Daily Focus: Can DeMarco Murray find second life with the Titans?
Bryson Vesnaver looks at Murray's shot at a rebound in Tennessee and the values of CB Patrick Peterson and QB Cam Newton.
Daily Focus: Can DeMarco Murray find second life with the Titans?
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Can Demarco Murray resurrect his career in Tennessee? Recently one of the Tennessee Titans assistant coaches was quoted as saying that Murray is a “coach’s dream.” That’s a far cry from some of the rumors that came out last year about Murray and his relationship with former Eagles coach Chip Kelly. But that’s in the past and everyone has moved on. Now the question becomes, can Murray find the same success in Tennessee that he found in his final year on the Cowboys, when he rushed the ball 392 times for 1,845 yards, 13 touchdowns and a +15.8 rushing grade (second in the NFL)?
The first thing to look at is coach Mike Mularkey. His offense is very much a power run-friendly offense, something that Murray should really thrive in. Part of the reason for Murray’s struggles with the Eagles seemed to be that the offense called for a lot of outside zone and east-west running for Murray rather than north-to-south, which was his strength in Dallas. Mularkey knows how to run a power running offense and he proved it in 2008 when, as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, his offense ran for 2,443 yards on 558 carries and 23 touchdowns. His offensive line was one of the best-graded in the league at run-blocking, and lead back Michael Turner finished fifth in the NFL in rushing grade.
The Titans don’t have nearly the same offensive line as the 2008 Falcons did, or even the 2014 Cowboys did when Murray was at his best. But with a full offseason with Mularkey, there’s reason to believe they will be improved this coming year. On top of that, with QB Marcus Mariota going into his sophomore season after a very average rookie season, it makes a lot of sense for the Titans to run the ball and run it often to protect him. Murray is no stranger to a lion’s share of carries, and after his light load last season he should be ready to carry the ball as often as Tennessee wants him to. It’s not a huge stretch to say he could reach near his 2014 numbers and grade again in this new power run offense.
One of the reasons that may not happen, however, is the drafting of star Alabama running back Derrick Henry. We at PFF were not quite as high on Henry as others were, but he still finished with the sixth-highest rushing grade in all of college last season. Henry is essentially the perfect running back for Mularkey’s system. He won’t make a ton of guys miss, as shown by his 17th-ranked 71.7 elusive rating. And he rarely breaks off a huge run, as evidenced by his breakaway percentage of 36.6 last season. But what Henry does do well is see the hole, and run full speed with his giant frame right through it. He led the NCAA with 1,339 yards after contact last season and there were very few times where it took just one player to make the tackle. He’s also no stranger to lots of carries, with 396 carries last season and 172 the year before.
Below, you can see Henry’s game-by-game grades during his last season in college:
The question of Murray basically comes down to how the Titans bring along Henry. They drafted him in the second round for a reason. With Murray on their squad, they have the option to bring Henry along slowly. But based on how well he fits in the Titans offense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two players split snaps 50/50.
(PFF Fantasy Insight: Our rankers aren’t fully convinced in a bounceback from Murray. He’s currently the No. 24 running back in our staff consensus rankings. Meanwhile, Henry is 45th at the position.)
Does any corner mean more to his team than Patrick Peterson? Peterson has touted his value to the Cardinals as being greater than any other corner in the league. This really is an unanswerable question, as so many players mean so much to every team that it’s essentially impossible to prove their worth. But what we can do is look at certain strong corners and their teams to see how much they contribute.
As far as the Cardinals go, there’s a good argument to be made that Tyrann Mathieu actually means more to the team than Peterson does. Mathieu missed the Cardinals’ final two games of the season but still graded out as the best corner in the NFL at +28.1 (second place was +15.9). That’s not to discount Peterson, however. He finished 2015 allowing an average of one reception per 19.5 coverage snaps, which was the best mark among all corners. He had the fifth-highest coverage grade at +13.1. He allowed just 47.7 percent of targets thrown his way to be completed, which was the third-best among corners. It was definitely Peterson’s best season as a professional.
As far as worth goes, again, it’s very hard to quantify that. Was Detroit Lions’ CB Darius Slay more valuable to his defense since his +15.9 overall grade was the highest on his team and he was one of only two players on the Lions defense to grade over +7.0? Or was Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman the most important since his +13.1 coverage grade and his essential shutting down one side of the field allowed for the Seahawks pass rush to feast on opposing quarterbacks and for their defense to be one of the best in the NFL? It’s impossible to answer that question with certainty. But what we can say is that Patrick Peterson does bring a lot to the table for the Cardinals, and they would unquestionably be a worse defense without his strong play.
Cam Newton is probably more valuable to the Panthers than Luke Kuechly, but it’s close. This is a really tough question because it’s so hard to compare value between offensive and defensive players, especially when they are both so talented. But if you look at the Panthers team as a whole then it seems like the Panthers would be worse off without Newton than they would be without Kuechly.
First off, Newton is the Panthers offense. Almost every single play runs through him, almost every yard is gained by him. His +42.1 overall grade last year nearly doubled the next best Panthers’ offensive player. Newton himself gained 73 percent of the Panthers’ total yards last season, and scored all but nine of their 54 touchdowns. His ability to be an effective quarterback throughout the game but then turn into essentially a red-zone running back when needed is something that no other quarterback in the NFL can offer.
That Newton may be more valuable to the Panthers than Luke Kuechly is not to discredit Kuechly at all. Essentially, the Panthers defense is better off than their offense. That may change with the loss of CB Josh Norman though. But the Panthers have a solid defense aside from Kuechly. They’ve got possible elite-level talent from DT Kawaan Short, who graded as the seventh-best interior defender in the NFL at +45.4. He’s an all-around player, as his pass-rush and run-defense grade were nearly identical. They’ve also benefitted from strong play by guys like S Kurt Coleman (+9.0 last season) and DE Mario Addison (43 total pressure in just 305 pass rush snaps).
The Panthers’ offense and defense should be more even this season with the loss of Josh Norman and the return of WR Kelvin Benjamin. But if the Panthers are going to match the success they had last season, it’s likely going to be because of the high-level play of Cam Newton.