What the Oakland Raiders' Offensive Moves Mean for Latavius Murray

Is the promising back ready to shoulder the load for Oakland entering 2015?

After seven seasons rushing for the Oakland Raiders after being drafted fourth overall, long time Raider Darren McFadden was let loose this offseason by the Oakland brass as they decided to move on. Recently picked up by the Dallas Cowboys, McFadden will be taking over the role recently vacated by DeMarco Murray as he moves to join his former NFC East rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Based on the on-field production by Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden, it was a wise decision. As numberFire's Editor-In-Chief JJ Zachariason asserted earlier when reviewing McFadden's move to Dallas, DMC has accrued the worst Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) over the last three years in the entire league.

For those unaware of numberFire's metrics, NEP quantifies a player's contribution to his team's scoring output based on how that player performs versus what is expected of him. These numbers can provide a sense of efficiency of just how well a player is performing against his peers. In general, rushing is less effective than receiving or passing, which consequently leads to lower NEP scores among running backs relative to other positions.

Even in the midst of these low scores, the Raiders' leading rushers performed exceptionally below expectation.

CarriesRushing NEPRushing NEP/CarrySuccess Rate %
Darren McFadden154-22.48-0.1535.06%
Maurice Jones-Drew43-13.72-0.3220.93%
Latavius Murray824.090.0540.24%

The numbers aren't pretty for the two elder statesmen. For a bit of context, of the 79 running backs to eclipse 40 or more carries last season, the average Rushing NEP was -3.70. Maurice Jones-Drew also had the dubious honor of posting the lowest success rate percentage (20.93%) of the subset on his carries -- carries that went for positive NEP -- while teammate McFadden ranked 66th out of the 79.

It was very sensible for the Raiders to try and move on from McFadden, and general manager Reggie McKenzie likely smiled as he signed over MJD's retirement papers to the league. Collectively as a team, the Raiders ranked 31st in Adjusted Rushing NEP, which is adjusted for schedule strength, and have now had a negative rushing score 8 of the last 10 years (tied for fourth-worst in the league).

How can this once-proud Oakland franchise turn things around on the ground?

Creating a New Identity

Reggie McKenzie was so disappointed with former head coach Dennis Allen's output on the field that he fired him heading into their Week 5 bye week. Interim head coach Tony Sparano was able to squeak out three wins for the Raiders but was not enough for McKenzie to retain him.

McKenzie hired former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio this offseason to help turn this team around and lead them as their new head coach entering 2015. Del Rio is coming off the heels of a successful three-year stint in Denver in which his defenses posted an Adjusted Defensive NEP that ranked 11th in 2014, 13th in 2013, and 2nd in 2012. Del Rio's prior tenure in Jacksonville was also successful after making the Jaguars a regular playoff contender.

While Del Rio has his own positive defensive merits throughout his career, they won't necessarily translate into hope for turning around the running game. That falls solely onto Oakland's next hire who can provide optimism heading into 2015 for the Raiders -- hiring offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Musgrave previously served as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback coach, but prior to that, he had successful stints as an offensive coordinator on other teams around the league as seen in the table, which excludes 1998 and 2000 when he was not a full-time offensive coordinator, below.

YearTeam Leading RusherCarriesRushing NEPRushing NEP/CarryRushing YardsRushing TDsPPR RB Finish
2003JAXFred Taylor345-0.490.00157269th
2004JAXFred Taylor260-9.85-0.041224219th
2011MINAdrian Peterson20819.570.099701215th
2012MINAdrian Peterson34836.310.102097121st
2013MINAdrian Peterson2797.590.0312661010th

Musgrave was fortunate enough to work with talented running backs Fred Taylor and Adrian Peterson, both of whom have had career years in Musgrave's offenses. One impressive thing of note was the Rushing NEP per carry shown above. This past year, only 24 running backs (with at least 40 carries) posted a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.00 or greater. As mentioned earlier, rushing is less effective making these numbers stand out as only the top third of running backs typically attain this feat, something even some top running backs like Eddie Lacy and LeSean McCoy failed to achieve in 2014.

Musgrave's run to pass ratio -- despite working with studs like Taylor and Peterson -- hasn't favored the run as much as you'd think. In Peterson's outlier year in which he rushed for more than 2,000 yards, the Vikings were the fifth-most run heavy team. Musgrave's offenses have rushed more frequently than the NFL average but hover just outside the top 10 in terms of ratio.

