2013 Fantasy Football

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Getting to Know Latavius Murray – Shiny New Toy for 2014

posted by Phil Alexander

Oakland Raiders Rookie CampThere are several qualities a player must possess to qualify as the next big thing in fantasy football. Raiders (soon-to-be) second year RB Latavius Murray has cornered the market on all of them:

Size: At 6’2”, 230 pounds, Murray is a built more like a tight end than a running back.

Speed: At his Pro Day last March, Murray ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds, flashing wheels that very few running backs in his weight class ever have.

Fantasy Friendly Name: Since there are no NFL players named Flex Nitrate, I’ll gladly settle for a dude called Latavius. On a scale of one to ten, with one being Doug Baldwin and ten being Atari Bigby, I’ll give him a strong seven.

Looks Like a Badass: After watching this highlight reel and picturing Murray bowling over and/or burning past NFL defenders while draped in Bo Jackson’s silver & black number 34, I’ve decided I would risk divorce by sticking his Fathead to my living room wall. If we can find a way to get Latavius to wear one of those McGahee style tinted visors, the ensuing badassery will reach never-before-seen levels.

 

 

Will He Get the Opportunity?

The great unknown at this point is whether or not the Raiders are ready to turn their starting running back position over to a sixth round rookie who took a red shirt year in his first NFL season (due at least in part to a preseason ankle scope).

Clearly it’s a bit early for speculation, but the two guys who accounted for over 81% of the Raiders’ non-QB rushing attempts last season are both set to enter free agency. A scenario in which Murray and back-up Jeremy Stewart (who’s taken all of 27 carries in his two year career) are the only RBs on the Raiders’ roster heading into the NFL Draft cannot be ruled out.

It’s pretty safe to say the Darren McFadden era has reached its conclusion in Oakland. After spending the number four overall pick in the 2008 draft and about 60 million sheckles on McFadden, the Raiders were rewarded this year with career lows in rushing YPA (3.3) and YPG (37.9), not to mention six missed games AGAIN. For what it’s worth, new Bengals OC Hue Jackson (who McFadden had his only productive years under in Oakland) seems interested in a reunion.

Rashad Jennings appears a safer bet to re-sign in Oakland after resurrecting his career under HC Dennis Allen and OC Greg Olson last season. However, given all the holes on the Raiders roster, it’s fair to wonder if Jennings can parlay his big season (from Weeks 9 to 15 he averaged nearly 90 rushing yards, 4.76 YPA, and 1 TD per game) into a free agent offer the Raiders aren’t willing to match.

Even in the event Jennings is brought back on a short term deal, who’s to say Oakland would simply hand the starting job to a guy who was a career back-up entering last season? A training camp competition is certainly not out of the question, and there are some that follow the Raiders organization closely who think Murray can be the Raiders’ 2014 starting tailback.

 

 

What do we Know About Murray?

The only NFL game action on Murray’s résumé came in the 2013 preseason opener (8 carries, 29 yards, two nice runs called back due to penalty), leaving  too small a sample to extrapolate anything meaningful about his outlook as a starter. But when we analyze the results of Murray’s Pro-Day work out in conjunction with his body of work as a UCF Golden Knight, we can at least have some fun speculating.

The chart below stacks Murray’s Pro-Day against the NFL Scouting Combine results of all RBs since 1999 that measured at least six feet tall, weighed at least 215 pounds, and ran the forty in 4.4 seconds or better.

 

Year

Name

Height

Weight

40 Time

Bench Press

Vertical Leap

Broad Jump

Shuttle

3 Cone Drill

2013

Latavius Murray

6-2

230

4.38

22

36

124

4.36

6.81

2011

Roy Helu

6-1

219

4.4

11

36.5

119

4.01

6.67

2010

Ryan Mathews

6-1

218

4.37

19

36

121

4.33

7

2009

Andre Brown

6-1

224

4.37

24

37

115

4.33

7.35

2007

Adrian Peterson

6-2

217

4.4

N/A

38.5

127

4.4

7.09

2003

Justin Fargas

6-1

219

4.35

27

N/A

137

N/A

N/A

1999

Edgerrin James

6-1

216

4.38

N/A

N/A

N/A

3.88

6.87

 

It seems silly to suggest Murray is the next Adrian Peterson or Edgerrin James, but from a pure athletic standpoint he’s keeping some pretty good company. With the exception of Fargas (I’m not willing to write off Helu just yet), all of the guys on that  list range from “useful starting fantasy RB” to “worthy of investing my first round pick”.  Based on his athleticism alone, it’s not crazy to think Murray can at least fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

It should be pointed out that besides Andre Brown, Murray has a fairly significant weight advantage over all the other backs listed. When you alter the query to include backs that are at least six feet tall and weigh at least 230 pounds, the search returns many familiar plodders who don’t possess anything resembling Murray’s speed. To name a few:

 

Year

Name

Height

Weight

40 Time

Bench Press

Vertical Leap

Broad Jump

Shuttle

3 Cone Drill

2013

Latavius Murray

6-2

230

4.38

22

36

124

4.36

6.81

2011

Daniel Thomas

6-0

230

4.63

21

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

2009

Rashad Jennings

6-1

231

4.59

29

34

120

4.2

6.86

2009

Beanie Wells

6-1

235

4.52

25

33.5

128

N/A

N/A

2007

Ronnie Brown

6-1

233

4.43

18

34

117

4.14

7.12

 

I point this out only to emphasize that athletes Murray’s size do not typically run as fast as he does.  We’re talking about a truly rare size/speed combination.

