The Minnesota Vikings have Adrian Peterson’s replacement.
The Vikings signed Latavius Murray early Thursday morning, giving Minnesota a new look in the backfield. Since Murray has played in the AFC for his entire career, Vikings fans might not be all that familiar with his work. So I reached out to Oakland writer Ted Nguyen, who writes for the blog Raidersanalysis.com along with the film analysis website InsideThePylon, among others.
Here is Nguyen’s breakdown: “Murray is OK at catching. He’ll catch the easy ones but don’t expect him to reach out for passes. He’s a great pass protector, maybe one of the best in the league. Big, fast Athlete. He’s tall and runs upright, which gets him in trouble. Doesn’t lower the shoulder as much as you want. Vision is below average, feet are average to below average. [Murray] got better at zone running but not ideal. His best fit is in a gap scheme where he could just run full speed into a hole. Goes down on first contact more than people realize.”
The Vikings’ two running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata were used last season as check down options far more than being first looks for quarterback Sam Bradford. While Derek Carr often used his running backs in the passing game, Murray was also mostly a dump-off option, but a very capable one.
The majority of his routes are either sitting down underneath zone coverage or running into the flat.
Murray’s pass protecting ability was rated third best in the NFL. Shurmur’s offense, which succeeded a great deal by using play-action passes (third best YPA in the NFL with play-action according to Football Outsiders) will require a good blocking back. The Vikings have not had even an average blocker in the backfield in a long time.
As for his running, Murray has gained 4.0 Yards Per Carry the last two seasons, a mark that’s just about league average. While he may not offer the pounding ability of Lacy or the footwork of Adrian Peterson in his prime, Murray is fast. At his pro day, he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, which is quick for a 6-foot-3, 230-pound back.
You can see on this play his acceleration on this play, beating the defender to the edge.
His shortcomings are evident on tape. Oakland had one of the league’s best offensive lines and their other two running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard averaged 5.4 and 5.9 YPC, respectively, which is quite a bit better than Murray. Some of that is usage, Murray got the ball in short-yardage and goal line situations, but his vision and patience are also sub-par.
Here is an example in which he can either hit a big hole or bounce outside to have a one-on-one matchup with a defensive back and he does neither.
The Raiders used a rotation last season, with Murray getting about 50% the work and Washington and Richard splitting the other 50%. The two smaller backs gained over 1,000 yards rushing and grabbed 38 catches of their own. Nguyen says Murray is better suited as a role player than an every-down back.
“He has these huge mind-numbing mistakes at times and I suspect it’s because he’s tired because generally they happen in the 4th quarter, so although I think he has the size to be an every down back, being part of a rotation would benefit him,” he said.
With McKinnon in place and an excellent draft class of running backs coming out, the Vikings have a chance to seriously upgrade their backfield from last year. And the price should be reasonable considering Lacy signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with $3 million guaranteed.