Does DeMarco Murray’s game translate to NFL?

As our own Dave Miller wrote on Friday, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops would like to see RB DeMarco Murray hit 1,900 yards rushing in 2010, a tall task for a guy who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards just once in his career. However, we’re not here to try and figure out if Murray can hit the 1,900-yard rushing mark as a senior. We want to figure out what kind of running back he can be at the next level.

The breakdown

There’s no doubt Murray can be a dynamic playmaker with the football in his hands once he gets into the open field. He possesses a great initial first step when asked to press daylight, gets up to speed very quickly and showcases impressive balance when accelerating around the corner. When healthy, the guy has the initial burst to consistently outrun angles in space and create yards by the chunk.

However, playing in Oklahoma’s spread offense, Murray is given the luxury of consistently running against seven man fronts – at most -- and isn’t often responsible for making a defender miss behind the line. So more often than not, he’s asked to press the outside on perimeter runs and use his natural speed to out-pace defenders to space and/or turn up the field. However, what becomes clearly obvious when watching Murray try to break down is that he’s consistently forced to gear down, slow his feet and regain his balance before accelerating up field. And the main culprit for that is his overall pad level. Murray runs too high both inside and in the open field and doesn’t display the type of body control needed to clean change directions or break tackles through contact.

Too often on tape you see Murray quickly pick up a head of steam pressing a hole inside, only to be tripped up and tackled by the fingertips of a defender closing on the play from the backside.

However, the result of Murray’s high pad level doesn’t stop there. You can directly correlate the consistent string of injuries he sustains year in and year out to the massive amount of pounding his body absorbs. Like any running back, it’s not always how hard you run but how little contact your frame absorbs. NFL running backs generally have to run behind their pads in order to expose as little of their frames as possible when asked to take on defenders and run between the tackles. And although Murray generates a ton of initial acceleration attacking the line, he simply shows too much of his body to defenders, which makes him much more vulnerable to bigger, injury-inducing hits (see Justin Fargas).

Plus, the fact that he’s overly instinctive in tight areas brings us to the conclusion that maybe he isn’t cut out to be an every-down, inside-the-tackles-type option in the NFL.

So where does that leave him in terms of NFL potential? Well, besides the impressive speed and acceleration in the open field, he does have the ability to consistently catch the football out of the backfield and can also create mismatches when split out in the slot. Also, the guy does have a little shimmy to his game once he gets up to full speed in the open field and knows how to give a slight shoulder fake to a defender and explode into daylight. He also displays a willingness to block in the pass game, and although he isn’t real physical and struggles with leverage, he does possess the body control to stick his head in and chop down defenders on contact.

Overall, I think Murray projects ideally as third-down type of back who you can split out in the pass game, flick the ball to out of the backfield and work on special teams as a return man. He should also be able to gouge some big plays in the draw and screen game and definitely has some value as playmaking-type sub-package option in the NFL.

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