It’s been nearly three months since the New Orleans Saints signed NFL veteran RB Latavius Murray to a four-year contract as a replacement for the team’s previous #1 RB Mark Ingram, who chose to leave New Orleans after eight seasons to sign with the Baltimore Ravens in 2019 NFL Free Agency.
However, there are still many long-time Saints fans who remain unconvinced that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Murray can effectively assume the role that Ingram held as the complementary RB to 3rd-year NFL superstar RB Alvin Kamara. In fairness, perhaps a bit of that apprehension stems from the fact that Ingram was also viewed as one of the Saints’ beloved players. His rather distinctive and vocal leadership, passion, desire, and unrelenting energy and effort made him an invaluable part of nearly every single aspect of the local culture and community.
Ingram departed New Orleans as the Saints’ second all-time leading rusher (6,007 yards) and career leader in rushing touchdowns (50). But for the past two seasons, he was also one-half of one of the NFL’s best RB tandems with Kamara, and the prevailing narrative among some Who Dat supporters is that Murray won’t be up to the task.
Introducing your newest Saint! ⚜️
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) March 13, 2019
The 29-year old Murray was considered to be a “late bloomer” – he only ran for 84 yards in his first two seasons with the Oakland Raiders after being signed in the 6th Round of the 2013 NFL Draft. However, since then he has blossomed into a running back who, if given the opportunity, is more than capable of becoming a 1,000-yard rusher on a yearly basis.
Clearly what’s being overlooked by some is the fact that Murray wasn’t signed by Saints management to be the “lead dog” or the team’s #1 RB. That role had essentially already been taken by Kamara prior to Murray’s arrival when Ingram missed the Saints’ first four games last season after being suspended for PED (performance enhancing drugs) use by League officials. Murray doesn’t need to be a 1,000-yard rusher for the Saints offense because that wasn’t the reason why he was signed in the first place.
Simply stated: Murray only needs to be effective with the carries and targets that he’s given in a game, and be a “good fit” within the team’s high-powered offensive scheme.
That’s a sentiment that was echoed by both head coach Sean Payton and 19th-year veteran QB Drew Brees last week after the team completed its opening week of OTA’s (organized team activities, a.k.a. off-season workouts and practices before the start of Training Camp in late July).
“Well, we had seen him (with) two different clubs,” Payton said. “First off, he has great football makeup. He’s smart. He has real good speed and he’s a downhill runner. I think he fits with what we’re trying to do.”
When asked by WWL-New Orleans TV sports anchor Doug Mouton about how Murray looked in practice last week alongside Kamara, Brees alluded to the nickname previously reserved for the legendary Saints RB duo of Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath, from the late 1970s.
“Thunder and Lightning,” Brees said in response. “Look around the league. You have that running back room that typically brings different skill-sets and you are able to mix and match. I think our offense is proven that we do a lot of things with two backs in the game.”
“It just gives us a lot of flexibility and gives a lot for the defense to have to worry about and game plan for. Again, we’re only three days into it, but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen with him as well.”
As it turns out, Murray has been impressing people ever since he stepped onto a football field.
Born in the Orlando suburb of Titusville, Florida, Murray and his family moved to the state of New York as a youth. There, he attended Onondaga Central High School in central New York state, approximately 75 miles west of Rochester. It was there where Murray excelled as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and track.
In football, Murray earned recognition as an All-League and All-Central New York selection in three consecutive seasons, which began with a “break out” performance as a sophomore during the 2006 season, when he tallied 1,609 rushing yards and a local-area leading 14 touchdowns.
He then followed that performance with an even more impressive junior season – which some considered to a phenomenal performance “for the ages” – as he was selected for 1st-team All-State honors after he rushed for a whopping 2,030 yards and 30 touchdowns (no, that’s not a misprint).
What is that noise in Grand Central Station in NY? It is the “Tay Train” of Latavius Murray pulling into the depot. Welcome home Latavius – he played at Onondaga High School in NY. @LataviusM #vikings pic.twitter.com/PHRGJs3Qkl
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) October 19, 2018
As a high school senior, Murray was named the 2008 Gatorade Football Player of the Year in New York state after yet another remarkable season in which he ran for 2,194 yards with 28 touchdowns on offense, while also tallying 78 tackles, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions on defense.
Suffice it to say, Murray was considered an elite recruit; although he could have attended any major college on the East Coast if he wanted, he ultimately chose to return to his native Orlando, Florida. He accepted a scholarship to play for the Golden Knights program at the University of Central Florida over scholarship offers from Boston College, Maryland, and Syracuse University, among others.
