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A Quick Look at Mark Ingram’s “Replacement” (Latavius Murray) and Other Saints RB Options in Next Month’s 2019 NFL Draft

A short while ago, word came down that the New Orleans Saints have signed former Minnesota Vikings RB Latavius Murray to a 4-year contract for $14.4 million dollars — signaling the end of the “Mark Ingram Era” in New Orleans.

A handful of other NFL teams that includes the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens (who are thought to be the leading suitors for Ingram’s services) reportedly had been interested in signing the 29-year old former Heisman Trophy winner, All-American at the University of Alabama and 8th year veteran to a new deal; which is expected to far exceed the 4.5 million per season that the Saints were willing to pay him.

The Saints and Ingram both previously had said that they’d like to reach a new deal to keep Ingram in NOLA; but quite obviously he has accepted an offer to play elsewhere (it’s been rumored Ingram was seeking as much as $8 million per season) although no announcement has been made yet as to which team that is.

(Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com |The Times-Picayune)

Ingram leaves New Orleans as the team’s 2nd greatest RB of all-time, as he officially ends the Saints portion of his career with 6007 total rushing yards; which left him a mere 90 yards away (6.007) from breaking legendary Saints RB Deuce McAllister’s franchise record (6,096).

So — what happens next?

For Murray. it will mean sharing RB duties with Kamara, likely much in the very similar manner as Ingram did.

It’s hoped that Murray can capably replace Ingram and his production in their running game over the course of the past several seasons; although it’s previously been noted that Kamara could take on more of an expended role.

Murray, who like Ingram is also age 29, has been an effective power back with Minnesota when he’s actually been given the opportunity; so Saints head coach Sean Payton likely views Murray in that very same mold for the Black and Gold.

Photo courtesy of The Orlando Sun-Sentinel

Originally taken by the Oakland Raiders in the 2013 NFL Draft out of the University of Central Florida with the 181st overall pick in Round #6, Murray averaged over 100 yards rushing per game as a senior in 2012.

During his entire 4-year career in Orlando with the Golden Knights program, 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 Draft a few months later by Oakland, Murray appeared in 45 games (with 31 starts) during his time with the Raiders; as he carried the ball a total of 543 times for 2,278 yards and 20 TD’s,

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

After spending 3 seasons in Oakland, Murray signed with the Vikings in 2017 NFL Free Agency; where he has since spent the last two seasons battling both inconsistent production as well as a series of nagging injuries, and ultimately lost the Vikings #1 RB role to Dalvin Cook.

As a result: Minnesota deicided not to re-new his 3rd year team option, making him an unrestricted Free Agent.

That prompted Murray to tell ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin a few weeks ago that he wasn’t content to remain in Minnesota anyway, if he didn’t have a chance to start (which ironically he won’t be as long as Kamara stays healthy).

“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.

Last season Murray, the 6-foot-3, 230 pound “bruiser”, carried the ball 140 times for 578 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2018 with the Vikings. In his 6-year NFL career, Murray has carried the ball 899 times for 3,698 yards and 34 TD’s.

One thing for Who Dats to be encouraged by (and what possibly led to the Saints signing him) is the fact that Murray likely doesn’t have nearly as much “mileage” than Ingram, since he redshirted as a Freshman at UCF and spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve; and essentially has two years less of wear and tear on his body from the physical nature of the position that most NFL RB’s are forced to endure. 

However, that’s probably comparing apples to oranges at this point.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Torres, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

One thing that Saints fans should keep in mind, however: the Saints STILL could decide to target another brand new RB in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft later next month (April 25th thru the 27th) in Nashville, Tennessee.

At the moment (unless something changes between now and late April), the Saints don’t have a 1st, 3rd, or 4th-Round pick in this year’s Draft; because of the multiple different trades they made last year before and then during the 2018 Regular Season.

However, they will still have a total of 6 picks; and then of course, there’s always the possibility they could end up deciding to “wheel and deal” with other teams and try to gain an additional pick or two (like they did a few years ago when they traded up to draft Kamara).

