Tennessee Titans veteran DeMarco Murray is still an elite running back.
In the three preseason games he participated in, Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry carried the ball 33 times for only 89 yards, a yards per carry average under 3. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 of the regular season, he showed that his miserable preseason was nothing to worry about.
Jacksonville’s talented defensive line trio of Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler, and Malik Jackson was no match for Henry, who imposed his will on the Jaguars’ vaunted defensive front. He carried the ball 14 times for 94 yards and a touchdown, averaging nearly 6.5 yards per carry.
In stark contrast, RB DeMarco Murray’s season got off to a very pedestrian start. The three-time Pro Bowler lacked explosiveness and was unable to get any rhythm going, averaging only 3.28 YPC in the first two games of the season.
Additionally, Murray sat out the entire second half of the Titans’ game against the Jaguars after aggravating a hamstring injury he dealt with throughout all of Training Camp. Over the following week, he was listed as questionable on the injury report and practiced only in a limited capacity.
The age of 30 has traditionally been the cut-off for a running back’s prime. Murray, 29, will hit that mark just after the Super Bowl in February. His age, slow start to the season, and the success of Henry made many fans and media members alike wonder if Murray’s time as one of the NFL’s best running backs had come to a swift and brutal end.
Chris Wessling of NFL.com wrote, “Henry is the better back right now, and the Titans seem to realize it.”
Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com wrote, “The running back controversy that has never really existed in Tennessee until now isn’t going away anytime soon.”
Simply put, those who overreacted were wrong.
Perhaps the most levelheaded response from the media came from Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com, who told the Titan Sized Podcast “I think it’s a notice that [Henry as a starter] is coming, but I don’t think it’s the passing of the torch quite yet.”
It took only one carry for Murray to prove his doubters wrong. His third quarter 75-yard scamper against one of the best defenses in the NFL showed that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, and that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. In three weeks, Murray went from a star back to one who was washed up, and back again to being a star.
Murray finished the game against Seattle with 115 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, a whopping YPC average of 8.2. He added one catch for five yards.
On his 75-yard run, Murray showed more than just speed. With about 20 yards left until reaching pay dirt, it looked like he was going to be tackled by a trio of pursuing Seahawks that included All-Pro corner, Richard Sherman. Murray cut back, scored, and the quickness with which he did so nearly caused Sherman to fall down. His elite lateral ability is still there, too.
If his rejuvenating performance against Seattle is any indication, Murray’s bad games against Oakland and Jacksonville were anomalies. His sluggish end to last season can be attributed to a torn plantar plate in his foot, an injury that Titans’ legend Eddie George said would be “very difficult” to play with.
Now that his toe is healed and the hamstring issue seems to be behind him, the sky is again the limit for Murray. Since 2014, when he rushed for over 1,800 yards with the Dallas Cowboys, Murray has remained one of the NFL’s elite at the running back position.
He has never really had top-end, breakaway speed, but he doesn’t need it. Murray makes up for his lack of speed with an uncanny ability to weave through holes in the box, a cutback move that is rare for backs of his size, a deathly stiff-arm, soft hands to catch passes out of the backfield, and some of the best pass protection ability of any RB in the league.
When NFL Draft analytics guru Jim Cobern joined the Titan Sized Podcast in August, he made it seem like teams were foolish to leave Murray on the board until the third round. “The biggest trait with [Murray],” he said, “was his athleticism overall. As a running back, you want to have at least one above average athleticism score. In Murray’s case, aside from the three-cone, all of his athleticism stats were above average, with a speed/size score of over 90.”
Derrick Henry is a very talented running back, but the idea that the Titans needed to move on from Murray—some fans even suggested that trading him away would be the best option—was an overreaction. They both certainly need to be involved in the offense, but Murray needs to remain the bell cow until he legitimately loses a step.
The Titans are at their best when DeMarco Murray is productive. They know that, which is why a couple of poor performances did not result in him being benched. Murray is just fine, and he should be in for another Pro Bowl campaign.