The Titans unforeseen off-season splash, that saw them strike a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for RB Demarco Murray has brought a great deal of optimism surrounding Murray and the Titans running back unit.
The question is how will he produce in 2016? Two years ago, all of us fantasy owners were kicking ourselves that we didn’t pick him as he was being passed over in the 3rd and 4th rounds. The Murray last year was commonly found on the free agent waiver wire, while teammate Ryan Matthews was perceived the more reliable option.
Before we can more acutely predict the success and fantasy value Murray could bring, let’s note a few outliers that only Murray and Tennessee can determine.
1.First, who will the Titans select in the Draft?
Most experts have the Titans selecting left tackle Laremy Tunsil out of Ole Miss, although swirling rumors of trading the pick and/or taking cornerback Jalen Ramsey have been evident.
The selection of Tunsil would automatically raise the value of Murray. A running back cannot run without open lanes, and drafting Tunsil would he help fix the problem. Even though Tunsil’s forte is pass blocking, his athleticism and pure power will suit him well in running situations.
The Titans have already improved their line since last season with the signing of center Ben Jones, and the growth shown from 2014 first-round pick Taylor Lewan.
2. Marcus Mariota
The luxury of having a quarterback that is an elite runner can only help Murray, for the fact he will not take away carries. Mariota only ran five more times once in 2015, as he is molding into more of a pocket passer in the modern NFL. Mariota is surgical and patient in his decision making, showing no need to run. At the same time, the threat of having to keep a spy on Mariota at the second level allows Murray’s job to be easier.
3. Fresh Legs
Sharing the backfield with Ryan Matthews in Philadelphia resulted in 193 carries, good for 19th among running backs in 2015. Murray may have needed the less workload after the 392 carries he endured in 2014. The less carries should give Murray a pep in the step going into 2016.
4. The Guy
Murray comes to a situation where he is the pure focal point in the run game. Fantasy owners can expect Murray to average between 17 and 25 carries consistently, with no real competition in the backfield. Antonio Andrews is the No.2 RB on the depth chart, but is more of a scat back and pass catcher. Bishop Sankey has not proven he can average over three yards per carry, while talked about rookie of last year, David Cobb, is recovering from a season-ending injury.
The Titans schedule in 2016 features six of the eleven worst run defenses (San Francisco, Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis (twice), Miami, San Diego) from 2015. Murray has played in the rugged and physical NFC east throughout his five year career, and a transition to a weaker AFC South will only help.
The 2016 Fantasy football running back class may be one of the least top-heavy groups in years. Adrian Peterson should still go in the top 3 no matter what, but behind him there are many questions. Jamaal Charles is coming off an injury ruined 2015 campaign, Eddie Lacy lost his job mid-year to backup James Starks, Marshawyn Lynch may retire and C.J. Anderson disappointed many fantasy owners with just five touchdowns and 700 yards rushing. That being said, Murray should find himself on the back end of the top 10, especially if the Titans draft Laremy Tunsil.
In 12 team leagues, Murray is most likely a RB1. If you are in a eight team or ten team league, it will weigh heavily on how your Draft plays out, but Murray could land as RB1 or RB2 depending how many quarterbacks and wide receivers come off the board first. A quality runner, with the amount of touches Murray is expected not to last past round three.