DeMarco Murray's 2014 Fantasy Football Outlook
Note: This is a free preview of a 2014 Draft Sharks Player Profile. DS Insiders will have access to over 300 of these -- along with detailed projections -- on June 17.
Murray finally enjoyed the breakout season that we've been waiting for. And continued health could bring even more in 2014. That's what new OC Scott Linehan hopes.
“That’s going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than they have in the past," he said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas in May.
Does that mean a traditionally pass-happy OC is about to flip his approach? Not likely. Dallas sported the league's 4th most pass-heavy offense in 2013, running the ball on just 35.1% of offensive plays. That actually marked better balance than in 2012, when Dallas ranked as the league's 2nd most pass-heavy offense. The Cowboys finished 10th in 2011 and 12th in 2010, the year that Jason Garrett shifted from OC to HC midway through.
So Linehan can increase the rushing share and still maintain a pass-heavy approach. Bet on that plan for a guy who has ushered all 12 of his NFL offenses into the top 15 in pass attempts. Ten of those years saw Linehan's group rank among the top 10, including 5 straight years among the top 6 in Detroit.
For many RBs, such a passing lean might be bad news. But that approach might actually help Murray.
If you've played fantasy at all, you're well aware that Dallas' starting RB has struggled to stay healthy over his 3 pro seasons, missing 11 total games. Even last year, Murray sat out 2 weeks with a sprained MCL. Expecting him to approach 300 carries would probably be asking too much.
The key -- both for the Cowboys and fantasy owners -- might lie in balancing out his workload. Murray reached 20 carries 3 times last year while falling short of 15 carries in 5 healthy outings. HC Jason Garrett admitted underusing Murray at times but also handed his lead back the ball 92 times over the final 5 games. Even that high end of Murray's workload tied for just 7th in the league in carries over that stretch.
That stretch served to show what Murray can do with consistent use, though. Only 4 other backs averaged more yards per carry over 2013's final 5 weeks than Murray's 5.3. Nobody ran for more TDs in that span.
The Cowboys backed up Linehan's words on committing to the run by drafting G Zack Martin in the 1st round in May. TE Jason Witten told the Dallas Morning News in May that his team needs to run more and pointed to the Martin pick as evidence that it planned to do so. Dallas already graded out as Pro Football Focus' 2nd best run-blocking O-line last season, so any further improvement up front looks like gravy.
We also know that Murray will capitalize on rushing opportunity. He has averaged nearly 5 yards per carry over his 3 seasons. Only 3 other backs -- C.J. Spiller, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles -- have put up better averages over that same span. Murray also ranked 4th in PFF's "elusive rating" last season, which measures a runner's ability to pick up yardage after contact.
But running is only part of what Murray brings. He also tied for 10th in the league among RBs in receptions last year, despite missing 2 games and despite finishing 4 of the remaining 14 contests with 2 receptions or fewer.
Linehan could add receptions to Murray's line. In the past 3 seasons, the Cowboys gave their RBs 19.2%, 19.1% and 22.1% of the team reception totals. Linehan's past 10 NFL offenses averaged 26.6%. His background includes a 90-catch season for Steven Jackson, a 65-catch year for Moe Williams, 50+ receptions for both Detroit RBs last year and top 20 PPR performances by the likes of Williams, Michael Bennett, Kevin Smith and Mikel Leshoure.
A healthy Murray -- perhaps even a Murray who misses a game or 2 -- should easily eclipse 50 catches.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Murray broke through for a top 6 fantasy season in 2013 and is now set up to be that guy in every year that he can stay healthy. The fact that his injuries have included knee, foot and ankle problems don't bode well for the long term, but Murray's just 26 and logged 54 more carries last year than in either of his previous 2 seasons.
Does he come with injury risk? Sure. But that just means you need to secure some insurance a little earlier. Guess what, that's a key reason you shouldn't jump on a QB too early. Quality RB3s will be available in Rounds 5-7 this summer, making it easier to take the Murray plunge late in Round 1 or early in Round 2.