This past week, the Philadelphia Eagles made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason by signing DeMarco Murray to a five year, $40 million contract. Murray, who played with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, finished as the NFL’s leading rusher.
In 2014, the Cowboys handed the ball off to Murray an NFL high 392 times (that doesn’t include the playoffs). In his 392 rushing attempts, Murray racked up an impressive 1,845 yards. While Murray had a high volume of rushing attempts, he touched an extra 57 times through the air. The air and ground combination made Murray the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year, but his high volume of touches should be a concern for the Chip Kelly and the Eagles.
There is no doubting that Chip Kelly has been successful with running-backs during his coaching career, but he has never inherited a runner with the mileage of Murray. Earlier this month, I wrote how LeSean McCoy’s running-back age is significantly higher than his actual age. Well, that is also true for DeMarco Murray. Time will tell if the Eagles made the right move, but if I had to judge it as of now, I would guess that Murray will not fulfill his contractual value.
The reason that I believe Murray and the Eagles could be in trouble is due to the performance of past running-backs off a season with at least 380 rushing attempts. Since 1990, the NFL has ten seasons in which a running-back carried the ball at least 380 times. In this group are the likes of Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis and Ricky Williams. Ricky Williams is the only running-back to appear on this list twice.
The chart below is a list of the ten rushing seasons with at least 380 carries:
As you will see, there are some very high totals on this list. Another interesting fact is that each of these running-backs were under the age of 27 when they finished with these totals. DeMarco Murray is entering his age-27 season this year with the Eagles. The real reason that the Eagles should be worried with Murray’s 2014 totals are the historical finishes following a 380 carry season.
Below are the totals in the following season for each of the players listed above:
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That certainly doesn’t look good, does it? There are two extremes on this list though, which leaves optimism for Murray’s 2015 campaign. However, the trend seems to be a severe decline in the season following 380 rushing attempts. The average season for a running back coming off a 380 carry season is 189 carries for 690 yards. In that average, I excluded Murray and Williams (the second time) because they did not have numbers in a following season.
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Carries aren’t the only touches that Murray gets either. In the last two seasons, Murray has 110 receptions for 766 yards. That is a relatively high volume for a running-back. In fact, add those receptions to his rushing attempts and he winds up with 449 touches in 2014. Murray is one of four running-backs listed above had at least 380 rushing attempts and 50 receptions in a season. The others are Eddie George, Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James. Historically, the high volume of touches has not played out well for a running-back’s health either
Of all the running-backs on the lists above, only Ricky Williams and Eddie George played in all 16 games the following season. The average games in the following season by a running-back with at least 380 carries is just over nine. That should be concerning for the Eagles as Murray has an injury history.
DeMarco Murray could end up on either side of the above chart, but the signing should leave Eagles fans a bit worried since the year following a 380 carry season has been rather disappointing. Another factor to consider it Murray’s injury history, which has been rather extensive. In his brief four year career, Murray has played in all 16 games just once, which was last season. Prior to that, Murray missed three games in 2011, six in 2012 and two in 2013. Injuries should be another concern going forward, but if Chip Kelly and his sports science methods can keep Murray healthy, that will increase the odds of fulfilling his contractual value.
In 2015, the Eagles will feature DeMarco Murray as their lead back along with Ryan Mathews and probably one of Darren Sproles or Chris Polk. Of course, Chip Kelly will do his best to split carries and keep some of the work load off of Murray, who carried Dallas to the playoffs last year. The injury history and 2014 work load should remain a concern because of the historical numbers. In years following at least 380 carries, the average running back plays just nine games. The Eagles did not sign Murray to a $40 million deal ($21 million guaranteed) for just nine games a season. Of course, there are extremes on the list above with Jamal Anderson and Ricky Williams, but don’t count on Murray producing at either extreme. In 2015, the Eagles should look to give Murray around 250 rushing attempts, which is fine if he stays healthy, and that is what they need. Remember, Dallas did not pursue Murray for a reason and it is because they ran him into the ground in 2014 (along with price tag), so lets hope that Murray can stay healthy and produce at a level similar to 2014.