Murray proved plenty capable of putting his physical tools to use during a strong college career at UCF where he finished second all time in overall touchdowns (44), eighth in rushing attempts (453), sixth in yards (2,424), and third in rushing TDs (37). Here are some useful nuggets we can glean from Murray’s college games:

He has a nose for the end zone – As a senior Murray had 15 rushing TDs, good for second all time in UCF history. He was the first player since the program’s inception in 1979 to score a rushing touchdown in nine straight games, and also chipped in another four scores through the air.

He doesn’t fumble – Like seriously, he really doesn’t fumble. Ever. The last time Murray lost a fumble was his freshman year in 2008. He went the final 407 carries of his career without coughing up the ball.

He’s an excellent receiver – Perhaps due to extensive practice time notched as an H-Back, Murray was a frequently utilized weapon in UCF’s passing game. As a senior, he had 27 receptions and 231 receiving yards to go with the aforementioned four touchdowns through the air.

He’s a capable pass blocker – From Jerry Edwards at DraftnikCentral.com: “As a pass protector, he understands how to use his big body and anchor in. He is adept at cut blocking and chipping while going out on his pass patterns. He will have no issues transitioning to a NFL offense in the passing game.”

Let’s stop for a moment and take a quick inventory: Murray is an effective runner in short yardage and around the goal line, he won’t land in the coach’s dog house for losing the football, and he can stay in the game on third downs  to either catch the ball, or protect his QB. They have a name for that in football – three down workhorse.

 

Here’s some additional provocative bulletry from Edwards’ scouting report to help further acquaint you with Mr. Latavius:

- Possesses great vision, anticipation and recognition of the cutback lane

- North-south no nonsense runner who shows great burst to the hole and rarely loses yardage

- Shows the patience and willingness to let his blocks develop

- Has shown the ability to get to the edge and turn the corner as well as break off big runs when they are there

- Despite his size, he is not a bruising power runner. Instead, he uses his quick feet and great vision to pick up yardage on the second level

- He does have the ability to run through arm tackles, push the pile and break tackles with his stiff arm, but he is not a true power back

- As a receiver, he shows a great understanding of when to leak out of the back-field, how to find the soft spot underneath the defense and where to settle down in coverage.

- Sells the screen well and has shown the ability to pick up big yardage on screen plays by letting his blocks set up in front of him

 

Murray, like most players drafted in the sixth round, is not without his warts. Like most tall running backs, he tends to run upright. If he isn’t getting his upper body down enough and squaring his shoulders when running forward, he presents a larger target, which allows opponents to get under his pads and stop his momentum. Obviously, that can be a bit problematic when running in close quarters against NFL defenders.

The other potential downside to running upright is increased injury risk. Not only do upright runners get chopped down by low tackles more easily, they leave their lower half exposed to big hits. DeMarco Murray’s history of ankle, foot, and knee woes serve as Exhibit A in the case against upright running style being good for a running back’s health.

While the notion that upright runners are more susceptible to injury may be conjecture, it does heighten concern that Latavius could be an injury risk. He already missed his rookie season recovering from arthroscopic  ankle surgery, missed three games as a senior at UCF with a bruised shoulder, and tore his ACL and LCL while playing pick-up basketball before the 2009 season.

 

Is he a Good Fit in Oakland’s offense?

Reading that scouting report, it sure seems like Murray’s greatest strengths – vision, patience and recognition of cutback lanes, would be best utilized in a zone blocking scheme. That would be the same scheme the Raiders famously jettisoned prior to the start of the season, after Darren McFadden ran for an all time team worst 3.3 YPA (minimum 150 carries).

But just because Murray seems tailor made for the ZBS, I wouldn’t write off a back with his skills in any system, especially not the power run scheme implemented last season by Greg Olson.

While Oakland finished a middling 20th in rushing yards per game last year, their ranking improves to 11th when factoring in quality of opponent (per numberFire). While that success can be partly attributed to zone read plays that resulted in designed runs for Terrelle Pryor (or bigger running lanes for Jennings and McFadden), it’s encouraging the Raiders didn’t run the ball poorly when  Pryor wasn’t on the field. In the nine games started by Pryor, Raiders running backs averaged 4.73 yards per carry. When Matt McGloin or Matt Flynn got the call, they still managed a respectable 4.32 yards per carry, which would have placed them top 12 in the league.

It’s also worth mentioning that two big bodied, north-south runners had their best pro seasons running in Olson’s scheme – Steven Jackson in 2006 (1,528 rushing yards, 806 receiving yards, 90 receptions), and LaGarrette Blount in 2010 (1,007 rushing yards, 5.0 YPA in 13 games).

 

 

Wrapping it Up

Before we can get really excited about Latavius Murray in fantasy football, a lot has to go right. For starters, it would be nice if he’s on the Raiders’ 53 man roster to begin the season. After that he only needs to do everything right during training camp, hope the Raiders don’t spend an early-mid round draft pick on running back help, win a position battle in the preseason, and prove he can stay healthy.

There’s a high percentage chance this article will be rendered worthless between now and the start of next season, but there’s also a pretty intriguing case for Latavius Murray as a fantasy football dreamboat in waiting – a kid with near unparalleled physical gifts who will run wild as soon as he’s unleashed.

At the very least, file the name Latavius somewhere you won’t forget it (lucky for you his name’s not Bill). If it looks like he’s in line for starter’s carries (or even the primary back-up job) when the season rolls around, you know what to do.

 

Phil Alexander

Phil is a writer for The Fake Football and numberFire. Follow him on Twitter so he can bore you with 140 character gambling anecdotes.

4 Comments

  • Substantive piece. I had almost forgotten how promising this kid looked coming out of college. Great work!

    • Thanks so much. I appreciate that!

  • Like anyone would forget a player whose name is Bill Murray.

    • Best. Comment. Ever.

      Thanks for reading.

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