NFL: Is DeMarco Murray Really the Best Running Back in the League?
In practically any industry, being recognized as one of the best in the business by your peers is arguably the most meaningful form of recognition that can be bestowed onto someone. In the NFL, that statement absolutely rings true.
For the last five years, the NFL Network has conducted an annual offseason poll of NFL players to determine the rankings of the NFL Top 100 – a list of the top 100 players in the league regardless of position. In the poll, players are asked to rate their peers on their performance during the previous season in addition to their thoughts on how well each player will perform in the upcoming season. To the surprise of no one, the top five included players such as Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (No. 1), Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (No. 2), New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (No. 3), and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (No. 5). The last player in the top five, who came in at No. 4, was a surprise to many and was viewed as the best running back in the league according to his peers. The player we are referring to was ranked ahead of guys like Richard Sherman, Rob Gronkowski, Darrelle Revis, and Andrew Luck. He is also a player that very few people around the NFL even include in the conversation as to who is the best running back in the league. The player in question is DeMarco Murray of the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s hard to argue against the results of this poll given the fact that it was the league’s players who determined the rankings. With that being said, we simply aren’t convinced that Murray is the best running back in the league.
The case for Murray as the league’s best running back is pretty straightforward. As a member of the Dallas Cowboys, he led the league in rushing yards with 1,845, and tied for the league lead with 13 rushing touchdowns. More importantly, for the first time in his four-year career, Murray stayed healthy for an entire season. As a result, the 27-year-old carried the ball a whopping 392 times in 2014, which was the seventh-highest total of all-time. When free agency rolled around this offseason, Murray cashed in with a five-year, $40 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.
One of the biggest reasons for Murray’s upswing in health and on-field success was the Cowboys’ offensive line. It was widely considered that the Cowboys had the best offensive line in the league a year ago. With three players who earned All-Pro honors in 2014, the idea that Murray was a product of the Cowboys’ offensive system doesn’t seem that far-fetched. If you’re not one for the subjectivity of All-Pro voting, consider the fact that the Cowboys had the second-best run blocking offensive line in the league according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). On top of that, all five of Dallas’ starting offensive lineman earned positive grades from PFF in 2014.
Speaking of PFF player grades, Murray’s grade in 2014 was 16.2, which was the fifth-highest grade among all running backs. The backs ranked ahead of him were Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 1), Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks (No. 2), C.J. Anderson of the Denver Broncos (No. 3), and Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers (No. 4). Let’s also not forget that Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings missed the season and wasn’t factored into the equation. If you’re asking us, Murray isn’t even a top-three running back. We believe that merit belongs to Bell, Lynch, and Peterson. Furthermore, history would suggest that Murray’s workload last season is going to result the 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year having serious decline in production in 2015.
The purpose of this article was not to take anything away from Murray’s outstanding season in 2014. He was fully deserving of the honors he received, but we stand firm in our belief that Murray’s distinction as the top ranked running back in the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2015 is erroneous. Hopefully he proves us wrong in 2015, but we would be shocked to see him land in the top 25 next offseason.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.