Fantasy Equity Deep Dive: DeMarco Murray
August 16, 2016 | C.D. Carter
DeMarco Murray, headed into the 2015 season, was the owner of a gleaming 4.9 yards per carry average. He had averaged seven rushing scores in his four seasons as a Cowboy, despite missing nine games during his first two years. He gained an average of 1,453 total yards per season in Dallas.
Murray was an efficient workhorse — a fantasy football unicorn.
Then Chip Kelly and the disastrous Eagles’ offense de-horned the unicorn and Murray became a fantasy pariah, the bane of ten million hateful early-round running back drafters.
The fantasy football market has adjusted by plunging Murray, now listed as the starter for the Tennessee Titans, into the bottom of the fourth round — an average draft position that has stayed steady for months.
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Equity score analysis shows that Murray in 2016 has a fairly large range of outcomes, with his median prospects making him a low-end RB2 and his best-case prospects putting him well inside fantasy’s top-10 runners. It’s not all that unusual for a running back on a potentially (very) bad team — Vegas projects Tennessee to win all of 5.5 games — to have an uncertain fantasy floor and a fine and dandy ceiling.
The Titans have dedicated themselves to something they call exotic smash mouth — some sort of supposedly creative running scheme that any NFL team would naturally deploy when they have one of the game’s most promising quarterbacks. It makes a lot of sense to hide your best player, the guy that cost you immense draft capital. This is fine. This is fine.
It’s worth noting that Titans head coach Mike Mularkey all but denied that the exotic smash mouth scheme would rule the Tennessee offense in 2016. He said that absurd phrase was from his days in Pittsburgh.
A glance at Murray’s 2016 comps, as generated by the ever-useful Rotoviz sim score app, paint a mostly ugly picture. Only six of Murray’s closest 25 comps are on the positive side, with a major exception to the rule — Fred Jackson in 2009 — jumping out as the best-case comp. Jackson, in his age-28 season, eclipsed 1,400 total yards, caught 46 passes, and scored four times. He finished just outside fantasy’s top-12 backs that year.
Murray’s comps are also riddled with stinking-piles-of-steaming-feces age 28 and 29 seasons from the likes of Sammy Morris, Joique Bell, Nick Goings, Cadillac Williams, and Maurice Jones-Drew. There’s undoubtedly downside in Murray’s 2016 prospects, even at his depressed re-draft price point.
I’m not sure it’s fair to incorporate Murray’s 2015 numbers into an analysis of how he might fair in 2016, since it’s been widely acknowledged that the back was misused by Chip Kelly in an almost mind boggling way. Murray has always been far more productive on inside zone runs than outside zone totes. He’s fared much better taking snaps under center (5.1 YPC last season) than from shotgun (3.4 YPC last season). The hope is that the Titans knows as much. Mularkey has said the Titans will operate from under center more than they’ll go with shotgun in 2016.
It’s clear the team didn’t draft Derrick Henry to spell the veteran Murray, as both runners are expected to see sustained action in the Tennessee backfield. I think it’s a fairly safe assumption that Murray will assume the vast majority of the passing game action between the two runners. Murray has proven a solid pass catcher and Henry reeled in 17 catches during his collegiate career.
I used the Rotoviz projection machine app to see what Murray might do if the Titans are indeed among the league’s run heaviest offenses in 2016. In this scenario, the Titans run the football 495 times, which would’ve made them the fourth run heaviest offense in 2015. I gave Murray 53 percent of the team’s carries and Henry 40 percent. One could reasonably tack on a couple percentage points on to Henry’s total, and/or subtract a couple percent from Murray.
It’s here that Murray scores 219 PPR points, or numbers that would qualify as last season’s RB7. This best-case scenario doesn’t include an unreasonable amount of passing down work, as Murray in this projection catches 34 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown.
Henry, in case you were wondering, notches 136 PPR points, which would have made him last year’s RB32. Perhaps the hammer of a runner will post an absurd touchdown rate this season and blow that projection out of the water. But barring a Murray injury — always possible with a 28-year-old runner who has a million career touches — I’m not sure you can project Henry for much more than 200 carries.
This is largely why I see Murray as a sensible running back target for any drafter who commits to grabbing a trio of wide receivers to start. And I don’t think Murray’s fantasy usefulness circles the drain if/when the Titans are horrendous and forced to play from behind for much of the 2016 season. Murray, for whatever it’s worth, did just fine in the face of negative game script when he served as Dallas’ workhorse in 2013-14.