We cannot predict what will happen to DeMarco Murray in terms of his health. We cannot state with certainty that the Dallas Cowboys running back—who has already missed 11 games and parts of others during his three-year career due to various injuries—will play a full season for the first time since becoming an NFL running back.
But we're ready to conclude that if Murray can stay on the field, the 26-year-old is destined to arrive at his prime with his best season yet.
Murray is coming off a Pro Bowl campaign in which he was the only back in the NFL to average at least 5.2 yards per attempt on a minimum of 200 carries, but he actually got much stronger as the season wore on.
After averaging a solid 4.8 yards per attempt but only compiling a total of 459 yards in seven appearances through Week 9, he exploded with a huge second half that included two 130-yard performances in December.
|NFL rushing leaders, Week 10-17 (2013)|
|1. LeSean McCoy||830||118.6||5.7||6|
|2. Ryan Mathews||775||96.9||4.6||5|
|3. Matt Forte||681||85.1||4.6||2|
|4. DeMarco Murray||662||94.6||5.4||6|
|5. Alfred Morris||589||73.6||4.1||2|
|Pro Football Reference|
There's little reason to believe Murray cannot pick up where he left off. He's healthy right now and is displaying an upbeat attitude as he takes part in organized team activities. And there's little doubt he's inspired to make an impact, because the Oklahoma product is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
There also could be new life to an offense that has in the past ignored the running game in near-comedic fashion. An offense that has run less than anybody else in football the last three years has brought in a new play-caller in Scott Linehan.
Linehan wasn't exactly known as a coordinator who favored the run in St. Louis or Detroit, but he had the personnel for a pass-oriented offense with the Lions, and it was clear his philosophy began to evolve when he finally had good backs to work with in 2013.
|Coming around: Lions rushing attempts under Scott Linehan|
|Season||Lions||NFL average||NFL rank|
|Pro Football Reference|
"That’s going to be our strength," Linehan said last month on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas (via Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News), "being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than they have in the past."
In fact, ESPN's Todd Archer envisions Murray setting a new career high for carries in 2014.
So if Murray can keep producing like he did to close out 2013 and has more opportunities while also being driven due to his contract situation, it could be a perfect scenario. And that's especially the case when you consider that the interior of that offensive line is now officially jacked with back-to-back first-round picks Travis Frederick and Zack Martin leading the way.
Not only will Murray benefit from the attention Dez Bryant and Jason Witten attract as quite possibly the best wide receiver-tight end duo in football, but he'll have one of the strongest offensive lines in the league blocking for him.
"It's definitely a little harder to block without pads, but they do a hell of a job just blocking with jerseys," Murray said of the line thus far at organized team activities, according to Archer. "I've definitely gotten a great feel for the offense and what we can do."
All Murray has to do is hold up. In 2011, it was an ankle. In 2012, it was a wrist and a foot. Last year, it was a knee. If he can limit his exposure and manage to get through 2014 with only bumps and bruises, expect Murray to make a run at an All-Pro spot in Big D.