Latavius Murray Might Not Be Very Good, But It Also Might Not Matter
Sometimes with sports analysis, you find something, but you don't know exactly what to do with it. You don't know what it means.
That's the case here.
Latavius Murray is a physically gifted running back who has a legitimate following in fantasy football circles. He's fast, he's big, and he finished as fantasy football's 10th-best running back a season ago.
But there's a chance he might not be very good.
Here at numberFire, we use a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP) to help us quantify the real impact a player is having for his team. Rather than giving you the NEP spiel here, you can learn more about the metric in our glossary.
Passing is far more efficient than rushing, so we'll generally see Rushing NEP numbers below zero for running backs. So when you see Latavius Murray's numbers from last year, don't be alarmed because of that.
|Year||Rushing NEP||Rank||Per Rush||Rank|
The ranks above are against the 15 runners who had 200 or more carries in 2015. And according to NEP, Murray was essentially only better than Frank Gore last season.
This shouldn't be a shock to anyone who's looked at Murray's traditional stat line. He finished with 1,066 yards, sure, but he did so on 266 carries, good for a 4.0 yards per carry average. That's not awful, but it's also not great, either.
None of this is necessarily enough reason to think Murray isn't a good running back, especially when you consider the Raiders had an average run blocking line last year, per Football Outsiders. A problem, though, is that Murray's per-rush average was actually worst on Oakland in 2015. Granted, no runner saw even close to Murray's 266 touches -- his market share was huge last year -- but in the same situation, other backs did more with each touch than Murray did.
But the bigger deal here -- to me, at least -- isn't his yards per carry or Rushing NEP per rush averages. Well, they kind of matter, but not as much as his Success Rate.
Success Rate measures the percentage of positive runs made by a running back. It's a great way to look at running back success alongside standard Rushing NEP per rush because it can effectively show the impact big plays are making on a player's averages.
For instance, if a running back had a high Rushing NEP per rush but a low Success Rate, we'd conclude that he's probably making a living off of the big play. Why? Well, because if his efficiency is high but his Success Rate is low, that means his successes are insanely successful but that they're not coming often.
When you see low Rushing NEP per rush rates with low Success Rates, you run into issues -- you get players who are not only inefficient but who are also not gaining positive plays with much frequency.
That's the case with Latavius Murray.
Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Murray has had a Success Rate of 35.82%. The average Success Rate among all running back rushes last season was 39.03%.
What this means is that Murray not only has been inefficient -- remember, he was only better than Frank Gore last season among high-volume rushers in Rushing NEP per rush -- but he's also not been consistent on a carry-to-carry basis.
We've seen 168 running backs since the turn of the century hit the 300-carry mark, with Murray being one of them. Among these backs, Murray ranks seventh-worst in Success Rate, behind players like Trent Richardson and Cadillac Williams.
All of this matters both from a fantasy and real football standpoint. From a fantasy perspective, we've shown that Success Rate can play a role in running back regression -- we even saw the direct impact last season. And the real football influence is pretty obvious -- a player who's not performing well could see his opportunity diminish. That's a huge thing for Murray, who was arguably the most volume-driven high-end fantasy back in 2015.
The Silver Lining
Like I said from the start, I'm not sure this means anything.
Yes, Murray hasn't been a very effective running back. And, yes, volume really boosted his fantasy value last season.
But none of that may matter.
Not only did the Raiders significantly upgrade their offensive line this offseason, but the depth chart behind Murray is unproven and full of players who've yet to carry a significant load in an NFL offense. The team did draft DeAndre Washington in the fifth round of this year's draft, which could make for an interesting threat in the backfield.
What all of this means is that we may not have to worry so much about Murray's lack of effectiveness in 2015 because there's a good chance his volume will still be there in 2016. If you're playing in a PPR league, though, Murray's value may take a slight hit -- the Raiders have a decent pass-catching backfield presence, meaning Murray may lose some of the 53 targets he saw a year ago. And, for the record, Murray hasn't exactly been a strong receiving back so far in the NFL, having accumulated a per-target NEP average over his career that's been half as efficient as the league's average.
We may not have to worry about Murray's workload in 2016, and there's some reason for optimism, too, as the offensive line should be even better this season. But do know that there are risks involved in drafting Murray, and his lack of ability in the receiving game could open things up a bit for a player like DeAndre Washington this year.