The Oakland Raiders are finally ready to part ways with running back Darren McFadden, who has been a below-average running back since 2011. McFadden hasn’t had a decent season since he returned from a Lisfranc injury in his foot and the team fired Hue Jackson.
Ready to take the reins as Oakland’s top running back is Latavius Murray, who nearly outrushed McFadden last year on about half the carries and did match his touchdown total. Turning to Murray was long overdue last season when the Raiders’ running game was anemic, but now it makes even more sense.
Murray is a big, explosive running back who impressed in limited carries last season. McFadden went over 1,000 career carries last season, has never been particularly good in pass protection and is coming off the first healthy season of his career.
The needle is clearly pointing in two different directions when it comes to Murray and McFadden’s future outlook. There’s just not a lot of value in bringing McFadden back at any cost based on his production. Murray is worth a look as the team’s top back in 2015, but the Raiders can easily pencil him in as part of two-back system.
Head coach Jack Del Rio said via Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com:
I think he’s shown enough of the traits to make him a candidate to be that guy. I don’t know that he’s earned that, yet. I think he’s shown that there’s potential there and we’re excited about working with him and developing him to his fullest, and having him compete.
The Raiders haven't had "that guy" since McFadden was lighting it up, so even having a guy with that kind of potential is exciting. When McFadden was good, the Raiders were able to go 8-8 in back-to-back years—their best finishes since 2002.
Despite looking like his speedy self in practice, McFadden never regained the edge he had in 2010 and 2011 when he averaged 5.27 yards per carry, scored 15 touchdowns and racked-up 2,432 yards from scrimmage in 20 games. No running back averaged more yards per touch from 2010-2011 than McFadden, and only Arian Foster averaged more yards per game (minimum 300 touches).
Since then, McFadden has gone to the other end of the spectrum. He has often run to contact instead of through it or around it. He’s been so massively disappointing despite his young age that any hope that he can turn things around in Oakland are gone.
|First to Worst?|
|Split||Yards Per Carry||Yards Per Touch||Yards Per Game|
|Rank (Minimum 300 Touches)||1 of 35||1 of 35||2 of 35|
|Rank (Minimum 500 Touches)||26 of 27||28 of 28||27 of 28|
Statistically speaking, McFadden has been the worst starting running back in the league over the last three seasons. Since 2012, McFadden is averaging 3.34 yards per carry and 3.77 yards per touch, both are the lowest in the league (minimum 400 carries and 500 touches)
Just about every running back that has had a chance to replace McFadden in recent years has outperformed him. In 2012, fullback Marcel Reece and backup Mike Goodson were more productive, but they had far fewer carries than McFadden.
In 2013, Rashad Jennings came in and led the Raiders in rushing yards, carries and yards per carry. Both Jennings and Reece were more productive—each averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry.
|What's Wrong With This Picture?|
|Year||McFadden Carries||McFadden YPC||Other Backs Carries||Other Backs|
|2014||155||3.4||103 (Less MJD)||4.9 (Murray/Reece)|
In 2014, it was Murray that outperformed McFadden. Which brings us to 2015.
Given McFadden’s poor numbers, the Raiders could probably re-sign him again for cheap with almost nothing guaranteed if they wanted. With Murray around, that’s no longer necessary, and general manager Reggie McKenzie acknowledged as much discussing McFadden’s status with Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group.
To me, this year’s a little different because Latavius, last year, in 2013 he spent the whole season rehabbing an injury, surgery. Last year, I think he showed that he can be a player. Whether he’s a starter or a 1-2 player, it doesn’t matter. I would like to try to explore options also.
It’s Mr. Murray to You
The biggest problems with Murray’s 2014 season are simple. For one, the sample size is ridiculously small—he had just 99 touches. Second, his 90-yard touchdown run against the Kansas City Chiefs skews all his averages.
To find out why Murray deserves to take over for McFadden, we’ll have to drill down a little bit more into his carries. For example, if we remove the 90-yard run, Murray averaged 4.12 yards per carry. That’s respectable, but not nearly as good as his 5.2 yards per carry might otherwise indicate. It’s still a lot better than McFadden, but not by as much.
|Small Sample Size|
|Split||Carries||YPC||Less 90-Yard Run|
|Tied or Leading||46||5.72||3.84|
When tied or leading, Murray was second only to Justin Forsett in yards per carry from a running back with 5.72 yards per carry (minimum 40 attempts). Murray averaged just 3.84 yards per carry in the same situation if we take away the 90-yard run from, which is also pedestrian.
Despite the stats somewhat tempering expectations for Murray, he still clearly needs to get an expanded role in 2015. A role like McFadden, who has been the top running back and shared carries, would be ideal until he proves he’s an every-down running back.
One thing we do know about Murray is that he’s a boom-or-bust runner. Murray is either breaking of big plays or losing yards, and there isn’t that much middle ground.
|Boom or Bust?|
|Player||Carries||0 or Less||0 or less %||15+||15+ %|
Of Murray’s 82 carries, 19 were for zero yards or a loss, but eight of his runs were for 15 or more yards. Nearly 10 percent of his runs were big plays, but about 23 percent were negative plays or no gain. Both percentages will likely come down as Murray gets more carries.
It’s worth noting that LeSean McCoy’s rushed for no gain or less about 22 percent of the time and Arian Foster was around 20 percent, so the negative plays are not particularly concerning if the big plays keep coming. That’s why the Raiders have to keep giving him to ball, because if those big plays keep coming, then his role must continue to grow.
Del Rio mentioned a few areas of Murray’s game that need to improve for him to be the unquestioned starter for the Raiders.
There’s some things that we’ll need to work to improve, in terms of overall awareness, football IQ, things like that, but we think we can help him with coaching, and some of the running lanes we want to provide him.
If the big plays don’t keep coming or the negative plays become a bigger problem, it will be good to have another running back to lean on. The Raiders have leaned on various running backs over the years when McFadden has been ineffective or injured, so Murray’s role will be very similar.
The Raiders have been hoping McFadden would regain form for years, but now they can hope Murray becomes the go-to guy on the ground. If recent history is any guide, it’s the right decision despite some concerns about Murray’s ability to repeat his 2014 performance when given more opportunities.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com.