Latavius Murray was signed to a three-year, $15 million contract this offseason by the Minnesota Vikings. Murray had spent his entire three-year career with the Oakland Raiders, after being drafted in round 6 of the 2013 draft. The full intention is replacing Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, which is certainly a daunting task. Can Murray replace one of the all-time greatest running backs?
The first important item to note is that the contract can be voided after the first year, which essentially makes the contract a “try-out” for the 2017 year. Jerick McKinnon is in the last year of his rookie deal, so 2017 may feature both backs at times, as the Vikings try to figure out if McKinnon is in their long-term plans as well.
Murray is moving from one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, as Oakland was ranked as the fourth best line overall in 2016 by Pro Foootball Focus. Minnesota, conversely, had one of the worst offensive lines in 2016. However, Minnesota has put some effort into improving their line for 2017, filling the line with a cast of new players.
Returning players include Alex Boone (left guard) and Joe Berger (center). The Vikings recently acquired tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, who are immediate upgrades over the 2016 line. The injury to Matt Khalil played a factor in 2016, as the former first round pick missed the majority of the season with a hip injury. With the Vikings looking to upgrade their line in the 2017 draft, they have already made some moves to improve the effectiveness of the unit. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano has his work outlined for him, but it looks like the Vikings will be able to improve from their disastrous o-line of 2016.
Murray himself is a big runner. Standing at 6’3”/230 lbs, he’s a hard bruiser with great straight-line speed. In many aspects, he’s a very similar build and has an analogous run style to Adrian Peterson. This should bode well for Minnesota. However, there are some key aspects Murray’s game that suggests he’s an immediate improvement.
Firstly, he’s five years younger than AP, which is a huge factor for running backs. Mileage adds up quickly for starting backs in the NFL, and each year as a starter takes a huge toll. Running backs with the running style of Murray and Peterson take a lot of hits as well, which can lead to a deterioration of skills in addition to a higher injury risk. Murray has the youth angle working for him. Secondly, Murray has the ability to stay on the field in third-down situations, which was one of the initial reasons the Vikings drafted McKinnon in 2014. Peterson is an amazing running back, but he’s a pure runner that needs to have an offense built around him. Peterson lacked the ability to catch the ball and pass block, which is why McKinnon subbed in on third downs.
One of Murray’s strengths is that he is a strong pass blocker, can identify and pick up blitzes, and hold his own against defensive ends when required. Furthermore, he has better receiving skills than people realize. Latavius hasn’t ever eclipsed 300 yards receiving in a season. Over his career, however, he has compiled 91 catches for 639 yards, averaging just over 7.0 yards per catch. In third down situations, Murray can get open and move the ball to keep the drive going.
Naturally, Murray will be given the opportunity to be the go-to guy in Minnesota. In the fantasy world, that presents opportunity, which is one of the better factors in predicting success. Look for Murray to perform moderately well in Minnesota, gaining plenty of opportunities on first and second down. However, keep in mind that his success will be largely dependent on their new offensive line.
McKinnon isn’t going to go away, as he’s a tremendous athlete and has performed well during his time in Minnesota. I can see the Vikings still rotating in McKinnon on third downs throughout the game, and spelling Murray on a few of the early downs. The Vikings will run the ball quite a bit to take the pressure off Bradford to move the chains. Thus, they may aim to keep Murray fresh by using McKinnon more during games.
Lastly, Murray scored 12 touchdowns in 2016, but I doubt he will replicate that on the Vikings. They don’t have the explosive offense that Oakland possesses, nor do they get into the red zone as often. Oakland scored 25.3 points per game in 2016, finishing 9th overall. Conversely, Minnesota relies more on their strong defense, generating 20.4 points per game for 23rd in the league.
Overall, I would rate Murray as a volume-dependent RB2 that will likely not replicate the success he had in Oakland. He’s a fine real-life addition for the Vikings, but for fantasy purposes, I would not overpay for his services. Look to draft him in the middle rounds. but don’t chase his previous production.