Here’s what Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie had to say about new running back DeAndre Washington, per the team’s website:
“DeAndre, he’s more than just a third-down back. He can pound it up in there. The Raider Nation will find out fast just how physical he is. We think he’s a complete back, and when he gets out in space, he can make you look silly. He can catch the ball, but he can run between the tackles as well as well as bouncing it outside. We think he’s the total package as a runner. We really like him.”
Of course, you would expect a GM to talk up their own draft pick. But I think there’s reason to believe this is more than just hype, that Washington is poised to make a rookie impact and make big trouble for Latavius Murray.
Murray had the fourth-most touches of any RB in the NFL last season. That’s a function of being a three-down back and of actually playing 16 games. But a lot of those touches may be vulnerable to Washington.
It is important to appreciate just how important receptions are to RBs in PPR formats. We’ll use Murray as an example. Murray gained 0.54 fantasy points per rushing attempt last season. He earned 1.57 fantasy points per reception. Despite seeing a whopping 266 rushing attempts, 31 percent of his fantasy points came from receptions and receiving yardage. If you removed his receiving output entirely, he would have finished as the RB33 last season, despite playing all 16 games. Contrast that with this:1
If Devonta Freeman had a 0.0 ypc last season, he would have been RB7.
— Ben Gretch (@YardsPerGretch) April 2, 2016
All of this is to say that when a RB is potentially facing a threat to their receiving production, it has to be taken seriously. If there’s one thing that can be agreed upon about DeAndre Washington, it is that he is a good receiver. He’s one of the most accomplished receivers in this class. He had 124 receptions in college, which is more than the 108 receptions Murray has had in college and the NFL combined.
Maybe we shouldn’t be worried about Murray because he was able to carry the receiving workload last season. The problem with that is that Murray averaged only 5.7 yards per reception last season. That’s not just a superficially bad number either, as the Fantasy Efficiency App, which adjusts expectations off of line of scrimmage data, gives him a per target efficiency score of -0.06, below the average of zero. That places him as the 10th worst RB in that measure amongst all RBs who had at least 20 targets in 2015. So not only is there reason to believe that the Raiders may have drafted Washington because he is a good receiver, but there is also reason to believe that they may have drafted him because they specifically think Murray is a bad receiver.
I’m not going to try to argue that Washington is a better runner than Murray. Is it possible? Sure. But Murray is a size-speed freak who has been an above average rusher over the last two seasons according to the Fantasy Efficiency App. Mostly I’m not going to argue it because I think that Murray can be a better rusher and still be supplanted as the team’s primary rusher, for three reasons.
The first is simply that if the team wants a RB to serve as a true three-down RB, they may just opt for the better receiver, which could easily be Washington. In fact it’s entirely possible that’s what happened last year in Atlanta with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.2 Second, the team is more invested in Washington. He is a 2016 fifth round pick whereas Murray was a 2013 sixth round pick. So not only is Washington’s initial investment higher but it is also more recent. Third, previous year yards per carry can predict future opportunity. Murray only averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season, so it’s entirely possible that the Raiders think he was a poor rusher last season and will adjust his opportunity accordingly.
But maybe even more significant than the possibility that Washington supplants Murray as a runner is the more likely scenario of him taking just some carries. Consider that RBs behind Murray only combined for 67 rushing attempts last season. Per the Fantasy Efficiency App, his 72.2 percent of his team’s rushing attempts was the most in the league, more even than workhorses like Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley. So you would naturally expect that to decrease. There were 52 RBs with at least 80 carries last season. If Washington gets that amount (which alone would be more than the rest of the RBs got combined last season) and the other RBs get around 30 carries, that would actually represent a pretty big blow to Murray.
Who’s the Target?
It might be simplest to think about this in terms of who you would prefer in a given situation. If Murray ends up being a three-down back who dominates the workload again, you would obviously prefer him. If Washington takes that role, then you would prefer him. So who would you prefer if it ends up as a committee? The answer should probably be Washington. Jeremy Hill and Isaiah Crowell would be parallels for Murray, and they finished as the RB20 and RB33 in PPR respectively despite both playing full seasons. Melvin Gordon would be another example, and he finished as the RB44 in 14 games. Washington’s parallels would be Giovani Bernard, Duke Johnson, and Danny Woodhead. All three played all 16 games and they finished as the RB17, RB24, and RB3 respectively.
The risk-averse move if you have Murray would be to trade him. If you really want a three-down back, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte have similar ADPs according to the Dynasty ADP App. Meanwhile, Washington looks like a good upside RB to target that you can probably get in the third round of rookie drafts. He ranked 32nd in our post-draft composite rookie rankings, which I think is too low for the reasons given here.