There was more action around the NFL last week than in your average Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans game, and the league’s reigning rushing champion was in the middle of it.
DeMarco Murray, arguably the most valuable player in fantasy football last year, left the Dallas Cowboys for a $42 million deal with the division rival Philadelphia Eagles. No one saw that coming, especially after the Eagles had just signed Ryan Mathews to a contract the day before.
So how does Murray’s moving to Philadelphia affect the fantasy football world? Here is a look at how Murray’s fantasy value, along with those of his new Eagles teammates, will be affected in 2015:
Give Murray a round of applause! Nope, make that a standing ovation! Most fantasy owners thought if he left Dallas that there was no way he could find a situation that would be just as beneficial for his fantasy value as the one in Dallas was.
The Cowboys had everything surrounding Murray that could optimize his abilities, including the best offensive line in football, a passing attack that kept defenses from stacking eight in the box and no backup running backs on the roster who had chance of swooping in and stealing carries and touchdowns away from Murray.
Then Murray goes and signs a $42 million deal with the Eagles, and he joins the one team where his fantasy worth might not suffer and could actually improve if everything breaks right.
Philadelphia’s offensive line is above average. It created several holes for LeSean McCoy to sprint through the past two years; that’s for sure. McCoy rushed for almost 3,000 yards between 2013 and 2014.
More importantly, head coach Chip Kelly’s offense for greyhounds is as running back-friendly as it is quarterback-friendly. Murray’s straight-ahead style will mesh perfectly with Kelly’s offensive philosophies. He is actually better suited for the offense than McCoy was because McCoy is a shifty side-to-side runner while Murray makes one cut and then goes forward.
Murray is not going to run for 1,845 yards again, though. He has one big thing going against him: Between Mathews, Darren Sproles and his own body, Murray will not get 392 carries like he did last season.
Mathews was not paid $11.5 million to be a spectator like Joseph Randle was in Dallas. He will get his touches. And Sproles is a different type of back than Murray is and will be the focal point of packages where Kelly can put Sproles’ special skills to use.
But the biggest obstacle when it comes to Murray getting 392 rushing attempts again is Murray himself. Murray never had more than 217 carries in a season during his first three years in the league thanks to a myriad of injuries that made him a fantasy pariah. 2014 was the first season where he did not miss a game and showed some semblance of durability.
So has Murray turned over a new healthy leaf thanks to some lifestyle and training changes, was he just plain lucky or did he stay on the field so he could earn his $42 million payday? Fantasy owners are going to find out in 2015, and they may find out the hard way.
2015 Fantasy Projection: 1,320 rushing yards, 225 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns and two games missed due to some sprain or strain.
So is Philadelphia keeping Mathews around after signing Murray just a good-faith gesture because the Eagles signed Mathews first, or is he the kind of insurance that they cannot buy from Geico?
You have to hand it to Mathews. The guy got more money to do less work than Baltimore’s Justin Forsett. Mathews will get five to 10 carries per game and get paid handsomely (over $3 million per year) to do it. During a time when running backs are being paid chicken feed, Mathews broke the bank.
Mathews was no slouch in San Diego during those intermittent moments when he was healthy. He rushed for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns in 2013 when he finally went an entire season without twisting an ankle or pulling a hamstring. He also owns a decent 4.4 yards-per-carry average for his career.
Mathews’ fantasy value takes a prodigious hit unless Murray gets injured, however. If Murray stays healthy enough to get 280 to 300 carries, then Mathews will be lucky to muster 500 rushing yards and four scores.
But if Murray does get nicked up like he is due to do, Mathews could have the third 1,000-yard year of his career, as long as he sidesteps his own injuries as well as he sidesteps middle linebackers. Look for Mathews to be one of fantasy football’s favorite handcuff running back picks in drafts.
2015 Fantasy Projection: 735 rushing yards, 150 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
You could make the argument that Sproles was underutilized last season when he touched the ball only 97 times (40 receptions, 57 carries), the lowest touch total he had since 2008. And it was not because he was not effective when he had the ball in his hands. His 5.8 yards-per-carry and 9.7 yards-per-catch averages were the best he posted in several seasons.
Blame it on McCoy hogging all the carries. Blame it on Kelly’s hurry-up offense not allowing him to get on the field enough. Blame it on nobody being able to find him on the sidelines because he is so small. Just do not blame it on Father Time slowing Sproles a step because that does not seem to be the case.
Sproles’ role will not be reduced even though the two-headed tandem of Murray and Mathews are now in the fold. He has scatback skills Murray and Mathews do not possess. But the problem is that his role will not get any bigger with that twosome in town, and because of his advancing age, his numbers have a much better chance of going down than up.
2015 Fantasy Projection: 292 rushing yards, 340 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Nobody likes a reunion better than yours truly. It always get me teary-eyed when the casts of Love and Hip Hop or The Real Housewives of Anywhere get together to recap and relive the past season and verbally and physically assault one another.
Bradford and Murray are old Oklahoma chums, and now they are back together again with their multimillions and their brittle bodies to be main cogs in one of the highest-powered offenses in the NFL. With Murray keeping defenses honest, that would open up plenty of passing lanes for Bradford.
The biggest question about Bradford, just like it is for Murray, is his durability. Bradford’s knees have gotten so bad that he does not need to be tackled or even touched to tear an ACL. He has only appeared in seven games over the past two seasons and is one of the biggest risks in the NFL and fantasy football.
Fantasy owners do not even know for sure if Bradford will stay in Philadelphia. Could he be traded for a first-round pick? Could he be a chip for Kelly to move up in the draft to snag longtime chum Marcus Mariota? Bradford owners have to pray he will stay put because his fantasy value will be a lot better in Philadelphia than it would be in say Cleveland or Tampa Bay.
If Bradford stays in Philadelphia, he has to beat out Mark Sanchez for the starting quarterback job in a battle of the injury-prone against the turnover-prone. Then if Bradford wins the competition, he has to stay healthy for 16 games. He has only accomplished that feat twice in five seasons.
Bradford is the poster boy for high risk, high reward in fantasy football in 2015. He could get injured in the first month and stick his fantasy owners with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Matt Cassel as their quarterback.
Or Bradford could stay healthy and ride Kelly’s offense to 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. If quarterbacks like Sanchez and Nick Foles can be fantasy forces in Kelly’s offense, Bradford can, too.
2015 Fantasy Projection: 2,450 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, eight interceptions and something happens that prevents Bradford from being the starting quarterback for the entire season.