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DeMarco Murray – Fantasy Football Stealth Star

DeMarco Murray, Montrae Hollan, Chris Chamberlain

The Stealth Star series is an attempt to find undervalued fantasy assets as determined by the RotoViz Similarity Score Apps. The first two articles focus on elite reality quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. Both players appear on the verge of fantasy breakouts.

Amid exuberance about his 5.5 yards per carry average as a rookie, DeMarco Murray was a borderline first round pick in 2012 fantasy drafts. The former Sooner had posted a 4.37 forty at the NFL Combine, leaving him with a dazzling 117 Speed Score. The Dallas Cowboys were going to be explosive, yet more committed to the run. It was a perfect storm for the young runner’s ascent to stardom.

I have to admit, I found it easier to make the case against Murray last season. Yards per carry averages tend to be pretty fluky and have little predictive value. Murray was oft-injured in college, injured as a rookie, and unimpressive as a junior and senior at Oklahoma. Moreover, some of the advanced splits at PFF suggested Murray’s apparent superiority to Felix Jones was more the product of luck than a true talent gap.

It appears that I was right on Murray. He played in only ten games, managed a mere four touchdowns, and was held below a thousand yards from scrimmage. Fantasy players who drafted a receiver in his stead were rewarded with big seasons from players like Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green.

But perhaps I was merely lucky. Maybe the odds favored Murray’s emergence, but fate conspired against him.

Entering 2013, Murray’s ADP has fallen to the bottom of the second round where he’s competing with guys like Frank Gore and Darren Sproles. A quick look at the RotoViz Similarity Scores for these players confirms that history is on the side of the Dallas runner.

DeMarco Murray Frank Gore Darren Sproles
Low 8.1 7.3 6.8
Median 15.6 10.9 8.3
High 18.8 13.3 11.8


* A glance at the chart may lead you to believe that these are the standard scoring numbers, but this is PPR. Keep that in mind when you’re considering Darren Sproles.

Often when Similarity Scores are mentioned, skeptics claim that the computer doesn’t realize how changes to players’ situations will impact their projections. In this case, Gore, Sproles, and Murray remain in fairly stable environments, giving us a good window into their 2013 prospects.

This is what the app does know. It knows Murray is young and relatively big. It knows how often he carried the ball per game and how many receptions he corralled. Moreover, it knows he only played in ten games and only averaged 4.1 yards per carry. And it doesn’t care.

Well, that’s not precisely true. If Murray had played in more games or averaged a Peterson-like 6.0 yards per carry, his projection would be even better. His low projection especially.

But possibly the most interesting thing is how his projection is actually impacted by those missed games. Among the many trailblazing innovations available with your subscription to  RotoViz is the ability to look at the idea of injury-prone in a way that isn’t based on intuition, anecdote, or random guesswork. The RB App has just been updated to allow you to include games played as a factor in the future projection. And the results can be surprising. Here’s how it impacts Murray.

No Weight Full Weight
Low 8.1 6.3
Median 14.7 13.7
High 18.3 18.9

If you’re extremely risk-averse in your draft approach, you might want to be a little more wary of Murray. But his median projection is still better than the high projections for Gore and Sproles. (Numbers in the first chart are .5 injury weight.) Meanwhile, his high projection actually improves. If you’re a believer in Murray, you’re going to be getting an even bigger discount than you thought.

DeMarco Murray’s ADP is the perfect example of an exploitable inefficiency. As avid game watchers and fantasy players, we have a hidden bias against players who were injured the previous season or didn’t appear particularly efficient. It’s easy to forget that history clearly shows age, size, touches, and receptions to be more salient qualities in projecting future success.

2013 RB Draft Strategy

Outside of the clear cut RB stars, DeMarco Murray possesses the best chance of putting up elite RB1 numbers. His expected value dwarfs that of the runners being drafted in the same range. His expected value above replacement will easily eclipse the trendy second round wide receivers in most formats.

In my guise as the Contrarian for Pro Football Focus, I’m one of the foremost proselytizers for the upside-down approach to fantasy drafting. Now, when many people are jumping on the 2nd Round WR bandwagon, I’m recommending doubling up at the RB position. (Not convinced? Try Trent Richardson, Chris Johnson, and Why RB-RB is Back.)

DeMarco Murray could be the entire key to your 2013 fantasy season. But don’t take my word for it. Play with the RB Similarity Score App and find out for yourself.

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