3 Week 5 Storylines to Watch: DeMarco Murray Keeps Proving Us Wrong

Murray is proving that, despite being on a poor team, it's possible for running backs to be highly productive fantasy assets. Can he continue his blistering pace?

Week 4 in the NFL was a weird one, for sure.

The Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro, John Kuhn scored two touchdowns, and the Los Angeles Rams improved to 3-1 with a win against the Arizona Cardinals.

Reviewing last week's storylines to watch, Michael Floyd did catch a touchdown but secured just three catches on seven targets, continuing his string of inefficient play to start the season.

Jordan Howard took full advantage of his newfound opportunity in the absence of Jeremy Langford, racking up 132 total yards on 26 touches. And Latavius Murray, whose role was already being diminished before last week's game, saw just eight carries, got injured, and is now unlikely to play in Week 5.

With a quarter of the season gone, and now rolling through bye weeks, we've definitely got more interesting football ahead.

On to Week 5.

DeMarco Murray Rolls On

Following his disastrous 2015 season in Philadelphia, DeMarco Murray was relegated to running back purgatory by many analysts this preseason. Analysts gave Murray, traded at age 28 and with rookie Derrick Henry in the mix, tepid expectations.

Through four weeks, however, Murray is currently the overall RB1 in both standard and PPR formats.

Commanding a healthy 61.7 percent of the Tennessee Titans’ rushing attempts, Murray’s hold on the Tennessee backfield appears secure, but what has really boosted his fantasy value has been his involvement in the passing game.

Murray ranks first on the team in catches (19) and touchdowns receiving (2) and second in targets (21). Murray has always been a capable pass-catcher -- 25 or more catches in all five seasons -- but being on pace for almost 80 receptions is new territory.

He’s also been efficient as a receiver based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric compared to similar usage running backs:

Player Receptions Reception NEP Targets Reception NEP/Target Catch Rate Reception Success Rate
David Johnson 14 12.73 21 0.61 66.7% 78.57%
Spencer Ware 11 12.37 17 0.73 64.7% 90.9%
Tevin Coleman 13 12.31 15 0.82 86.7% 69.2%
DeMarco Murray 19 11.16 21 0.53 90.5% 68.4%
Theo Riddick 20 10.33 26 0.40 76.9% 75.0%
Giovani Bernard 19 9.85 24 0.41 79.2% 63.2%

The short-term schedule for Murray is extremely enticing, with the next four opponents -- the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars -- all ranking in the bottom-half of the league in terms of our overall defensive metrics when adjusted for strength of schedule.

Murray’s stronghold on the rushing work in Tennessee combined with his massive involvement in the passing game makes him a safe bet for production no matter what game script the Titans find themselves in. As fantasy owners, it would be wise to adjust our perception of Murray moving forward.

The Return of Jamaal Charles

When one of the best running backs of all-time gets the green light to return from a near year-long recovery from injury, expectations naturally rise. Perhaps due to conditioning concerns or the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs got boat-raced early on against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday night, Jamaal Charles saw just 2 carries and did not catch a pass on just 10 snaps.

Spencer Ware has handled the majority of the running back workload through four weeks and has provided solid RB2 production for his fantasy owners. But from an rushing efficiency standpoint, Ware has been downright awful, ranking 34th in Rushing NEP per play among 35 running backs with 30 or more carries. Only Adrian Peterson has been worse. Ware has been a viable receiving threat, however, ranking second in Reception NEP behind only David Johnson.

In the five games prior to his injury in 2015, Charles played 77.6 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps. With an underwhelming 2-2 record, Kansas City needs Charles to be involved, even with Ware's ability in the passing game, so we should expect Charles’ workload to increase as the weeks progress.

Knee injuries are always tricky, so it’s tough to say how quickly, or if at all, Charles will regain the game-breaking ability he has routinely demonstrated throughout his career. This has the makings of a frustrating situation for fantasy owners that will require week-to-week observation as Charles’ health likely improves.

Jimmy Graham Comes Roaring Back

Much like DeMarco Murray, Jimmy Graham has been a pleasant surprise so far in 2016, returning from a ruptured patellar tendon which provided a murky outlook this summer.

Graham is currently the TE6 in PPR formats and has been essential in the Seattle Seahawks' offensive revival starting in Week 3, as shown by his statistical production thus far:

Week Snaps Targets Receptions reYDS reTDS
1 21% 1 1 11 0
2 82% 4 3 42 0
3 67% 9 6 100 1
4 67% 8 6 113 0

Playing at least 67 percent of the team’s snaps in each of the last three games, Graham appears to be showing no real after effects from his injury. He’s seeing 15.9 percent of his team’s targets, second only to Doug Baldwin, and he’s also been highly efficient given his opportunity, ranking third in Reception NEP per target among 33 tight ends with 10 or more targets.

Despite poor run blocking -- 28th according to Football Outsiders -- the Seahawks remain the 10th-most run-heavy team in the league, somewhat limiting Graham’s potential ceiling. However, with only one touchdown so far, Graham is likely due for some positive regression in that category, which could easily offset any future drop in targets.

Following their bye week, Seattle faces the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, and New Orleans Saints, with both the Falcons and Saints ranking 25th or worse in pass defense according to our metrics, providing an opportunity for Graham’s emergence to continue.