Fantasy Impact: Latavius Murray to the Saints
The running back market just got a bit more interesting, as the Saints have signed former-Vikings running back Latavius Murray to a four-year deal worth $14.4 million. This move indicates that they’ve moved on from long-time starter Mark Ingram.
STEPPING UP WHEN CALLED UPON
Some may say that Murray is a boring fantasy asset, but he’s delivered in two tough situations. Going back to his days with the Raiders, the former sixth-round pick was pushed into the starting job after Darren McFadden could stay in one piece. Murray finished as the RB10 in 2015 and then the RB13 in 2016 despite missing two games. Some have labeled him as a two-down back, but his 74 receptions during his two years as the Raiders starter would disagree.
Once he went to the Vikings behind Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon, most fantasy owners wrote him off as someone who wouldn’t make a fantasy impact again. Well, a Cook injury changed his fate, as he moved up to second on the depth chart and ultimately stole the starting job from McKinnon. Despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football, Murray managed to rack up 1,420 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons with the Vikings. When given the opportunity, he’s proven very capable.
So, what happens when you take someone who’s produced in every role he’s had and place him into the Saints offense? Money. In each of the last five years, the Saints backfield has produced at least 14 rushing touchdowns, including at least 20 of them in each of the last two seasons. During that time, they’ve also not dipped below 358 carries, which bodes well for Murray, as Alvin Kamara isn’t someone the Saints want to give 200-plus carries to. Despite Mark Ingram missing the first four games to suspension, Kamara tallied just 194 carries in 2018.
Even with Kamara on the roster the last two years, Ingram averaged 13.1 carries per game, which would amount to 210 carries in a full 16-game season. Do you know how many running backs have tallied at least 200 carries and failed to finish as a top-26 running back over the last five years? Three of them. Of the 83 running backs who’ve totaled at least 200 carries in that time, only three failed to crack the top-26 running backs. That’s not even including any receptions, either, something Murray will see in the Saints offense, as Brees has targeted his running backs an average of 157 times over the last six years.
OFFENSE AND OFFENSIVE LINE UPGRADE
While Murray may not have destroyed yards per carry markers while with the Vikings, they had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Moving on to the Saints is a different story, as they have one of (if not) the best line in football. Over the last two years, the combination of Ingram and Kamara have combined to average 4.85 yards per carry. Sean Payton’s offensive scheme allows running backs to flourish and that’s been apparent long before Kamara and Ingram were around. Do you remember that year Tim Hightower literally came off his couch to play for the Saints and won fantasy titles? It’s not just yards, either, as the Saints offense produces points, consistently. Here are their finishes by year: 2018 – 3rd, 2017 – 4th, 2016 – 2nd, 2015 – 6th. In my article How Much Does Team Scoring Matter, it highlights that 75 percent of top-six fantasy running backs come from top-12 scoring offenses. While Kamara is going to be the lead dog, Ingram was able to finish as the No. 6 running back in 2017 and was then the No. 32 running back in 2018 despite missing four full games.
This is a massive opportunity for Murray and fantasy owners, as he’s likely to be undervalued in his new offense. While there is likely language in the contract that won’t have him around for four years, this was a massive commitment for the Saints, who are in win-now mode as Drew Brees nears the end of his Hall of Fame career. Signing Murray on the second day of the legal tampering period highlights just how much they felt he could help their offense. He’s not going to win fantasy championships on his own while Alvin Kamara is on the field, but he can certainly flirt with low-end RB2 production while taking over Mark Ingram‘s role in the offense. Prior to him signing with the Saints, his ADP was at RB46. This will certainly raise his ADP and if it’s anything lower than the RB25, you should consider him a great value at that price. My early 2019 projection: 202 carries, 885 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns, 30 targets, 22 receptions, 168 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns
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