Many teams have DeMarco Murray on their free agent wish list. My advice to those teams? Be careful what you wish for.
First, let’s give Murray some credit. In a contract year, he went out and destroyed everything in his path. Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith (career-high of 1,773 rushing yards) never had a season as good as the one Murray just had (1,845). When a team inevitably breaks the bank for Murray this offseason, you can’t say he didn’t earn it.
But where many see a franchise running back, others see a tower of Jenga blocks waiting to tip over. If the movie “Inception” is about a dream inside of a dream, Murray is a risk inside of a risk. He’s a ticking time bomb waiting to rip your poor franchise to shreds.
This is no knock on Murray’s ability. His size and skill set would translate to any team he chooses to play for. With Murray, it’s a matter of fatigue. He carried the ball a whopping 392 times last season. Dallas needed every one of those touches to make the playoffs, but by doing so, they may have endangered Murray’s long-term future.
This calls for a history lesson. Murray is one of 11 players (technically ten, since Eric Dickerson did it twice) to cross the 390-carry threshold. Only one of those players went on to rush for more yards the following season. Spoiler alert: it was Dickerson.
It gets worse. The ten previous players to reach 390 carries averaged 106.9 rushing yards per game and 4.27 yards per carry. The season after, those averages slipped to 83.3 yards per game and just 4.06 yards per carry.
Tack on another season and things get even bleaker. Two years removed from 390 carries, those ten running backs averaged 75.5 yards per game and a paltry 3.96 yards per carry.
That’s not what Murray buyers should be the most worried about. All ten of those rushers played 16 games the season they had their biggest workload. Only four did it the next season. On average, they played 11.1 games.
Aside from our outlier Dickerson, regression is a near certainty for players who carry the rock 390-plus times. Running backs already have a shorter shelf life than the average player. When teams like the Cowboys disregard moderation in pursuit of a championship, that window of opportunity shrinks even smaller. It’s no wonder players like Jamal Anderson and Terrell Davis were out of the league before they turned 30.
Murray was already wearing down at the end of last season. His second-half numbers in 2014, though still excellent (93.9 yards per game, 4.2 yards per carry), weren’t close to what he produced in his first eight games (131.8 yards per game, 5.1 yards per carry).
Murray, who recently turned 27, is tied for the oldest player to reach 390 carries. And before that, he wasn’t exactly Cal Ripken. Prior to his breakout 2014 campaign, Murray missed 11 games in his previous three seasons. All signs point to Murray hitting a brick wall in the near future.
Here’s a thought. Maybe the 390 carries have nothing to do with it. Perhaps this is just the natural rate of regression among running backs. To put this theory to the test, tracking the ten highest rushing totals from 2012 is an excellent place to start.
How did they fare in the long run? Not well. The ten players in question averaged 91.6 yards per game and 4.91 yards per carry in 2012. A year later, those totals dipped to 73.5 and 4.35. They appeared in 135 of a possible 160 games. Similar regression occurred in 2014, with those ten averaging a mere 64.2 yards per game in 119 contests.
Taken at face value, these statistics suggest running backs as a species are pretty much doomed. It seems front offices around the league think so too. No running backs have been drafted in the first round either of the last two seasons. The last running back to go in the top-ten was Trent Richardson in 2012. How’d that turn out for you, Cleveland?
Rest assured, our old pal DeMarco will get paid, either by Dallas or some other run-thirsty team with a fat checkbook (the Colts perhaps?). Just don’t be surprised when the Jenga blocks come tumbling down.
|Player||390-carry season||Next season||Two years after|
|Larry Johnson||416 car, 1786 yds||158 car, 559 yds||193 car, 874 yds|
|Jamal Anderson||410 car, 1846 yds||19 car, 59 yds||282 car, 1024 yds|
|James Wilder||407 car, 1544 yds||365 car, 1300 yds||190 car, 704 yds|
|Eric Dickerson (’86)||404 car, 1821 yds||283 car, 1288 yds||388 car, 1659 yds|
|Eddie George||403 car, 1509 yds||315 car, 939 yds||343 car, 1165 yds|
|Gerald Riggs||397 car, 1719 yds||343 car, 1327 yds||203 car, 875 yds|
|Terrell Davis||392 car, 2008 yds||67 car, 211 yds||78 car, 282 yds|
|Ricky Williams*||392 car, 1372 yds||168 car, 743 yds||6 car, 15 yds|
|Eric Dickerson (’83)||390 car, 1808 yds||379 car, 2105 yds||292 car, 1234 yds|
|Barry Foster||390 car, 1690 yds||177 car, 711 yds||216 car, 851 yds|
*Williams retired in 2004 and was suspended for all of 2006