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Latavius Murray Fantasy 2016: Forget What You Know

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Latavius Murray

As we rapidly approach a fresh NFL season, one offensive weapon who fantasy football owners are too low on is Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray.  Although a few of the apprehensions are warranted, I’m here to assure you that there is no need to worry about Murray in 2016.

Oakland’s sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Murray came into the league as a raw, yet gifted prospect from the University of Central Florida. Standing at an imposing 6’3” and 230 pounds, Murray’s blazing 4.38 speed may come as a surprise to some, but his impressive athleticism visibly stands out on tape.  After missing all of his rookie season due to an ankle injury, Murray made his official NFL debut in 2014 and made several big plays for the Raiders down the stretch.  When Oakland’s previous starting running back, Darren McFadden, departed during the following offseason, Latavius Murray found himself at the top of the depth chart as he entered the 2015 campaign.

Murray’s first season operating as the Raiders’ workhorse received mixed reviews, so let’s start with some of the criticism.  While his 1066 rushing yards were good for the sixth-most in the NFL, it took him 266 attempts to accomplish that feat – third-most in the league.  Murray’s mediocre 4.0 yards per carry mark was nothing to write home about after averaging a stellar 5.2 YPC the previous season, but keep in mind, his touch total soared from 99 in 2014 to a whopping 307 in 2015.  Shouldering the load in every sense of the phrase, Murray accounted for nearly 72% of the Silver and Black’s rushing attempts by season’s end.  Yet, that high percentage of carries didn’t equate to efficiency.  Pro Football Focus rated Murray as just an “average” starting running back, and he graded out poorly in the receiving department, which can be attributed to his uninspiring average of 5.7 yards per reception.

When looking at his game logs, Murray’s productivity seemed to take a hit in the second half of the season: After surpassing 5.0 YPC in 4 out of 8 games to start the season, Latavius failed to eclipse 5.0 YPC in any of his final 8 contests.  As you can see from the table below, with basically the same amount of carries in each half of the 2015 season, Murray’s numbers were noticeably better in the first 8 games.  A key source of decline in the latter part of his 2015 output was the lack of a competent running mate, as evidenced by this gloomy statistic:  Oakland’s second-leading rusher was quarterback Derek Carr, with a measly 33 carries for 138 yards.  Even with a sturdy offensive line and an offensive coordinator who fancies a bell-cow running back in Bill Musgrave, Murray was unable to consistently perform at a high level last season without an effective partner in crime.

Latavius Murray 2015: First 8 Games vs. Last 8 Games
Weeks Carries Yards Yards/Carry Yards/Game
1 – 9 132 630 4.77 78.75
10 – 17 134 436 3.25 54.50

Latavius Murray’s first 8 games versus his last 8 games were very different.

Latavius Murray RaidersWorried yet?  Don’t be.  Now that we’ve gotten the deficiencies out of the way, let’s take a look at some reasons to get hyped about Latavius Murray’s 2016 outlook.  First off, his trademark explosiveness was on display in 2015, as he tied for the fourth-most 20+ yard runs in the league, trailing only Doug Martin, Todd Gurley, and Adrian Peterson.  Furthermore, I can still vividly recall him ripping off a 90-yard touchdown against the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football late in the 2014 season.  Still only 26-years-old going into his fourth NFL campaign, Murray’s home run hitting ability isn’t going anywhere.  What his running style lacks in elusiveness and power, he easily makes up for with his exceptional straight-line speed.

But what if, once again, his numbers decay later in the season?  – Very good question.

The Raiders have done everything in their power to prevent a similar decline in 2016.  In a move that alleviates Oakland’s core backfield concern, depth, GM Reggie McKenzie selected DeAndre Washington in this year’s draft- a versatile back out of Texas Tech.  While many folks may consider this a dent in Murray’s fantasy stock, I don’t see it that way.  In 2015, the Raiders were unable to provide Murray with a capable companion to split carries with, magnified by the aforementioned fact that their franchise quarterback was the team’s second-leading rusher.  With a dynamic rookie now in the fold, Latavius will have a much more efficient backup than last year.  Although Murray will surrender a handful of touches over the course of the season, this should allow him to stay fresher and more consistent in the weeks that fantasy owners value most.  If the fifth-rounder- who the Raiders organization reportedly views as a complete back- can step in as a serviceable change-of-pace option, Murray should see an obvious spike in per-carry productivity.

As I’ve laid out, Latavius clearly struggled to sustain his early season momentum as he got deeper into the rigorous NFL schedule.  But in his defense, after starting a mere 4 games in 2014, Murray was a virgin to a robust workload and such lofty expectations.  Since 2015 was his first season running as the Raiders’ lead back, I’m going to cut him a little slack.  Having said that, I’m fully expecting more consistency from Murray as the 2016 season advances.  His supporting cast is young, talented, and very much on the rise.

Perhaps the most significant component for why you shouldn’t worry about Latavius Murray in 2016 is the imposing offensive line he’ll be running behind.  After consecutive seasons of making tremendous strides, Pro Football Focus graded every single one of Oakland’s projected linemen for the upcoming campaign as at least “above-average” starters in the NFL.  This sort of balance and stability might allow the Raiders to legitimately push the Cowboys for the honor of best offensive line in the league.  Simply put, there are no glaring holes across the front line in Oakland, and Latavius should be eager to run behind the likes of LT Donald Penn, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, and RT Austin Howard.  Regarding the newly-signed, ex-Ravens road-grader, Kelechi Oseleme, OC Bill Musgrave says he certainly expects the guard to bolster the run game, which should be music to Latavius Murray’s ears.

There are a lot of people sleeping on Latavius Murray heading into the 2016 fantasy football season.  However, even after scrutinizing his so-called weaknesses last year, he was still able to finish as a top-11 back in standard scoring leagues, firmly placing him on the RB1 borderline.  Now, the talented runner enters his second season as the nucleus of Oakland’s rushing attack, along with a credible backfield partner and a seemingly elite offensive line.  At the very least, Latavius should return high-end RB2 value in 2016, but it also wouldn’t be shocking if he cemented himself as an RB1.  You shouldn’t worry about Murray.

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