The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Mark Wimer
Murray was a productive dual-threat back in his rookie season (82/424/2 rushing with 17/143/0 receiving), improved in almost every statistical category in his second season, with a gaudy 307 touches on the football for 1,298 combined yards (266/1,066/6 rushing and 41/232/0 receiving) and six rushing touchdowns scored during 2015, and the Raiders' offense is an ascending unit with an improving offensive line. Footballguys' offensive line guru Matt Bitonti grades the Oakland offensive line as an A- run blocking unit entering training camps/preseason. Murray has lost one fumble over two NFL seasons, indicating he has good ball security, a valued trait in NFL circles. Given everything that is going right in Oakland (an improving offensive line; a strong passing game that is maturing along with Derek Carr, limiting the ability of opposing defenses to 'stack the line'), Murray should post even better numbers this year, good enough to be a mid-range fantasy running back1.
While it is true that Murray has only three 100+ yards-rushing performances over his career to date (one during 2014, two during 2015), limiting his upside in yardage-bonus leagues, Murray posted over 80 yards combined eight times last season, and averaged 2.56 receptions per game for a nice pop of PPR points in that scoring paradigm (he had three or more receptions in eight games out of 16, with a high-water mark of 7 receptions for 36 yards back in Week One against Cincinnati). Also, don't forget that Murray was second in the AFC in rushing yards with his 1,066 yards rushing, just four yards behind AFC leader Chris Ivory (247/1,070/7 rushing for Ivory last year in his final season as a Jet). Only seven NFL players went over 1,000 yards rushing last season for their squads, out of the 32 teams in play.
Regarding the perception that Murray wore down at the end of last season, I don't agree with that assessment as he had 97 yards combined Week 13 against Kansas City (20/86/1 rushing with six targets for 4/11/0 receiving); 80 yards combined during Week 15 against Green Bay (21/78/0 rushing with two targets for 1/2/0 receiving) and 117 yards combined during Week 16 against San Diego (19/79/1 rushing with five targets for 5/38/0 receiving). Yes, there was a stinker against Denver's awesome D Week 14 (16/27/0 rushing with one target for zero receptions), but we are talking about the top-ranked overall defense in the NFL during 2015 that was also third-best in the league against opposing rushers (allowing an average of 83.6 yards rushing per game).
During the NFL Draft, the Raiders didn't address the offensive side of the football until round four, when they selected former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook as a developmental prospect behind Derek Carr, and the team waited until round five to select a running back - DeAndre Washington from Texas Tech - obviously, the team didn't feel that running back was a burning need entering 2016. According to NFL.com's Mark Dulgerian 'The Raiders needed running back depth and Washington provides that with his 3rd down abilities. He won't give you much between the tackles but he'll flash as a 'space' player. Washington can also help as a returner.' That sounds like a rookie ticketed for mostly special-teams duty during 2016, as Washington gets up to speed at the NFL level.
Murray is a player who has improved year-on-year; he plays for one of the more exciting and dynamic offensive teams in the NFL; and his offensive line has improved entering 2016 as well (the addition of LG Kelechi Osemele is a bonus for the running game). He should continue to ramp up his real-world and fantasy performances during 2016, and will reward his fantasy owners with solid, starting-running-back #1, numbers.
Low Side by Matt Waldman
Murray is an example of what can go wrong with David Johnson's prospects. Read Oakland's remarks about Murray and it's clear that the team is trying to balance two things: showing confidence in Murray developing into a better back while also taking action to find him help, if not an eventual replacement. Teams don't have confidence in a back when the head coach declares that he wants to give a 230-pound back with great speed a lighter workload after touching the ball 307 times.
A 300-touch season is a healthy expectation for a back when a team believes in him. But Murray hasn't fully developed his game and his lack of patience at the line of scrimmage is easy to spot. First down is one of the most important downs for running the ball. When a starting running back like Murray gains 3.5 yards per carry in these situations and this accounts or 50 percent of his attempts, it's not a good sign.
Adrian Peterson's first-down average? 4.4. Ameer Abdullah? 4.3. Devonta Freeman? 4.0. Frank Gore and the Colts' lackluster line? 4.1 yards per carry on first downs despite averaging 3.7 yards per carry overall.
When the offense is in the position to dictate on even terms with the defense, Murray underwhelms. The Raiders' GM says its fifth-round pick, DeAndre Washington is an every-down talent, It's a sign that Murray isn't the guy and eventually may not be a guy on the Raiders' roster if Washington proves he can be the man before Murray's contract expires.
My low ranking of Murray is rooted in my belief that at some point before December, Washington will overtake the veteran runner for the starting gig. So far, Washington has earned first-team reps in OTAs and is in a good position to compete for more time in training camp. While not a lock, there's a possibility that Washington renders Murray useless as a fantasy player. Even if Murray retains an active role, expect a reduced one that makes him significantly less valued than his current ADP.