in the NFL, and tied a 29 year old franchise mark set by Dalton Hilliard. Kamara remains one of the league's most feared players, a threat that can beat defenses in a number of ways. He is most effective though, when the Saints can move him around their offensive formation to take advantage of his versatility and athleticism. One of the ways Ingram was so valuable to this offense were his abilities out of the backfield, offering not only a change of pace but giving New Orleans the NFL's best running back duo.
Once the Saints determined that they may have trouble re-signing Ingram, they inked former Vikings back Latavius Murray to a four year deal. The 29-yr. old Murray, a former 1,000 yard back with the Oakland Raiders, is the same age as the departed Ingram with similar production over the last four seasons. He has run for 3,698 yards and 34 scores in his five year career, and has shown the ability to pick up yards consistently between the tackles as well as being a breakaway threat in the open field. Though not often used in that capacity with Minnesota, Murray is an underrated receiver out of backfield who should provide a solid check down option for quarterback Drew Brees.
Dwayne Washington rushed for 154 yards in limited action with New Orleans last year, including a 108-yd. performance on 11 carries in the season finale against Carolina. The 25 year old Washington, acquired on waivers after two years with the Detroit Lions, is a tough runner between the tackles but offers little as a receiver. He will be severely pushed in preseason by not only another veteran newcomer, but perhaps by an an undrafted rookie.
Devine Ozigbo was an extremely productive and versatile running back his senior season at Nebraska, but still surprisingly went undrafted. He rushed for 1,082 and 12 touchdowns his final year with the Cornhuskers, after sharing backfield time his first three seasons. Playing in an offense that didn't often use backs in the passing game, Ozigbo has exhibited good natural receiving ability. His rugged running style with a good open field burst is very reminiscent to Ingram's style, traits that may be difficult for Saints coaches to overlook when making roster decisions.
Javorius "Buck" Allen joined the Saints this offseason as a free agent after four years with the Baltimore Ravens. Often used as a receiving threat or change of pace, the 27-yr. old Allen had 126 receptions for 799 yards and six scores in 2015, '17, and '18. He has also shown the ability to be an effective runner, picking up over 500 yards on the ground in both 2015 and 2017. The 6'0 218-lb. Allen is also a standout special teams contributor, a spot where Washington and Ozigbo may have to shine to overtake him in the battle for the third running back job.
The New Orleans Saints had the fifth most rushing attempts in the league last year, and have led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Third string quarterback Taysom Hill gave a bigger jolt to the running game last year with 196 yards and two scores. Hill's athleticism and strength between the tackles gives an added dimension to the offense, and keeps opposing defenses on their heels. Allen, Ozigbo, and Washington are expected to wage a heated battle for the third back job, while the fullback spot is in the very capable hands of Zach Line. Murray will be expected to provide a solid compliment, and the Saints certainly hope that he can step up to provide the same type of production they got from Ingram. The success of the running game will be built around Kamara though, who seems poised to break 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving. It's a lofty feat that has been accomplished only twice before, by the 49ers Roger Craig in 1985 and the Rams Marshall Faulk in 1999, and would put the Saints young star into history.
Who will win the number three running back spot for the Saints?
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