Here are a few names that Saints brass could potentially target next month, if they decide to have some “insurance” by adding depth at the RB position, should Murray not “fit the bill” so to speak.

Starting first with a player who may or may not be available when the Saints make their initial pick at #62 overall in Round #2….

 

DAVID MONTGOMERY, IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A first-team All-American in 2017 and then once again last season, the 5-foot-11, 216 pound Montgomery piled up 2,925 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns in his 3 seasons for the rebuilding Cyclones program at Iowa State.

He led the country in broken tackles both as a sophomore and junior, despite running behind an O-Line comprised of mostly underclassmen (freshmen and sophomores).

Montgomery is considered the #1 “power” RB in this year’s 2019 Draft Class, and The Draft Network’s Senior Draft Analyst Brad Kelly says that even though he doesn’t possess breakaway speed, Montgomery is a player that can literally run over smaller defenders; and his sturdy, stout NFL-ready build should make him a “workhorse” / #1 starting RB for the majority of his future NFL career.

 

DEVIN SINGLETARY, FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Once thought to be a potential 1st Round pick, Singletary didn’t run “as fast” (only 4.66 seconds) in the 40-yard dash yesterday at the Combine as some had previously believed that he would; and now there’s a very distinct possibility that one of the more talented backs in the draft class could still be available now when the Saints make their first pick at #62 overall in Round 2.

However, 40-yard dash times are often overlooked if a player can make plays in games; and nobody makes them quite the way Singletary can, although there may be some questions as to if he can continue doing so at the next level. But clearly he has the natural and God-given talent to become a future NFL superstar; drawing comparisons to such players as LeSean McCoy and former Saints RB Reggie Bush.

The 5-foot-9, 200 pound Singletary was named FAU’s first ever consensus All-American during his junior season last year; and the 21-year old finished his 3-year career with the Owls program by gaining 4,299 rushing yards on 714 carries, and scoring a whopping 70 rushing touchdowns on the ground. Additionally, the diminutive but exciting young runner averaged just under 123 total yards from scrimmage in 3-year career, leaving FAU as best running back in program history.

USA TODAY DraftWire Lead Analyst Gavino Borquez says that Singletary is a tough runner, especially for his size, showing a willingness to deliver or take contact. He’s able to make some of the most slippery cuts in the open to make defenders miss (his 113 broken tackles in 2018 speaks for itself), and Borquez adds that while Singletary wasn’t used much as a receiver, he still has the ability to be a three-down back and offensive weapon in the NFL.

 

JUSTICE HILL, OKLAHOMA STATE

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Hill, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.40 seconds) for all RB’s at the Combine yesterday, has rocketed up Draft Boards after initially being considered a mid-round pick (where New Orleans currently has five out of their six total picks in Rounds 5 thru 7).

The 5-foot-10, 200 pound Hill played immediately his first year (2016) at Oklahoma State; starting in 10 of 13 games played, which allowed him to become the nation’s leading freshman rusher, a Freshman All-American selection, and the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (1,142 yards and 6 TD’s on 206 carries (5.5 yards per carry) that season). In his 3 year career for the Cowboys program, Hill rushed for 3,539 yards on 632 carries with 30 rushing TD’s. 

Hill has drawn comparisons to former Chiefs star and current Browns RB Kareem Hunt; and The Draft Network Analyst Kyle Crabbs says that the youngster projects as a potential feature rusher at the NFL level. Hill illustrates high end lateral quickness and cut ability, plus a diverse attack in the open field to put defenders in a bind.

Hill will still have to further develop his skill-set at the next level; and scouts have noted that he’ll likely have to somewhat alter his “style” of running against much tougher NFL run defense schemes; although Crabbs makes the observation that teams featuring a lot of inside/outside zone concepts would feature him most effectively.

 

BRYCE LOVE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY 

(Photo by Getty Images)

Love is a name that some Saints fans might recognize, as the former Stanford University lead #1 starting RB was once considered a front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy a few years ago, but eventually faded out of the picture mainly due to injuries.

