Player Spotlight: DeMarco Murray

A detailed look at DeMarco Murray's prospects for the 2015 fantasy season.

Last season was a breakout season for former Dallas Cowboy-current Philadelphia Eagles running back DeMarco Murray.

He hit major milestones across the board, topping career highs for touchdowns (13), rushing yards (1,845) and games played in a season (16) and that landed him a five-year, $40 million contract (with $18 guaranteed).

The big question, is of course, can he do that again? He’s in a new system, without the offensive line which tore up defenses as they cleared the way for him and with a potentially shaky quarterback situation to boot.

Let’s a take look at last season and see what it really means for this one.

Offensive Lines

It’s hard to think that Murray won’t see a drop-off in production when he goes away from what Pro Football Focus listed as the No. 1 offensive line in the NFL last season.

But in reality, the drop-off isn’t far. PFF graded the Eagles as the second best line in the NFL last season and while we can debate the methods people grade offensive lines with and the difficulty in doing so, it’s impressive. Especially given the injury issues they had early on in the season.

Despite the injuries, the Eagles graded out positively on run plays in every case but two (for players with more than 200 snaps)– Todd Herremans, who ended up injured and Dennis Kelly, who barely played.

If healthy, this offensive line is exceptional, and played like it last season. Once they got past the injuries, the line closed the season out on a very strong note. LeSean McCoy had several of his best games at the second half of the season including against Dallas (Week 13), Washington (Week 16) and the Giants (Week 17).

Of course, with the Eagles getting rid of Evan Mathis, you have at least one guard positon which becomes a question mark. Can Allen Barbre step in for a guy who was a Pro Bowler and was the second best rated guard by PFF last season?

Even if Barbre is average though, Murray should have no problem behind this line. Even if it’s not the Dallas line, it will get the job done.

Injury Issue

Murray has had one year where he played a full season. Aside from 2014, he’s been banged up and missing games. Over the first three years of his career, Murray only averaged about 12 games a season.

While he seemed to have adjusted some portions of his training or made some change which helped keep him off the trainer’s table and on the field, we don’t know if that’s a permanent thing or a flash in the pan.

While it’s impossible to predict an injury, Murray has given us more than enough evidence to be at least a little concerned about his ability to stay healthy.

Here’s another concern – Murray just came off a 393 carry season. Players tend to have a rough time in the year following a massive workload like Murray had.

Yards after contact

Why does the offensive line matter? Because yards after contact matter a lot for the elite fantasy running backs.

Murray’s numbers aren’t bad. According to PFF, Murray had the most yards after contact (998 yards, or 54 percent of his total of 1,845) but was tied for sixth in yards after contact per attempt (just 2.5 yards) when looking at featured backs with 60 percent or more of their team’s snaps.

There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, Murray was able to muscle his way for a huge number of yards after he met with physical resistance.  While they were small in number at times (hence the 2.5 yards per attempt) he consistently found ways to gain at least a couple of yards while dragging tacklers behind him.

And really, while he was sixth, he’s barely behind the other players ahead of him, save for Marshawn Lynch who gained an extra half yards more (3.0 per carry).

On the other hand, with his volume split almost evenly between yards before and after contact, you have to wonder if there really were yards left on the field. Murray’s overall yards per carry ended up at 4.7. Assuming PFF is adding correctly, his yards per carry after contact hovered at 2.5. Which means he’s getting approximately 2.2 yards per carry before he meets a tackler.

Which is actually a bit surprising behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.

Contrast that with a guy like Marshawn Lynch, who averaged more after contact (3 yards) than prior to contact (1.7) behind a below average offensive line.

You can only imagine Murray’s numbers would have taken a dramatic hit had he been in Seattle.

Looking over his work on Game Rewind, I noticed that there were times he didn’t hit the hole as fast as he could have. There were times when there was a huge hole his line had set up for him that collapsed. It was a matter of milliseconds, but often the difference between getting through the hole cleanly and having to shake off a tackle right near the line of scrimmage.

As mentioned above, Murray is going to line up behind a very good offensive line which will open plenty of holes for him. If he can get through them just a tad faster, he could add quite a few yards to his totals at the end of the season.

At the very least, though, he has shown he can gain critical extra yards after initial contact.

Questionable Offense

The other question mark is whether or not all the changes Chip Kelly has made to the offense will implode or fly. Gone are LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Nick Foles, replaced by Nelson Algholor, Jordan Matthews and Sam Bradford as well as Murray.

What if Bradford gets hurt (as he tends to)? What if Algholor takes too long to get up to speed?

If the passing offense struggles, the box could end up stacked by the defense and Murray could see more defenders and have a harder time getting yards.

On the other hand, if the wheels come off the passing offense, Murray is going to have to run the ball a ton. As mentioned above, that comes with injury concerns, but at least he’ll see enough carries to keep his yardage total up.

Positives

  • Murray continues to run behind a great offensive line, which should be able to open tons of holes for him.
  • The Eagles will want to use him to help keep the pressure off Sam Bradford, so he will have plenty of opportunities to run the ball.
  • Murray appears to have turned the corner on his injury issues and should play a full 16 games.

Negatives

  • Backs coming off 300-plus carry seasons tend to have issues the following year and Murray has a history of injuries prior to 2014.
  • If the passing offense implodes, Murray may see a lot more stacked boxes than he saw in Dallas with Tony Romo throwing the ball to Dez Bryant.
  • The Eagles also have Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles to take some carries away. Will the team decide to limit Murray’s carries to keep him on the field?

Final Thoughts

Murray certainly looks the part of an RB1, but I have a lot of hesitation about calling him a top five fantasy pick. I would absolutely roll the dice in the first round, but there continue to be a lot of question marks, not just about Murray but the entire Eagles offense. If Chip Kelly has guessed wrong about the choices he made, Murray could have a lot of issues I think you have to keep your expectations checked a little.

Projections

Games

Rushes

Yards

Touchdowns

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

15

260

1200

8

25

220

1

Other viewpoints

No matter how much you like Murray coming into this season, you have to give credit to him for a fantastic 2014. So we join with Murray as he scoffs at the idea that he left yards on the field (or meat on the bone) as relayed by CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson.

USA Today writer Nate Davis talked to Murray recently about his classroom prep and overall mentality off the field.

PhillyMag.com’s Sheil Kapadia broke down the carry total for the Eagles new-look backfield and sees a drop in overall carries for Murray compared to the 24 a game he averaged last season.