Is Latavius Murray a Fantasy Football Star in the Making?

With only 82 carries to his name, is Murray too big a risk for fantasy owners to take?

Four carries, 112 yards, two touchdowns on a nationally televised game of Thursday Night Football. Latavius Murray sure knows how to make an entrance.

The former University of Central Florida star and introduced himself to the football community with an explosive 90-yard touchdown run that night against a previously stout Kansas City run defense, causing everyone to ask, "What the heck took so long to get him on the field, Oakland?"

Little had gone right for the 0-10 Raiders, yet they were continuing to trot out the ineffective duo of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew game after game, leaving the 6'3", 225-pound youngster stuck on the bench.

Athletically, Murray is one of those size and speed freaks, and he compares to some pretty darn good NFL players based on his pre-draft measurables.

NamePosHghtWght40 ydBnchVert
Ryan MathewsRB6' 1"2184.371936"
Latavius MurrayRB6' 2½"2234.382236"
Roy HeluRB6' 1"2194.41136½"
Deuce McAllisterRB6' 1"2224.412037½"
Edgerrin JamesRB6' 1"2164.38 

Not listed here is his other-worldly 6.81 three-cone-drill, designed to test a player's ability to change directions. That score is Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Le'Veon Bell good. And did I mention he is 6'3" 225 and ran sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash?

But athletic ability certainly isn't predictive when it comes to NFL success. On the field, Murray demonstrates that impressive speed in the open field, and excels at making cuts at the line of scrimmage to find a crease. While he has a bigger body, he doesn't run like a power back, far more often trying to make someone miss than run through the tackle. If he can add more power to his game, which his size suggests is certainly possible, he has the potential to be a dynamic runner.

In the passing game, he shows impressive hands and patience on screen passes, but blocking, as with most backs, is a concern. Still, the physical tools of a three-down back are evident when watching Murray, which is why many in the fantasy football community is so intrigued by his 2015 potential.

In terms of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a player's production relative to league expectation level based on historical performance, Murray's Rushing NEP per carry of 0.05 was on the same level as Mark Ingram (0.04), Lamar Miller (0.06) and Le'Veon Bell (0.06). The sample size, however, is only 82 carries.

There is certainly risk when taking an unproven player in the top four rounds of a fantasy draft. Just ask anyone who jumped on the Montee Ball or Cordarrelle Patterson bandwagon last year. Historically, highlight reel plays and fantastic opportunity do not guarantee a player will be a successful fantasy pick. It's easy to watch the tape on Latavius Murray from 2014 and see a star, but do the numbers back up the hype and justify investing a top-40 selection in a player with only 82 career carries?

What Does History Say?

History would tell us not to draft Murray.

Dating back to 2011, here are the non-rookie backs (and their Rushing NEP per rush heading into the season) who have been taken in the top 40 picks with fewer than 175 career carries on their resume.

YearNameADPCarriesFinal Pos RankRush NEP/P
2011Jahvid Best3917242-0.17
2012DeMarco Murray11163260.10
2013Lamar Miller3451360.08
2013David Wilson167199-0.03
2014Montee Ball10119900.03
2014Giovani Bernard1817018-0.04
2014Andre Ellington25118200.06
2015Latavius Murray3882?0.05

Yikes. Not one player yielded a positive return on investment in that season even if some did go on to have future success at their position. While it would make sense that Jahvid Best, Gio Bernard and David Wilson could struggle based on their poor NEP scores heading into their regression season, only a limited sample size (and perhaps injuries) can explain the struggles of the other four.

During that same span, three rookies were selected in the top 40 of drafts: Doug Martin (2012), Trent Richardson (2012) and Eddie Lacy (2013). All finished in the top 10 at their positions the following season, which is tragically annoying considering the disappointments Richardson and Martin have been as of late.

So while I cannot explain particularly why, gambling on a sophomore player in the top 40 based on limited sample size has been an utter disaster in recent years, while conversely, rookie backs have consistently outperformed their aggressive ADPs. History would tell us to draft Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon and not Carlos Hyde, Joseph Randle and Murray.

Why Murray Will Break the Rules

There is no question that drafting Murray is a major gamble with little positive historical precedent. But there's a first for everything, so could the talented back be the exception to the rule? Not everyone at numberFire would think so, with some suggesting that Roy Helu is the guy to own in Oakland.

At their comparative ADPs, Helu is certainly the safer play. But playing it safe is a great way to finish fourth in your league. And the inner gambler in me says Murray has the chance to be special.

Besides, is it really that much better to pass on Murray for Jonathan Stewart, Andre Ellington and C.J. Spiller, all players picked right after the Murray? All have had proven "bust" seasons on their resume -- and consistently.

New Raiders' head coach Jack del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave love to utilize the running game as the foundation to their offense, having coached great seasons from players such as Fred Taylor, Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew. Remember Peterson's 2,000-yard post-ACL season? That was under the watch of Musgrave.

The team will look to rely on that running game as they protect and develop Derek Carr, which could mean big workloads for Murray. With his skill set, that should mean a productive season, if not an exceptional season.

And for me personally, I'm willing to gamble on exceptional.