The Case For Latavius Murray
Latavius Murray is in prime position to have a great 2016 fantasy season. He is the clear cut starter on a strong offensive unit. His measurables, 6’3” 230 pounds-4.38 40 time, and toughness cannot be argued. He has a full year as the lead back under his belt, and the Oakland Raiders are intent on running the ball. The table has been set for Murray to feast. Can he take advantage of this fantastic opportunity? Yes, he can.
Playing all 16 games as a workhorse running back is a rare feat. Only 6 RBs with 220+ carries were able to see action in every game last year. Although suffering what would become a lingering shoulder injury in Week 4, and his second NFL concussion in Week 9, Murray displayed grit by continuing to fight for his team on the field. The concussions are a concern as both could be attributed to his upright running style. Mike Mitchell (Steelers-Week 9, 2015) and Kurt Coleman (KC- Week 12, 2014) squared him up, hit him helmet to helmet, and knocked him out of both games. If we are discussing the need for him to lower his pad level in order to prevent more concussions, you can rest assured Murray, his coaches and trainers have been focused on it all offseason.
The Raiders did not sign any free agent RBs this year. They did draft DeAndre Washington out of Texas Tech in the 5th Round, but I actually see that as a sign of confidence in Murray. At 5’8” 204 pounds, Washington does not represent a typical NFL sized feature back. If Oakland wanted a player to come in and compete for bell-cow duties, they could have chosen from a number of players who fit that bill. In 2015, the Raiders envisioned Roy Helu taking some of the burden off Murray while representing a pass catching, 3rd down option. That did not pan out, but the intent still remains. Which is why they targeted Washington, whose 71 receptions over his final 2 collegiate seasons displayed his ability to catch the ball well. The Raiders may not want to give Murray as many RB touches (71.56% of all RB touches) as they did in 2015, but he is clearly still the workhorse and will be the primary ball carrier.
The Raiders OL played well in 2015, ranking 6th overall according to profootballfocus.com. Run blocking, however, was the weak point of the unit, ranking only 18th. The free agent signing of premier run blocking guard, Kelechi Osemele, implies an offensive shift towards balance. OC Bill Musgrave has been outspoken about wanting the team to be more productive in the running game. He feels that Osemele is a big key in that equation. Some would say allowing J’Marcus Webb to walk in free agency represents addition by subtraction. It could be argued that the Raiders have amassed one of the best OLs in the league. They should clear the path for Murray to reach the 2nd level of the defense more often, where his elite speed and elusiveness can be put on display.
The Raiders are a prideful organization with a rich history and not much success over the past 14 seasons. The Raiders faithful deserve a winner, and if you are buying the hype, this could be the year. Derek Carr had a very nice sophomore season tossing 32 TDs to only 13 INTs. If TE Clive Walford continues to progress as he did towards the end of his 2015 rookie campaign, the Raiders could have one of the league’s best receiving units. Amari Cooper is a rising star and Michael Crabtree resurrected his career in 2015 with the Raiders. We already touched on the improved OL. The defense could drastically improve in 2016. The safety position was notoriously bad in 2015, so the team signed free agent Reggie Nelson and drafted hard-hitting Karl Joseph out of West Virginia in the 1st Round of the draft. They also brought in CB Sean Smith and OLB Bruce Irvin. Led by one of the league’s best young players, Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense could become stout in a hurry. Having an improved defense and more stability on offense can only help Murray. They should be in tight games or have the lead late, in which case they will use their improved OL to snuff games out via the run.
If you didn’t know who Latavius Murray was before Week 12 in 2014, you knew of him afterward. His 4 carry, 112 yard, 2 TD performance put him on the map before the above-mentioned concussion halted what could have been a historic night. Murray has yet to blow our socks off since that night, but I believe 2016 will provide a perfect storm of events for him to do just that. With so many factors lining up in his favor, the onus now rests upon him to prove to the world that he is more than a stat accumulator and is actually a difference-making player in the NFL.