We used to see guys repeat as the NFL rushing leader all the time. But this is a new, pass-happy NFL. So what are the chances that DeMarco Murray can defend that title? He is +1000 on 5Dimes to lead the league in rushing yards again in 2015.
Repeat After Me
Let's just look back to, say, 1980. That year, the Oilers' Earl Campbell led the NFL in rushing for a third straight year. Erick Dickerson would go back-to-back as the rushing king in 1983 & '84 (when he set the league record with 2,105 yards). The Cowboys' Emmitt Smith won three straight rushing titles starting in 1991. Fellow Hall of Famer Barry Sanders went back-to-back in 1996-97. The Colts' Edgerrin James did so in 1999-2000. But we haven't seen a guy repeat since San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson in 2007. Running backs just aren't considered as important these days. I mean, we had two straight drafts where one didn't even go in the first round until two did -- the Rams' Todd Gurley and Chargers' Melvin Gordon -- this season.
Last season, Murray led the league with 1,845 yards while playing all 16 games with the Dallas Cowboys, who also had perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL. Murray always had the talent to lead the league in rushing yards, but he had trouble staying healthy. Last season was the first time the former Oklahoma star played all 16 games; Murray is more proof you don't need to take a running back early in the draft as he was a third-round pick in 2011. Those 1,845 yards were a Cowboys franchise record, which is pretty impressive when you consider some of the running backs who have played in Dallas. It also earned Murray the Associated Press' Offensive Player of the Year Award. Murray finished a whopping 484 yards ahead of No. 2 Le'Veon Bell of the Steelers.
Murray also set an NFL record by rushing for at least 100 yards in each of the Cowboys' first eight games in 2014, breaking Jim Brown’s previous record of six consecutive games to start a season set in 1958. Murray was the fastest player in Dallas history and fifth-fastest player in league history to reach the 1,000-yard mark, doing so in eight games. Dallas was 6-2 in those eight games. The streak ended when Murray had 79 yards on 19 carries in a loss to Arizona. He would add four more 100-yard games in the regular season and had 123 yards in the NFC divisional round playoff loss in Green Bay.
Eagles Pony Up The Cash
So with such a great season, why did the Cowboys not try very hard to re-sign Murray? He inked a five-year, $42 million free-agent deal with the division-rival Eagles. Murray said that other teams offered more money but wouldn't say which (Jacksonville? Oakland?). Clearly the Cowboys think their offensive line is good enough to make any back a star; they also essentially had to choose between re-signing Murray or star receiver Dez Bryant. The irony is that the Eagles didn't even target Murray at first. They had an agreement with 49ers running back Frank Gore, but he then reversed course and signed with Indianapolis. Then for some reason, the Eagles also signed former Chargers featured back Ryan Mathews. So Murray isn't going to be getting 392 carries again as he did in 2014, that's for sure.
The Eagles' offensive line isn't anywhere as good as the Cowboys' is. Despite having the oldest starting line in the league, Philadelphia didn't use any of its 2015 draft NFL picks on an offensive lineman. The Eagles didn't take one in 2014, either. Plus they released Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis in June after he had skipped all of the Eagles' offseason activities because he was unhappy with his contract. Mathis was scheduled to make $5.5 million in 2015. Mathis led all Eagles offensive players with 3,675 snaps in the past four seasons. He was Pro Football Focus' top-rated guard from 2011-2013 and second last year, playing only nine games because of a sprained left knee. Allen Barbre takes over as the starter. The 31-year-old has only started eight games in his career.
NFL Free Pick: I don't think Murray is a smart bet here. His workload will shrink some with Mathews around and you can't count on Murray playing all 16 games again.