When the Raiders traded down with the Buccaneers in the fourth-round (they chose QB Tyler Wilson after trading down), they also picked up an extra sixth-round pick as compensation for trading down.
The pick, 181st overall, was used to select running back Latavius Murray from Central Florida. Central Florida plays in a smaller conference in division I, Conference USA (C-USA for short). In fact, Murray had only one teammate also selected and joined only seven other players from C-USA to be drafted in 2013. For comparison, SEC’s Alabama had nine players drafted, just by itself.
It’s safe to say that in Conference USA, Murray faced off against lesser opponents than many other schools in bigger and better conferences. This begs the question of how his success at Central Florida will translate to the NFL.
First, we’ll look Murray’s physical attributes. He is very large for a runningback (actually he’s large for just about every position except a lineman). Standing at 6’2”, 223 lbs, Murray is one of those players that “looks good coming off the bus.”
He’s also exceptionally fast. Pro days do not have official times like the Combine does but he was universally reported to have run his 40-yard dash at or just under 4.4 seconds. Some scouts reportedly had him in the 4.38 range.
That speed certainly shows on tape where Murray has a number of very long TD runs in which he is able to get into the open and then outrun the defense to the end zone.
For such a large man, however, he frequently struggles on interior runs. In fact, it’s probably his biggest weakness. If he’s able to get good blocking up front, his speed is such that he’s able to get down the field quickly.
However, if his blocking is less than stellar he had too many stops at or behind the line for my liking. There are two main reasons that he got stopped behind the line frequently.
First, and most importantly, Murray has a very upright style of running. Upright running is okay in open space where there are fewer defenders and he’s able to see who he’s going against, more. In close quarters, however, running upright is a recipe for short gains.
Upright running means that the back isn’t getting is upper body down enough and squaring his shoulders when running forward. When he does this, he presents a larger target and he allows his opponents to get under his pads and stop his momentum cold.
An upright running style is also allegedly associated with increased injuries due to the same reasons – that the player presents a larger target and is being hit in more vital areas if they run upright – however this has not been supported by any empirical data that I’ve seen.
Murray is aware he has these issues. When he was taken by the Raiders, he acknowledged his running stance was something he would likely have to work on, saying, “After taking visits or even just talking to coaches, some guys that are in the NFL currently run upright, but I think the main time what they were saying, as long as I know when I lower my pads or drop my shoulder, is the biggest thing, because open field, you can run upright, just not in traffic. It’s just running with that pad level is important in situations.”
Here’s an example (I apologize about the quality of the pictures but most of the Central Florida games weren’t broadcast in HD so I have to work with a poorer quality of videos) of Murray running too high and his stance’s effect.
In the first shot, you can see that Murray is lined up in the personal protector role in the shotgun formation. Central Florida's offensive coordinator liked to use a lot of shotgun formations, running and passing, both, out of it.
At the snap, the QB takes the ball and hands it off to Murray. He appears to be going towards the weakside (the weakside is the side without the TE) A or B gap.
Look at the picture below as Murray approaches the offensive line. Do you see how tall he runs? All 6'2" of him appears to be open as a target for a defender. The tight end, here, has given a poor block on the LDE and the end is closing in on Murray from his right side:
It's difficult to see, here, but the defender - marked with the blue arrow - has been able to get an arm aroun Murray's upper waist and because of Murray's upright stance, that has slowed Murray down substantially. Instead of being able to bull through the arm tackle, Murray has instead lost some momentum.
The delay caused by the defensive end getting his arm around Murray has allowed the rest of the defense to converge on Murray. He is lost in a pile of offensive and defensive linemen:
The arrow points to Murray, who has been brought down after a paltry gain of 1 yard:
The high stance is really the only big issue I had with Murray. He shows good patience and vision. He frequently ran behind blockers and used them well. Multiple times I saw him running with his free hand on the blockers back, letting them know where he was and using the touch to know where the blocker was so he could stay behind the blocker and use his vision to find the holes in the defense.
He also showed good patience in finding running lanes, giving his blockers time to set up before exploding up field.
The play below, against Southern Methodist, is an example of this patience/explosion combo.
Again, Murray is lined up as an extra blocker next to the QB in the shotgun formation. He will be running to his left, which is the strong side (the side WITH the tight end) at the snap.
At the snap, Murray goes to the left where some of the offensive line has pulled and is heading as well:
The initial blocks are good and Murray is keeping his eyes downfield to wait for the right spot. Murray is much faster than his blockers but he's doing a good job of keeping himself behind them:
In the next shot, Murray has reached the corner but there is a defender crashing down to take away the sideline for him:
Instead of crashing on, however, Murray makes a good choice of delaying for a moment, which allows the blocker in front of him to gain ground. Murray assesses his best available option:
Now, Murray cuts upfield to pass behind the blocker that he just allowed to pass. This seals off the defender who had the edge on him:
As he reaches the next level, Murray has two choices. He can continue up field and try his luck against the safety and, potentially, the cornerback who are crossing to get in front of him or he can try to cut between the two defensive backs where the arrow shows and try to get outside of the coverage:
As you can see, Murray chose to make the cut and got through the defenders without much issue. He was hit and knocked off his balance a bit but nothing too terrible. He has two defenders to beat - one each from his left and right:
Murray, here, has beat the first defender but has to turn on the afterburners to beat the safety who seems to have the positioning down the field to stop Murray at about the 10 yard line:
Murray, however, is fast enough that even from a better position the safety can't get in front of him and he sprints towards the end zone with 4 defenders in tow:
The safety finally reaches him right before the endzone but Murray gives him a stiff-arm to hold him off:
With a few nice moves and good decisions, Murray turns this into a 24 yard TD run:
Being a running back isn’t just about running, though. A good running back should also be able to block and receive out of the backfield. A player that can run, block and receive will be able to see the field on any down and will therefore see the field much more often than others.
As a blocker, Murray lacks the attacking style I prefer in running backs but his sheer size usually makes up for it. He’ll need to work on his technique a bit against NFL-caliber defensive ends but he has a good eye for where he needs to slide to offer additional protection and he’s able to get his body in front of opponents. He’s so big that even if he doesn’t use proper technique, he offers precious seconds of protection, nonetheless. As a receiver, Murray showed soft hands and good vision to put his receptions to use. The offensive coordinator at UCF liked to use the shotgun formation a lot and would frequently have Murray running out of the shotgun formation to good effect. He also liked to use Murray on swing routes or running back screens, often to devastating effect.
In the Raiders recent rookie mini-camp the media, who were only allowed to be present for Saturday, May 11th’s practice, noted how Murray looked to be a natural receiver with soft hands and smooth acceleration into the reception and beyond.
There are many things to like about Murray’s chances in Oakland. He will immediately compete for the second team position with his primary competition being free agent Rashad Jennings. As long as Murray can stay healthy throughout camp, I like his chances to be the number two back behind starter McFadden.
And with McFadden never having made it through an entire season healthy, look for Murray to contribute early and often in 2013. If McFadden isn’t resigned for 2014, Murray does possess the skillset to be a starter in the NFL.
For more Raiders news and analysis, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews