Why DeMarco Murray may be the biggest free agent bust this season

John Breitenbach analyzes the regression of DeMarco Murray in 2015, who recorded just eight carries against the Patriots.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Why DeMarco Murray may be the biggest free agent bust this season


The Eagles’ fan base was at breaking point entering Week 13, after three losses to sub-.500 teams left them floundering at 4-7. After seizing power over personnel moves last year, Kelly was coming under particular criticism for signing DeMarco Murray to a big-money free agent contract and trading away franchise-leading rusher LeSean McCoy.

Against the Patriots, Murray’s playing time dropped significantly, even below that of Kenjon Barner’s. Darren Sproles played well, recording a better single-game rushing grade than Murray has all season.

DeMarco Murray’s regression

  Attempts Yards Average YCo YCo./Att TDs MTs
2014 437 2043 4.7 1104 2.5 15 71
2015 163 571 3.5 328 2.0 4 21

DeMarco Murray finished as our fifth-overall running back in 2014; his rushing grade was second behind only Marshawn Lynch. This year, Murray is way down at 63rd out of 67 qualifying running backs. The Eagles’ line is not as good as the one he played behind in Dallas, which has played a role in his regression, but Murray hasn’t looked nearly as decisive as he did in 2014, and is struggling to pick lanes when running outside zone, in particular. He’s only breaking a tackle every eight rushes, compared to every five rushes a year ago, and isn’t gaining as much yardage after contact, either. It’s no surprise Kelly decided to reduce his workload in Week 13.

Analyzing the decision

Chip Kelly is finding that personnel moves in the NFL are far from straightforward. Murray was just coming off his best season, as outlined above, while LeSean McCoy was coming off his worst. In fact, McCoy finished as our worst graded running back in 2014. Kelly essentially replaced an under-performing player for one that seemed to be in his prime. Seems like an easy decision, but then again, there were nagging concerns about the fact Murray had carried 437 times that season. Fast-forward a year, and McCoy is playing much better. He’s recorded a +4.1 rushing grade so far for the Bills, which is just outside the top 15 running backs. McCoy’s numbers compare pretty favorably to Murray’s.

2015 season Attempts Yards Average YCo YCo/Att TDs MTs
McCoy (Bills) 172 792 4.6 368 2.1 3 31
Murray 163 571 3.5 328 2.0 4 21
Mathews 74 427 5.8 236 3.2 5 13
Sproles 62 234 3.8 132 2.1 1 3

The Eagles also signed Ryan Mathews from the Chargers in the offseason. He’s been injured the past few weeks, but has easily out-performed Murray when he has been on the field. Mathews is breaking a tackle about every five to six rushes, and has an impressive 3.2 yards after contact per attempt, which is fourth-best in the league. However, his health was a serious issue in San Diego, and it’s a factor Kelly must have considered when contemplating signing Matthews. The former Charger’s concussion must be serious, seeing as he’s missed the past three weeks.

Finally, Darren Sproles has more modest numbers, but gave the Eagles’ offense a spark early in the game against the Patriots with Sam Bradford rejoining him the backfield.

The upshot is that Kelly’s decision to sign Murray and trade McCoy doesn’t look very good with the benefit of hindsight. The offense has regressed since he took over. The jury remains out on Chip, GM. Despite his slow start, it would be unwise to discount the possibility that Murray will return to his outstanding form of 2014. Either way, the Eagles are financially committed to him for at least another couple of years, so they are compelled to make it work.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I definitely think the gamble Kelly took signing Murray is one most other coaches would have taken as well had they been in his position. The result has been a disaster so far but you can’t improve a team by just sitting on your hands….you have to roll the dice from time to time.

  • YouBarkIBite

    I thought getting rid of McCoy was a shrewd move by Kelly, and getting Mathews on the cheap was not bad, but then he threw it all away by signing Murray, a guy who was coming off a season with an extreme workload that has historically signaled the beginning of the end of a RB’s career. Kelly seems like a smart guy, but signing Murray is an anti-analytics, “my gut tells me this guy can still play” move.

  • Backinmd

    Murray had ONE good year and the press was comparing him to A. Peterson ..McCoy’s last year with the Eagles he regressed ..Cowboys had the best or one of the best OL in the NFL last year ….Some of the holes they opened for Murray you could drive a truck through —an average RB would have gained 900 yards behind the Cowboy’s OL … If I was in Kelly’s shoes, I would have signed Murray and for the money, don’t blame him for signing with the Eagles ..Murray was more of a north-south runner with the Cowboys ; with the Eagles he runs more lateral plays than he should .. Looks to me that Murray hesitates too much after getting the hand off .. He looks like a square peg in a round hole with the Eagles ..Kelly should change some of his offensive plays for Murray ..I don’t wish the Eagles or Murray any bad luck, but plenty of high price free agents don’t work out and sometimes it’s not the players fault ..And some free agents play not to get hurt after singing the big $ contract …