In a clear effort to rid themselves of Chip Kelly's 2015 offseason free-agent acquisitions, the Philadelphia Eagles agreed to a pair of notable trades Monday. The first will send CB Byron Maxwell and LB Kiko Alonso to Miami. The second deal is quite a bit more fantasy relevant (forgive me, IDP enthusiasts) and involves the delivery of DeMarco Murray to Tennessee.
With Murray out the door in Philadelphia, Ryan Mathews jumps to the top of the team's running back depth chart, but it might be temporary. Reports suggest he very well could be on the trade block as well. Even if he's not, it's very likely that the Eagles will add another back via free agency or during the middle rounds of April's draft. Darren Sproles is expected to return, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old will do most of his damage on passing downs.
There's still much to be determined in Philadelphia, but the running back picture is much clearer in Tennessee.
Following four consecutive strong, albeit injury-plagued, seasons to start his career, Murray had a rough go of it in his first and only season in Philadelphia.
From 2011-14, Murray's 978 carries (including the playoffs) were sixth-most in the NFL. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry during the span, which was fifth-best in the league among 55 running backs who carried the ball at least 300 times. That run, of course, included a 2014 season that saw Murray accrue 2,043 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 436 carries, including the postseason. His 392 regular-season carries were seventh-most in NFL history. Quite simply, Murray was one of league's most effective running backs and certainly a fantasy superstar.
The wheels fell off in 2015.
Despite Kelly's ability to spread out defenses, Murray was unable to find running lanes. He struggled both running laterally and out of the shotgun, two staples in Kelly's attack. What was interesting about Murray's difficulties was that, albeit in a much smaller sample, he had success in the shotgun in Dallas. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 102 attempts (10.4 percent of his total carries). In Philadelphia, Murray averaged 3.6 YPC out of the gun (85.0 percent of his attempts). While in Dallas, Murray averaged a healthy 5.2 YPC on runs outside of the tackle. In Philadelphia, he averaged a miserable 3.3 YPC. His only area of success with Philadelphia was running straight up the gut. He racked up 272 yards on 62 carries (4.4 YPC), including 6.4 YPC on 11 tries when the quarterback was under center.
The good news for Murray is that he's headed to a more conventional offense that will lead to usage similar to what he enjoyed in Dallas. Whereas Murray mostly ran out of the shotgun in Philadelphia, Titans running backs did so only 25 percent of the time in 2015.
During the 15 games he was active, Murray was on the field for 45 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps. He handled slightly fewer than half of the team's designed runs and was the primary target 9 percent of the time. Murray was at or above 72 percent of the snaps, 76 percent of the runs and 11 percent of the targets during each of the previous three seasons with Dallas. Despite all of his struggles, Murray still managed an 18th-place finish among running backs in fantasy points.
Murray's workload took a major hit as a result of his ineffectiveness and Kelly's committee attack, but it's fair to expect a bounce back in this area in 2016. The Titans are unlikely to add another impact back, which locks Murray in as the club's workhorse. He will, once again, be a candidate for 20-plus touches in what should be a balanced or run-first offensive scheme under head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie.
Murray has little competition for early-down and goal-line work, but Dexter McCluster figures to steal away some passing-down snaps. During the 11 games he played in 2015, McCluster was on the field for more than half of Tennessee's pass plays and handled just under four targets per game. He's a good bet to continue in that role, which would allow him five or six touches most weeks. David Cobb, a fifth-round pick in last year's draft, has generated some buzz, but the Murray acquisition puts a major damper on Cobb's short- and long-term outlook. Cobb averaged a miserable 2.8 yards per carry on 52 rookie-season attempts. Antonio Andrews emerged as the club's lead back in 2015, but underwhelmed by averaging 3.6 yards per carry and scoring three times on 143 attempts. The 23-year-old plodder is likely competing with Cobb and 2014 second-round bust Bishop Sankey for two roster spots.
The Titans' offense hasn't been good for quite some time, but it's certainly headed in the right direction. Despite Marcus Mariota's injury woes, and the fact that Delanie Walker was the team's only consistent offensive weapon, the Titans finished near midpack in offensive touchdowns last season. Now, Mariota and 6-foot-5 Dorial Green-Beckham have a year of experience under their belts, Murray upgrades the running game and every-down/contract-year players Kendall Wright and Walker return to the fold.
Murray has a strong NFL track record and, although he struggled badly in 2015, the combination of a 498-touch 2014 campaign and Kelly's unusual offense were certainly detriments to his success. Now back in his comfort zone as a feature back in a conventional, emerging offense, Murray is positioned for a return to fantasy prominence. The 28-year-old is a solid RB2 target with big upside.