Will DeAndre Washington Make Latavius Murray Irrelevant in Fantasy Football?
The Oakland Raiders are back on the map, folks.
As a playoff contender and as a fantasy football force, the Raiders are for real. Most get caught up in Derek Carr and the passing game, but the run game should also be a focus for fantasy owners.
Latavius Murray used the lead back role in Oakland last year to finish as a top-10 fantasy football running back. This season, though, there is some competition, and the inefficient Murray might not be a sure thing.
Can he fend off rookie DeAndre Washington and grind his way to another useful fantasy football season?
The Current Situation
The Raiders' rushing attack made improvements in 2015, according to our scheduled-adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points metric, which indicates how many points above expectation-level a team earned while running the ball. You can read more about Net Expected Points in our glossary.
The Raiders earned an Adjusted Rushing NEP per play score of -0.04, which ranked 22nd in the NFL. In 2014, their -0.11 ranked last.
The real question is whether or not Murray was the reason for the improvement.
Murray’s workload of 307 total touches was fourth in the NFL last season, but when you take a look back at the 2015 metrics, it is obvious that Murray left a lot to be desired in the run game.
Take a look at Murray's final ranking among 72 running backs who had 50 or more carries last season.
|2015 Rushing Metrics||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP per Play||Rush Success Rate|
|Latavius Murray||64th (-18.16)||49th (-0.07)||60th (34.46%)|
Murray also graded out poorly against high-volume backs, ranking 27th in Rushing NEP among 30 running backs with at least 150 carries, 25th in Rushing NEP per carry, and 28th in Rushing Success Rate.
Murray's 2016 Outlook
So, should we ignore Murray in fantasy drafts this summer due to his poor metrics last season?
Our current projections at numberFire peg Murray for nearly six touchdowns this year, good enough for 16th in our running back projections. His average draft position (ADP) is sitting at 16th among running backs in standard fantasy football formats, per FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
He is basically priced correctly at this point but is far from a lock to return top-20 value.
Part of that is because Murray's receiving efficiency is concerning. He posted a Reception NEP per target of 0.14 in 2015 on 53 targets, well below the league-average rate for running backs (0.36). That's where Washington, the third-down back, comes in.
Murray didn't have that competition last year, but he does now. And problematically, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie thinks that Washington is 'more than just a third-down back."
Last season, four Oakland running backs other than Murray contributed 66 carries to the offense, amounting to only 20% of the running game workload. It is obvious that Oakland does not want Murray taking 80% of the carries in 2016.
McKenzie alluded to this by saying, "The way this league is with the pounding you're taking, you can't just have one guy getting beat up all year."
A smaller workload could help Murray regain his efficiency and big-play ability: on 82 rushes in 2014, Murray had a 40.24% Rushing Success Rate and was 16th in Rushing NEP (4.09) among 73 running backs who had 50 or more rushing attempts.
The right move to make in the Oakland backfield may be to bypass Murray and target Washington at his current draft cost late in the 11th round as the 50th running back off the board.
We all know that Murray has talent, but again, the Raiders have made it clear that they view Washington as a complete, three-down back.
If Washington, who posted an 82nd-percentile SPARQ score and 6.4 yards per carry in college, is able to shift the number of carries his way to 35% or so and play on passing downs, both Oakland running backs could be viable in fantasy this season.
And Murray isn't exactly a picture of health. His 52% Injury Risk according to Sports Injury Predictor is a "Medium Injury Risk." Washington could spend games as a featured back if Murray misses time.
At the end of the day, drafting Murray likely won't hurt your fantasy team, but he probably lacks the upside we all thought he had last year.
Behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the Oakland backfield has fantasy football potential for certain in 2016.
But passing on Murray in the 4th round and targeting Washington in the 11th instead could pay huge dividends.
That may just be the league-winning move.