After missing his freshman college season due to a torn ACL in 2009, Murray rebounded nicely and split time in the backfield as a sophomore and junior while earning the team’s MVP honors in 2011. Murray then saved his best college season for last; as a senior in 2012, he averaged over 100 yards rushing per game.
During his four-year collegiate career with the Golden Knights, Murray put up a grand total of 2,424 rushing yards, 37 rushing touchdowns, 50 receptions, 524 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns.
After his selection in the 2013 NFL Draft a few months later by Oakland, Murray appeared in 45 games (with 31 starts) during his time with the Raiders. There, he carried the ball a total of 543 times for 2,278 yards and 20 touchdowns. But as it was noted: Murray only gained 84 total yards in his first two years in Oakland, landing on Injured Reserve as a rookie and then serving primarily as the 3rd string backup behind the starting Raiders RB tandem of veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew.
— AFL GODFATHER (@NFLMAVERICK) January 18, 2019
After spending the first three seasons of his professional career in Oakland, Murray signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 NFL Free Agency, where he has spent the last two seasons battling both inconsistency and somewhat underwhelming production, as well as a series of injuries that ultimately caused him to lose the Vikings #1 RB role to now-current starting Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook.
As a result, the Vikings decided not to renew his 3rd-year team option for the upcoming 2019 NFL season, making him an Unrestricted Free Agent, in spite of the fact that during the 2018 Season, Murray carried the ball 140 times for 578 yards and 6 touchdowns for the Vikings. That prompted Murray to tell ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin just a few weeks prior to his signing with the Saints that he wasn’t content to remain in Minnesota if he wasn’t given the chance to start with them.
“I want to start. I’m not content with being in a backup role, but I want to compete, and Dalvin knows that,” Murray told Cronin.
For those keeping track: in his six-year NFL career, Murray has carried the ball 899 times for 3,698 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 34 touchdowns.
Latavius Murray with the vicious stiff arm on his way to the end zone!pic.twitter.com/5xQcuRpalm
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 14, 2018
Nevertheless, Who Dats should be pleased with the fact that Murray doesn’t have nearly as much “wear and tear” to his body physically as Ingram, given that he has essentially played two fewer years because he was either inactive or primarily a backup. He hasn’t had to endure the physical nature of the position that most NFL RBs are forced to experience by this point in their NFL careers.
A little known but true fact: Murray has only missed three games in the past five years due to injury. By comparison, Ingram missed 22 games in his eight seasons in New Orleans due to injury or suspension.
Interesting note about new #Saints RB Latavius Murray…
He is actually just 28 days younger than Mark Ingram but because of a redshirt year in college at UCF & as an IR season as a rookie with the Raiders he has three fewer seasons & 422 fewer carries in the NFL.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) March 12, 2019
Payton and the Saints appear intent on utilizing Murray in much the same role that Ingram held and played so effectively. During their two seasons together in 2017 and 2018, Kamara averaged 15.4 touches per game while Ingram averaged 16.0 touches per game. Those numbers will likely tilt in favor of Kamara going forward, but that doesn’t mean that Murray’s role will be all that more diminished when compared to Ingram’s.
Obviously, Ingram will be missed as much for his leadership, toughness, undeniable passion, and likable personality off-the-field, as he will be on the field. That much is evident, and for anyone to try to deny it would be disingenuous. But it’s not too much of a stretch to think that Murray will go on during his time with the Black and Gold to become just as good as Ingram was – possibly even better. Both are RBs capable of doing great things, but what separates them are their notably different running styles.
Ingram is a classic “power” RB who can break tackles and literally run over defenders. For most Saints fans: think of former Dallas Cowboys RB and NFL Hall of Fame legend Emmitt Smith, who Ingram was compared to the most after he won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama following the 2008 Season.
Meanwhile, Murray, because of his height, is considered more of a finesse runner with an upright running style that allows him to run “downhill”. For you much older fans: think of the previously mentioned late Saints 1970s legend Chuck Muncie, or even 1980s Los Angeles Rams RB and Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson.
In any event, the bottom line is that Murray doesn’t have to be a 1,000 yard RB for the Saints during the next few years in New Orleans. That was never the Saints organization’s expectations for him, and unless (God forbid) Kamara were to get hurt or seriously injured, it won’t ever be.
Latavius Murray just needs to fill the role that Ingram left, and do it effectively; which, based on the initial reaction of both Sean Payton and Drew Brees, it seems will happen — and allow Who Dat fans everywhere to breathe much easier.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.