Jan 31, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; AP Offensive Player of the Year, Dallas Cowboys running backDeMarco Murray
, poses at the 4th annual NFL Honors at Symphony Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
DeMarco Murray – “Mister Fantastic” – DeMarco Murray has been many things since bringing his 6’0″ 217 pound running back career to the NFL, but his 2014 was a huge year for the young man. Despite weapons like quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten, he personally accounted for 43% of the Dallas Cowboy offense in 2014. That production enabled the Cowboys to take the pressure off their ailing quarterback, enabled the team to break the .500 barrier and enter the playoffs for the first time in what seems like forever. But despite the stories coming out of Dallas after failing to resign the running back, this was not something unexpected. He has been very good since arriving in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, flirting with a thousand yard rushing season until breaking through in 2013. By 2014, he was simply given the ball over and over and over again. He personally carried the ball nearly as many times as Tony Romo threw the ball in 2014. If you factor the passes thrown his way, and you discover that he was involved with 456 offensive plays.
During the season, I was disappointed in the team’s decision to mortgage their success with the future career of Murray, and with the low ball offer they afforded him as part of the free agency period, it seems to be a logical conclusion that the team was purposeful and deliberate. Were the Cowboys able to resign Murray with such a presumed home town discount, it likely would have been another round of working the offense around him while paying the large salaries to the like of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. In comparison, Bryant was targeted 138 times.
So much work and with a sullied past tainted with injuries, how does Murray get the nickname “Mister Fantastic”? He does something that few other players do in the NFL, he stretches the chains. His 85 first downs in 2014 has only been matched or bested by two other running backs since 2007 – Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Pederson and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. Not so long ago, in the days of Seattle’s Shawn Alexander, or Kansas City’s Priest Holmes, running backs accounted for far more of the workload of NFL offenses, and racked up more first downs as a result.
But in today’s NFL, the pass is the weapon of choice. That is why the Murray’s 85 first downs stands out. In fact, in the past two seasons under Chip Kelly, LeSean “Shady” McCoy has rushed for an incredible 2,926 yards. But, that is second in the NFL over that time frame. The top rusher in the NFL the past two seasons is DeMarco Murray, who eeked out first place by rushing for 2,966 yards. To McCoy’s 14 touchdowns, Murray has put up 22 touchdowns. The only running back theoretically capable of filling the shoes of the new Buffalo Bill running back McCoy is Murray.
With so much tread wore down in 2014, will Murray have anything left in 2015? Well, there is good news on that front:
The early exit of the Dallas Cowboys from the playoffs kept Murray from getting a lot of extra work on top of an already long hard season. In fact, since that was the only playoff appearance from the Cowboys, Murray was not repeated carrying the team through January. In the victory over Detroit, Murray carried the ball a conservative 19 times and was targeted on four pass plays. Against the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys returned to a Murray led offense.
In Philadelphia, Murray’s north-south style will be very tempting to a coach who loves to run north-south. Additionally, the Eagles running game has been solid behind one of the leagues best run blocking offensive lines this decade. Since there will be other running backs rotating in, look for the Eagles to try to keep Murray’s touches limited to 15-18 touches per game.