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DeMarco Murray: Is The Reward Worth The Risk?

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The oft-injured third-year back isn't a favorite amongst fantasy owners. Why not?

Our algorithms don’t have feelings. They’ve never lost a fantasy football championship by a fraction of a point, and they don’t listen to the narratives surrounding players entering a football season.

They aren’t biased. They have no allegiance towards a team. They don’t know which players came into camp overweight. They care about facts. They care about production. They worry about what has happened and what is real.

And our algorithms like DeMarco Murray.

Unlike many fantasy owners, our algorithms don’t see Murray as a dark alley in a bad neighborhood. The 18th running back off most draft boards, Murray is slotted as the 13th-best one in the numberFire rankings. Why? Well, because numbers talk. Narratives don’t.

Murray’s Metrics

The Cowboys lead back made his name in the fantasy football world in 2011 after a 253-yard performance against the Rams. Murray then followed up his bonkers game with two 130-plus yard rushing games over the next three weeks, proving to be one of the young up-and-comers at running back in the NFL.

Unfortunately, he began to hit the rookie year running back wall towards the end of the campaign, eventually getting hurt and ending his season.

The injuries continued into his sophomore year, as Murray missed six more games. Now, fantasy owners have attached the dreaded injury-prone label to Murray. Warranted? Perhaps, but that aspect now seems to be overshadowing Murray’s true fantasy potential.

As you may know, we love advanced NFL data here at numberFire.com. We analyze net expected points metrics, which measure how a player contributes towards his team’s scoring total. If he, for instance, moves the chains on a long third down, he’s done well. This data looks deeper than raw numbers, as we’re getting a truer picture; we’re seeing exactly how valuable a player was for his team, in terms of real – not fantasy – points.

And conveniently, NEP numbers correlate nicely to fantasy football success. Of course you have to factor in usage and other variables, but the metrics can be used as a nice replacement to the sometimes-insignificant yardage and touchdown numbers.

With that being said, let’s see how significant DeMarco Murray’s numbers have been in Dallas during his brief NFL career.

YearAttemptsYardsTouchdownsNEP/AttemptRank
20111648972.122nd of 31
20121616634-.0521st of 29

His rookie season was superb, ranking second of 31 runners with 150 or more attempts in rushing NEP per attempt. In other words, each time Murray touched the rock in 2011, he was helping his team more than any high-volume back outside of DeAngelo Williams. Last year, however wasn’t as good, as Murray ranked in the bottom-half in terms of rushing NEP per attempt.

What do we make of all of this? Well, considering he missed time, we’re able to compare his performance to the guy who usually replaced him, Felix Jones. That may give us a better idea of how important Murray is.

In 2011, Jones carried the rock 127 times, just 37 fewer instances than DeMarco. However, Jones’ captured a -6.76 rushing net expected points total that year, equaling -.05 on a per attempt basis. Keep in mind that DeMarco Murray, under similar circumstances, rushed for a .12 NEP per attempt value that year. That’s one of the biggest jumps you’ll find at the running back position.

Last year, however, Jones finished with the exact same per attempt NEP value as Murray. They both were fairly miserable, losing .05 points for their team each time they carried the football.

In essence, Murray’s efficiency is a classic Jekyll and Hyde situation. He was phenomenal during his rookie year, but on a Felix Jones level during his sophomore one. There’s reason, however, to be optimistic about Murray from a fantasy perspective this year.

Volume Matters

The low NEP numbers from the Cowboys runners in 2012 had a lot to do with poor offensive line play. And that’s still a concern entering 2013. However, the circumstances in Dallas is a perfect example of why volume matters in fantasy football.

Though both runners were poor carrying the football effectively in 2012, they both were also consistent. In a good way, too. In DeMarco Murray’s 10 games, he never scored fewer than seven fantasy points, and captured double-digit totals in half of them. When Felix Jones was getting the bulk of the touches, he scored similarly.

Moreover, both backs contributed heavily in the receiving game, something that should continue with a pressured Tony Romo. Murray’s had a nice 2.6 receptions per game average over the first two years of his career. PPR league members take note.

The Cowboys couldn’t run the ball to save their lives last season, which is clearly a concern. However, with an atrocious ability to run the football, the Boys’ running backs were still incredibly fantasy relevant. You might think this can only get better, right?

DeMarco’s Risk

Again, we have Murray listed as our 13th-best running back in standard leagues entering the season. That comes with a potential risk.

Murray has an upright running style that many believe can contribute to injury. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. I’m not necessarily a buyer into injury-proneness, but keep in mind that Murray is a moderate risk according to our risk profiles. The reason he may not be a high risk is because, when he plays, he gets the volume and effectiveness in fantasy football that is needed to be a top runner.

The Cowboys rusher is leaving drafts in the third round of 12-team leagues according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. I’m buying. Because the running back position is deeper than it was a year ago, you can feel confident snagging Murray at his ADP, and getting another runner in Round 4 or 5 soon after as a safety net. And it’s not as though you’re reaching for one because you added Murray; you’re adding depth at a scarce position, which is important in fantasy football.

Even if Murray’s efficiency numbers don’t increase in 2013, he’ll be a good fantasy asset due to volume. If he ends up being the stud we saw during his rookie season, watch out.

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In This Article

DeMarco Murray
RB, Dallas Cowboys

Felix Jones
RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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