ProFootballTalkLine.com 49ers writer Matt Woolsey and fantasy writer Joshua Cook, aka the Fantasy Sports Chef, rarely agree on anything. From players to pizza toppings, these two almost always find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum. So in a rare agreement, the pair has teamed up to bring a two-sided debate to the readers on various players throughout the season.
In the first installment of “Opposite Ends,” Woolsey and Cook make their cases for and against Latavius Murray as a rosterable fantasy option.
Woolsey: Latavius Murray is an absolute steal in the double-digit rounds. After your team is set up in the draft and you get towards the end you start taking fliers on certain players. Murray is one of those players you should have taken a flier on. In 2015 and 2016 he was an RB1. He averaged 4 yards a carry and had 12 touchdowns in 2016. Last season he signed with the Minnesota Vikings and despite needing ankle surgery they signed him to a multi-year deal anyways.
Cook: We agree on one thing — the late rounds of a fantasy draft are for fliers. But I prefer to take fliers on players who have the talent to not only get on the field without needing an injury to another player but can also be a must-start should they create a role for themselves. Murray simply does not fit the bill. He can run through open holes in the offensive line, but offers little else, especially in the form of making defenders miss and creating yards for himself, which is something I will provide evidence of.
Woolsey: Yes, the Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook in the second round of the 2017 draft, but they not only needed insurance since Murray had ankle surgery but they wanted their running back of the future. Look, I’m not telling you to draft Murray as your RB1, RB2, or even your RB3. I’m telling you to take a shot on someone that will give you an option during bye weeks, worst case an injury to your team; or someone that can give you some flex options with high upside. Murray’s done it, he’s been an RB1 so we know he’s capable of doing it.
Cook: Any player can cash in on fantasy upside if given opportunities. Murray had plenty of opportunities in 2017 once Cook tore his ACL. Murray also got plenty of opportunities when he was with the Raiders prior to signing with the Minnesota Vikings. But the simple fact is he’s not good enough to get those opportunities unless the person in front of him on the depth chart gets hurt. And if I’m taking a flier on an injury-dependent option, it would be John Kelly, Chase Edmonds or Rod Smith. And should an injury push a Minnesota Vikings runner into fantasy relevance, I would rather take a gamble on Mike Boone (at least that’s my plan as someone who has a good amount of shares of Cook in his fantasy leagues).
Woolsey: I told you how he was an RB1 in 2015 and 2016, but what have you done for me lately, Murray? Last season Murray was the 32nd best RB in full point PPR (Points Per Reception). Because of his surgery last season, he was not heavily involved in the offense, but during the last seven weeks of the fantasy season (minus Week 17) he had five games as an RB1 or RB2. This included one week where he was top five.
Cook: There isn’t an argument against Murray’s fantasy point production last season or in prior years because he scored points. But my case is simply that he’s not that good at football. Murray is seen as a big back who can power through tackles and be a goal line guy. He’s big enough to merit this reputation (6-2, 223 pounds), but stats and ratings quickly deflate that notion. He can hit an open hole, like most professional running backs, but once he’s through the hole, he doesn’t break many tackles or create yards for himself. In 2017, Murray broke 34 tackles. If that sounds like a good number, consider this: Jerick McKinnon broke 43 tackles last year and no one would ever confuse him with a power runner. Also, Cook broke 23 tackles last season in barely more than 14 quarters of football. As for creating yards for himself, Murray averaged 1.1 created yards-per-carry (which is yards he gained that were not blocked yards). This was 42nd in the league last season. He also received a production grade of -10.2, which was 51st in the league, according to PlayerProfiler.com. This value measures a runner against the league average player, where positive scores reflect an above-average showing (in case you’re wondering, McKinnon’s score was +1.6, which was 31st in the league, while Cook had a -1.2 in his rookie season, which ranked 37th). Murray clearly is below average and gives an offense barely anything on the ground more than what the offensive line opens up.
Woolsey: Again, I’m not telling you to have Murray in your lineup right now, you don’t need him there. You’re drafting Murray for his upside play. Cook is coming back from his ACL injury, I can see the Vikings easing Cook in, after all, he is the future of the franchise. Murray will get work this season, plus he’s a free agent next season, do you think the Vikings care about putting him on a snap count? No, they will run him and he’s going to be playing for at least one more contract and I like players in a contract year, they’re trying to prove themselves, saying they deserve a new contract.
Cook: I love the contract year argument, as that often gets a special annotation in my personal rankings I mark down for drafts. But an extra-motivated Murray is still going to be a below-average player. The Oakland Raiders didn’t keep him around for a reason, and the Minnesota Vikings likely aren’t bringing him back after 2017 for a reason. Yes, it’s good to have a guy who can run through open holes, but Murray offers nothing more than that. He’s basically like a basket of bread at a restaurant. It serves a purpose — keeping patrons from starving to death while waiting on their food and also distracting from the long wait times on orders — but everyone still orders a meal. Don’t roster a bread basket in fantasy football. Order an entree or at least something that could become an entree.