The 5-foot-9, 195 pound 2017 Heisman Trophy finalist leaves the Cardinal football program as one of the most statistically productive backs in school history; as he ran for 3,855 career rushing yards (6.8 yards per carry) and a career total of 30 rushing touchdowns. But after the 22-year old was named college football’s best running back with the 2017 Doak Walker Award, he only gained 739 yards on 166 carries, scoring only 6 times. He also missed the Sun Bowl after an ACL tear in late November.

While his production with Stanford was indisputable, his health concerns have scared some NFL teams away. Running backs obviously take a physical pounding at the NFL level, meaning that potential prospects need to exhibit durability, and Love’s durability remains a question (he didn’t run the 40-yard dash yesterday as his knee has yet to fully heal).

There is no question that Love has what you’d consider NFL-quality attributes (such as elite vision, agility, and top-end speed to hurt defenses. The question simply becomes if he actually will or won’t. NFL Draft expert Benjamin Solak says that Love is an excellent linear runner with elite acceleration as well as top speed — but cautions that Love often will miss clear cutback lanes/bounce paths, and also runs a tad upright and not with overwhelming power — which may limit his deployment in NFL.

 

MYLES GASKIN, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times

Perhaps THE most underrated RB in this year’s 2019 NFL Draft Class, Gaskin finished with 1,268 rushing yards last season in 2018; which gave him the Pac-12 record after he recorded his 4th straight season of at least 1,200 yards on the ground. That’s a remarkable feat for a young man who over the course of 52 games with the Huskies program, tallied a grand total of 5,880 all-purpose yards with 63 touchdowns.

So why isn’t he much higher on this list? The 5-foot-9. 200 pound Gaskin is currently being projected as a 4th or 5th-round pick, mainly because of lingering questions about his size and durability in April’s draft. Whether those concerns are valid for a player that averaged 1,200 yards per season for 4 straight years, is yet to be determined at this point. 

NFL Draft analyst Chris Pflum of Big Blue View says that Gaskin has the ability to make defenders miss and can “create” running lanes on his own as a running back, as well as the ability to line up in the slot or out wide as a receiver. Pflum adds that while Gaskin doesn’t possess explosive athleticism or the ability to make “highlight reel” touchdowns, he is remarkably tough for defenders to bring down.

Remarkably, Gaskin’s attributes actually sound a bit like Ingram; which could prove to be ironic if the Saints decide to take a shot at selecting him if he’s still on the Board when the Saints make their two picks (#168 and #177 overall) in Round #5.

 

BENNY SNELL, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY 

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Last but certainly not the least is the young man who some observers are actually comparing the most to Ingram and his hard-nosed but effective “power” running style : University of Kentucky RB Benny Snell.

Snell won’t put up huge stats or break off 75-yard TD’s at the NFL level, but the 5-foot-11, 223 pounder definitely is more than capable of knifing his way through would-be tacklers and most likely will be bouncing off of defenders for a handful of solid-if-not-spectacular 5-to-7 yard gains on NFL Sundays in the Fall.

Snell, who just turned age 21, played a total of 3 seasons for the Wildcats football program, which last season finally got the fair amount of recognition for football as the school normally does for its perennial powerhouse basketball program; which of course has won 8 National Championships. Snell’s contributions played a large hand in that recognition; as he totaled 3,873 yards on 737 carries with 48 TD’s during the entire length of his career in Lexington.

The Draft Network Lead Analyst Jon Ledyard says that while Snell will never amount to much of a threat in the passing game, as a runner he is extremely physical runner with the ideal frame for running between the tackles; and that he will be able to handle a heavy workload and not wear down. The bigger concern Ledyard says is that Snell lacks the burst and acceleration to exploit small creases or holes in the line of scrimmage, which often times will allow defenders to slow him.

Bottom line: Snell (much like Ingram had done with the Saints) isn’t a guy that will put up huge numbers or become the flashiest of players (like Kamara) at the next level at the RB position; but can be successful because of his heart and toughness.

But now Ingram is gone, and the Saints will now make plans to embark on the “Latavius Murray Era” — but with a few other options for depth at the RB position just in case it doesn’t work out, within their reach….

 

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Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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