Latavius Murray Doesn't Add Much to the Minnesota Vikings
When your franchise moves on from one of the best running backs of all time, there's pressure to make a splash in trying to replace him. When the Minnesota Vikings released Adrian Peterson, that became their prerogative.
They certainly made a signing late Wednesday night, but it may not have been a splash.
The Vikings have signed former Raiders RB Latavius Murray.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 16, 2017
While the money behind the contract isn't out yet, Latavius Murray is joining the Vikings on a three-year deal that can be voided after one season, according to Field Yates of ESPN. Given that Murray has spent the past two years as the lead back for the Oakland Raiders, this would seem to be that replacement they were coveting.
The question, though, becomes what Murray truly adds to this Vikings team. Their big issues last year stemmed from offensive-line injuries and ineffectiveness more than the running backs, and unless Murray has added some serious beef, he's probably not helping much there. The Vikings did spend money on the line with the additions of tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, but if they were allotting money to the backfield that could have instead gone to the line, it may have held them back from targeting better assets.
If Murray is a tremendous back -- like Peterson was in his prime -- he can help mask some issues on the line. We can see if this is the case using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to measure the efficiency of both teams and players. There's a big difference between a two-yard rush on 3rd and 1 and that same two-yard rush on 3rd and 3, and NEP helps quantify those differences by showing the expected points added on each carry.
Is Murray the answer for the Vikings' rushing woes? It's possible that he is, but the numbers seem skeptical.
Lagging Behind Teammates
There's no question that Murray had better efficiency marks than the Vikings' backfield last year. Almost everybody did. That's how it works when your team ranks dead last in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play.
Just for the sake of balance, here are all of their metrics side by side. Peterson and Matt Asiata are both free agents, so the big point of emphasis here is Jerick McKinnon, and Murray's efficiency certainly towered over that of McKinnon. Success Rate is the percentage of rushes that result in an increase in expected points.
|In 2016||Rushes||Rushing NEP per Carry||Success Rate|
McKinnon and Asiata struggled big time, and Peterson had one of the worst seasons in numberFire's databases. Anybody's metrics would appear glowing when compared to this group.
The problem with measuring Murray to the Vikings' backs is that it's not a parallel comparison. While Minnesota dealt with issues on the offensive line, Murray was running behind one of the best lines in the entire league. Instead, we should be comparing Murray to his teammates, who ran in the same conditions.
This one doesn't turn out as glowingly for Murray. Both DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard had more than 80 carries this year, giving us a decent sample to look at and contrast the three. Here's what we get when we do so.
|In 2016||Rushes||Rushing NEP per Carry||Success Rate|
Richard's Rushing NEP per carry is partially inflated by a 75-yard barn burner he unleashed against the New Orleans Saints, but that only counts as one "success" in his Success Rate. This levels the playing field for those high-upside plays, and he still toasted Murray. Murray was third in both his per-carry efficiency and his Success Rate, and that should be a bit concerning.
Murray did produce his metrics at higher volume than the other two, and there is value in that. But it's not as if this guy was the team's workhorse, either.
In the 14 games Murray played, he was on the field for at least 60% of the snaps just four times. He played fewer than half the snaps in six games, and he played exactly half in one other. The Raiders didn't seem to trust Murray with a full workload, and the Vikings would likely be misguided to do the same.
If we want to see what Murray did in a meatier role, we just need to look back to 2015. That year, Murray played at least 60% of the snaps in 10 of 16 games, racking up 266 total rushes. They just weren't good ones.
There were 44 different running backs in 2015 who had at least 100 carries. Of them, Murray ranked 34th in Rushing NEP per carry and 42nd in Success Rate. After seeing that, it makes sense why the Raiders would draft Washington in the fifth round the following April and lessen Murray's load in 2016. His efficiency got better, but again, it didn't measure up to that of his teammates.
The big boost in value that Murray receives is from his involvement in the passing game. But that's also the role best suited for McKinnon. Murray doesn't add reliable, consistent rushing efficiency, and the Vikings already have a player who can catch the ball out of the backfield. So what does Murray truly add to this team?
A Lateral Movement
Murray certainly isn't a bad player. Oakland would not have given him the volume they did the past two years if that were the case, and the Vikings' talent evaluators believe in him enough to give him a three-year deal. Analytically, though, he just doesn't add much to this team.
In a vacuum, signing a running back is fine for the Vikings. Both Peterson and Asiata are gone, and McKinnon can't be expected to play every snap. But there's an opportunity cost associated with moving on a guy like Murray, and it could prevent the Vikings from addressing bigger needs.
In Reiff and Remmers, the Vikings are attempting to bolster their biggest weakness from last year. But if they had planned on saving money at running back, it could have allowed them to pursue higher-end free agents in the market. Until we see the money behind Murray's contact, it'll be hard to definitively judge the limitations in signing him, but it seems a bit odd at first glance.
The Vikings needed to make improvements in their running game after the debacle that was last year. But signing Murray -- based on his efficiency stats -- may not move the needle dramatically in this department. He struggled relative to his teammates, forcing the Raiders to use a committee, and that could very well be his fate with his new squad in Minnesota, as well.