For Latavius Murray of the Oakland Raiders, the 2016 season should be viewed as a success. His 1,066 rushing yards were the sixth most in the NFL. Only three players had more rushes of 20-plus yards. He emerged as Oakland’s feature back, and at 26 years old, his career is only beginning. Despite that, Murray needs to have an outstanding 2016 if he wants to remain a part of the team.
Latavius Murray Needs to Shine in 2016
Despite Murray’s individual success, the Raiders struggled on the ground as a team. They were 28th in rushing, only accruing 1,457 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Their average of 3.9 yards per carry on the ground was the exact average of all 32 teams. For a team that touts itself on a physical playing style, they’ll have to improve dramatically on the ground in 2016, and a lot of that depends on the performance of Latavius Murray.
Ever since general manager Reggie McKenzie selected Murray in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, there have been questions about his ability to carry the team. An injury ended Murray’s rookie season before it even began, and he spent all of 2013 on injured reserve. The next season, fans hoped they would see Murray debut in a featured role, but they were quickly disappointed.
Instead of giving Murray a chance after a strong preseason, McKenzie and then head coach, Dennis Allen opted to give veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew most of the carries. Both backs were plagued by injuries from the beginning and proved to be ineffective.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 12, Murray was finally given an opportunity, and he seized it. Leading into that game, the Chiefs hadn’t given up a rushing touchdown all season. Early in the first quarter, Murray ended that streak by breaking off an 11 yard touchdown. But that isn’t what excited the Raider faithful. Early in the second quarter, Murray received the hand-off from Derek Carr and took the ball 90 yards for a touchdown, leaving star safety Eric Berry in the dust.
It was this demonstration of how the big back could use his explosive speed that earned the admiration of the Raider Nation. In a way, Murray had become the back that McFadden was supposed to be. Injuries cut his 2014 season short, but when 2015 rolled around, fans of the Silver and Black had nothing but optimism. With Carr, Murray, and the recently drafted Amari Cooper, the Raiders had fans thinking “triplets”.
The 2015 Season
While Murray did become the first Raider rusher to break 1,000 yards since McFadden had 1,157 yards in 2010, he didn’t blow the Raider Nation away. He averaged an acceptable four yards per carry and only went over 100 yards twice. Murray was a liability out of the backfield, dropping a pass that became a crucial interception against the Chicago Bears in week four. It might have been unfair to Murray to receive off-season comparisons to the likes of Bo Jackson, but there’s no question that his 2015 performance was a bit underwhelming.
During this past off-season, the Raiders invested heavily in the run game. Their biggest free agent acquisition was Kelechi Osemele, a monster of a guard from the Baltimore Ravens. Next to Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson, Osemele makes up the best interior of any offensive line in the NFL. The Raiders also drafted the young DeAndre Washington from Texas Tech.
At 5’8, Washington is the polar opposite of his stablemate. While Murray is lanky and speedy, Washington is stout and shifty like a bowling ball. Washington has received a ton of praise from Raider management so far. He could eventually challenge Murray for the starting role.
Unlike last season, where Murray was backed up by returner Taiwan Jones and veteran Roy Helu Jr., he actually has some competition in 2016. Murray was adequately productive in 2015, but he cannot rest on his laurels with Washington hot his heels. The Raiders are ready to return to the post-season. They will need a stellar performance from Murray to get there.