Is DeMarco Murray the Best Running Back in Fantasy Football?

Murray has put together three stellar weeks of football, but that doesn't necessarily mean he is as good as what his stats show.

Demarco Murray is currently an elite, bonafide top-three fantasy running back after three weeks of football. Second only to Marshawn Lynch in total fantasy points, Murray has the most rushing attempts and rushing yards, and the second most total yards among running backs.

To make a long story short, Murray has been getting it done.

As Tony DelSignore pointed out in early August, numberFire projections indicated that Murray could have a career season this year. So is he the best running back in fantasy football? With the stats that I just quoted above, you could make a strong case that he is. However, our Net Expected Points (NEP) data paints a slightly different picture.

Stats That Tell a Different Story

I'll be honest - when I began researching Murray, I thought that I would see strong NEP metrics to go along with his solid cursory stats (rushing yards, attempts, touchdowns). I didn't.

Through three weeks, DeMarco is just barely a top-24 running back in terms of our Rushing NEP and Rushing NEP per rush metrics, and he's not even in the top 30 running backs in terms of Reception NEP and Total NEP (all among running backs with at least 20 carries). To be fair, this can happen to running backs with a big workload. As the runner sees more and more opportunities, he's going to have runs that contribute negatively to his team's NEP, as defenses are prepared for him to tote the rock. This speaks to the fact that running the ball is simply less efficient than passing it.

But even against running backs with similar volume, Murray's fantasy point total hasn't completely aligned with his NEP efficiency. Here's how Murray stacks up against the 18 running backs with at least 40 carries this season.

MetricRankWho's Better?
Rushing NEP8thZac Stacy
Rushing NEP per Rush6thTerrance West
Reception NEP16thRashad Jennings
Total NEP11thStevan Ridley

How is this happening? Why is Murray not being seen as an efficient runner despite his 5.1 yards per attempt average?


Murray hasn't been benched for his fumbling, which has happened in each game this season. That's something we can't ignore, and because NEP looks at how a player is performing on the field, fumbles are most definitely included in that analysis.

The positive here is that DeMarco Murray, despite his fumbling issues, has still been roughly average running the football among high-volume backs. Moreover, we can't ignore the fact that Murray finished 2013 as the second-best rusher according to our metrics. The main reason he wasn't as effective in fantasy as he could have been is because he averaged 15.5 carries per game (and he wasn't healthy for two). This season, that number has shot up to 25, and the Cowboys are actually the third run-heaviest team in the entire league. Talk about a 180.

His fumbles, however, have forced his position down in our rankings this year, meaning he's not the best running back in real football.

From a fantasy standpoint though, our projections have Murray finishing as the fifth-best running back in fantasy football this season, and some of that surely has to do with how he has been used thus far. So in essence, he may not be the best running back in fantasy football, but he sure is close.