Why You Should Avoid the Vikings' Backfield in Fantasy Football
Latavius Murray could be in for a rude awakening. Although the Vikings have attempted to make improvements to their offensive line by signing Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, it was abysmal in 2016, and nothing like the top-flight line Murray leaves behind coming from Oakland. Line aside, Murray is almost certain to have a role, as Minnesota obviously feels that he has skills their offense lacked last season, namely the ability to be successful at the goal line and to be dynamic in the open field catching the ball. These abilities fit with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who has now had a full offseason to further implement his West Coast philosophy, which could be a big boost for the backfield in the passing game.
But the Vikings moved up in the draft to select Dalvin Cook in the second round -- despite other strong options still available on the board. Thus far in camp, Cook has impressed with his speed, versatility and pass-catching ability. It’s not a stretch at all to say Cook will end up being better than both Murray and Jerick McKinnon, but Cook has ball security issues and struggles in pass protection, which could delay this revelation. That said, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has stated Cook "has the chance to be special,” so it is probably a question of when as opposed to if Cook becomes the lead back in this offense.
Should the concerns surrounding Cook, who has an ADP in the fifth round, scare you off? Will the Vikings lean on Murray enough at the goal line and McKinnon enough in passing situations to muddy the waters completely?
Rushing Expectation, which balances metrics with film evaluation (one of the toughest things to do in fantasy football), can provide clues as to how to attack the Vikings' backfield in 2017 fantasy drafts.
Rushing Expectation: Latavius Murray
The best way to describe Murray’s running style is that he seemingly glides with the football. I'd call it unique and easily distinguishable -- in comparison to other backs I have charted so far, at least. Murray's best attribute is above-average burst paired with a good ability to separate from defenders, though he is no longer as fast as his 4.38 forty time would insinuate.
An overwhelming percentage of Murray's total rushing attempts went through the middle:
In charting Murray, I saw a running back who is seemingly content to use jump cuts when he's in trouble, instead of using his size to his advantage to gain leverage and power. His athletic ability is solid, as is his ability to change direction. His agility behind the line is average.
Murray's Raiders had a top-10 overall Expected Success Rate on rushing attempts (46.2 percent), but despite that strong offensive line play, Murray struggled to post good numbers in key metrics like yards before contact (21st percentile) relative to backup DeAndre Washington (86th percentile).
Surprisingly, the Raiders were below average at blocking for running backs in the passing game, posting an Expected Success Rate of 41.7 percent. Murray, a former tight end, has solid receiving ability, but average hands. Getting open wasn’t necessarily an issue, but Murray perhaps suffered from a lack of concentration, as he had some glaring drops.
I will continue to stress that Expected Success Rate is an insanely useful metric because it does a great job separating a running back's performance from that of his blocking, which is in Murray's case was some of the best in the league on the ground last season.
Among my 60-player sample, Murray finished with an Expectation Score on the ground in the rock-bottom first percentile in 2015, and in the 40th percentile in '16. Murray probably falls somewhere in the middle, but regardless, he was vastly uninspiring.
Murray has solid power -- in particular against corners in the second level -- but displays only an average ability to finish and break through wraps or low hits to his legs or knees. His balance through contact is also average for such a big back, especially through arm contact.
If you ignore Murray's drops with no one around him, he has shown that he can take a hit and maintain possession of the ball, albeit in a limited passing-game sample. He has finished with an Expectation Score through the air in the 63rd and 59th percentiles in '15 and '16, respectively.
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