In seasons where his leading rusher played in all 16 games -- 2003 and 2012 -- Musgrave was putting out top top-level fantasy performers. Even in limited seasons, his rushing attack has put out quality performers, which would be welcomed in Oakland based on the last three years. Oakland's top rushers have finished 35th in 2014, 24th in 2013, and 25th in 2012.

Can Latavius Murray become the next Musgrave disciple to become a fantasy superstar?

Next in Line

Latavius Murray was a late draft pickup by Oakland in 2013, as they took the UCF running back in the sixth round. Murray has an incredible blend of height, size, and speed that compares him favorably to Musgrave's former protege Adrian Peterson. Now free to roam the backfield without much competition, we may finally be able to see what Murray can do on a consistent basis.

Murray carried the ball 82 times last year and was by far the most efficient and productive back on Oakland's roster in 2014. It wasn't until Week 14 when the previous coaching staff -- following a 52-0 loss to St. Louis -- decided to evaluate what they had in Murray fully and focus their offense around him.

Well what do you know, Murray carried the ball 23 times and helped dictate the time of possession in a 24-13 win over the 49ers. Quarterback Derek Carr also had one of his best games of the season, completing 22 of 28 pass attempts for 245 yards and 3 touchdowns. In the last four weeks of the season, when Murray had at least 10 carries in each game, he provided PPR fantasy finishes of RB20, RB26, RB23, and RB21 -- low end, yet consistent, RB2 outputs.

The Raiders also bolstered the interior of their offensive line picking up free agent center Rodney Hudson from their divisional rival, the Kansas City Chiefs. The majority of Murray's carries ran right up the middle last year, and Hudson should help improve the run blocking for Murray's north-south style of running. Murray's not particularly elusive, as he forced only six missed tackles last year, so adding effective blocking in front of him via free agency was a must.

Oakland also added former Washington Redskin running back Roy Helu, a versatile back with great hands out of the backfield.

Rushing NEPRankRushing NEP/CarryRankSuccess RateRankReception NEPRankTotal NEPRank
Latavius Murray4.0916th0.0512th40.24%42nd6.1147th10.2026th
Roy Helu1.6719th0.0413th (tied)45.00%27th23.639th25.2913th

Complementing Murray's straight-line attributes, Roy Helu provides the Raiders with a talented multi-dimensional back. Despite playing on only 34.5% of Washington's offensive snaps, Helu picked up the 13th highest Total NEP (factoring in Rushing and Reception NEP) among all running backs. Helu was also very successful carrying the ball nearly equaling Murray's Rushing NEP per carry.

One thing Murray and Helu can look forward to in 2015 is an increased opportunity in hitting paydirt. Musgrave likes to utilize his running backs to punch it in for the score as his offenses have been ranked in the top 10 in rushing touchdown percentage each year as an offensive coordinator outside of 2004.

From a fantasy perspective, Latavius Murray could improve on his low end RB2 value that he finished the year with, but it's unlikely at this point in time that he jumps up to the next tier of running backs. A look at his way too early ADP has him at RB21, which seems fair given there are still a few notable free agents on the market as well as a very talented incoming rookie class that will skew things in the near future.

Roy Helu is a bit more of a wildcard, but he was often used when Washington went no-huddle -- something that Musgrave has talked about incorporating into Oakland's offense this year. Still, hoping for anything consistent from Helu is just wishful thinking. Helu's value will most likely be realized on the field than in fantasy football.

It seems at this time the Raiders are content going with Murray and Helu entering 2015. Most of the big name running back free agents have already found homes, but the biggest name -- Adrian Peterson -- would be a longshot to head to the Raiders. Even with his former ties to Bill Musgrave, it seems unlikely that the veteran entering his age-30 season would want to play for a team without a legitimate Super Bowl chance.

If anything, Oakland may look to the draft to add additional help if the coaching staff isn't sure if they're willing to hand the keys off to Murray for '15. The outlook for the running game as a whole should be seen in a positive light, given the additions of Bill Musgrave and Rodney Hudson as well as allowing Latavius Murray to take over the lead.

While the results may not directly translate to fantasy success, the Raiders should be able to turn things around entering 2015 with an improved running game in place.