Free Agent Profile: DeMarco Murray
Matt Claassen breaks down what this year's top free agent running back brings to the table.
Free Agent Profile: DeMarco Murray
With the Dallas Cowboys using the franchise tag on Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray looks set to hit the market when free agency begins on March 10th. After a career-year, Murray sits atop the free agent class of running backs hoping to get top money on his second contract, especially with the shorter careers the position offers these days.
Murray burst onto the scene as a rookie, breaking the Cowboys single-game rushing record with a 253-yard performance in his sixth career game. Murray led all rookie running backs with a +3.9 overall grade that year despite his season ending early with a broken ankle. Over the next two seasons, he put together some big games, but also missed eight of 32 games due to injuries.
After two years of a heavy passing offense, the Cowboys entered last season committed to running the ball more often. Able to stay mostly-healthy throughout the season, Murray became the workhorse Dallas had hoped with 498 total touches including the postseason. He is a powerful back, yet still has excellent agility and acceleration which fits well with the Cowboys’ zone blocking scheme. He is capable enough as a receiver and pass protector, though neither is exactly his forte.
Though the Dallas offensive line was rightly lauded for fine performances over the season, that shouldn’t take attention away from what Murray was achieving behind them. In addition to leading the league in rushing, Murray nearly eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards after contact and forced the second-most missed tackles with 55. He had particularly good success on first down to often set Dallas up with good situations on second down. Among runners with at least 60 first down carries, Murray ranked fifth with 4-plus yard gains on 39% of those attempts. His 2.68 yards after contact average on first down also ranked in the Top 10.
However, one knock on Murray is his propensity for fumbling. Although he had as many fumbles as any running back in 2014, his vast number of rush attempts needs to be taken into account when comparing to other players. Murray fumbled once every 109 rush attempts on average, nearly the same as the NFL average for running backs. While it is an issue for him and ball security is extremely important, it should not be a deciding factor in free agency, and is not necessarily a true weakness.
There’s no question Murray benefitted from outstanding blocking last year. We ranked Dallas’s offensive line as the second-best run blocking unit in the league in 2014. However, he still had to earn his fair share with an above-average 2.5 yards after contact per carry. While that could be skewed by a few longer runs with early contact, Murray had the fifth-highest percentage of rushes with 4-plus yards after contact out of the 45 running backs with a minimum of 100 rush attempts.
Elusive Rating is one of our Signature Stats that measures a player’s success beyond the help given by blockers, including on pass receptions. Murray’s 48.8 and 53.2 Elusive Ratings over the last two seasons have ranked 11th and seventh, respectively.
While he probably won’t find the opportunity to run behind as good of an offensive line as he did in Dallas, Murray is still the top running back available in free agency by a wide margin. Some will argue that he is going to regress next year, and he probably should as far as season totals go. Any team signing him should not want to push him as hard as the Cowboys did last season as it will eventually take its toll on his health—like it would on any running back. Scaling back his workload a little should not negatively affect his per-play effectiveness.
Ultimately, signing Murray comes down to value. Taking his injury history and workload into consideration, Murray is not worth the money of the highest paid running backs. However, he has proven enough over the last few years to warrant a solid contract offer and a starting opportunity for a few more seasons.
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