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How Latavius Murray Fits the Vikings Offense

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Wild Card Round - Oakland Raiders v Houston Texans Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

The Vikings acquisition of the Latavius Murray, while certainly not a blockbuster deal, could help the Vikings offense in a number of ways beyond Murray’s own production.

Over at 1500ESPN they did a piece on Murray, and asked a Raiders writer what he thought of Murray:

Murray is OK at catching. He’ll catch the easy ones but don’t expect him to reach out for passes. He’s a great pass protector, maybe one of the best in the league. Big, fast Athlete. He’s tall and runs upright, which gets him in trouble. Doesn’t lower the shoulder as much as you want. Vision is below average, feet are average to below average. [Murray] got better at zone running but not ideal. His best fit is in a gap scheme where he could just run full speed into a hole. Goes down on first contact more than people realize. - Ted Nguyen

Overall not exactly a glowing endorsement of Murray’s abilities, and looking at some of Murray’s tape, the comments seem fairly accurate. Murray’s 4.0 YPC was bested by both of the Raiders’ other backs last year, and all three were aided by a strong Raiders offensive line. Obviously there had to be a reason the Raiders did not appear terribly interested in re-signing Murray, and I’m sure all of the above contributed to that rationale.

All of this suggests that Murray may well be no more than a mediocre acquisition that does little to improve the Vikings offense. That’s certainly possible. But a closer look at Murray’s skill set suggests he could do more to help the Vikings offense than the backs on the Vikings roster last year, for a variety of reasons.

Blocking/Run Scheme

As mentioned in the comment above, Murray could fit best in a gap or power run scheme, which is what the Vikings have run. It’s not clear that Shurmur is planning to change that, and with Tony Sparano as OL coach, who is a power scheme guy, it doesn’t seem likely. Not sure the change of scheme will make a big difference for Murray, considering the Raiders have a better OL than the Vikings will have, which is what matters most, but nevertheless is could help him.

Pass Blocking

Latavius Murray has been rated one of the best pass blocking running backs in the league. If you have an excellent offensive line, there is less value in having a good pass blocking running back. Such was the case with the Raiders- but not with the Vikings- even after the acquisitions of Reiff and Remmers. Having Murray in the backfield to help out an offensive lineman with a missed block or assignment, or to pick up a blitz, will provide great value to a Vikings offense that may not be a stout as we’d like it to be, thereby reducing the number of hits and pressures on Bradford, while also allowing him more time to make a play downfield.

Running Out of the Shotgun Formation

In addition to being a very good pass blocker, Murray is also able to run out of the shotgun formation with much greater effectiveness than Adrian Peterson the past couple years. Last year Murray had a higher average running in shotgun than under-center. That ability to line up next to the QB in shotgun and either block or run adds an extra element defenses must account for, which helps to keep them honest. Cheating too much toward a pass enables a more effective run, while cheating too much toward a run enables receivers a better opportunity to get open behind linebackers. Having Murray in the backfield in shotgun on virtually any down-and-distance can add value on either run or pass play, given his versatility.

Pass Catching Ability

Adding to Murray’s versatility, is his pass catching ability. As pointed out, he’s not the best pass catcher out there, but he can handle the dump-off passes well and seems better able to hit the ground running after making the catch than current Vikings RBs, with the possible exception of Jerick McKinnon.

Beyond that, Murray is also given some credit as a short yardage/goal-line back, and he has the size for it. I’m not sure that is altogether deserved at this point, but I’d be willing to bet he’ll be better than McKinnon and Asiata in that regard.

Overall

Murray is something of a big, fast, jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type back, and that versatility may be worth more than the sum of the parts. Having Murray in the backfield, in either a shotgun or under-center formation, is not an immediate give-away of the play call, as was the case with AP under-center the past few years. Murray can add value to the offense beyond his own production stats as a pass-blocker, which the Vikings need in a RB, and as a complimentary ‘banger’ to McKinnon’s ‘slasher’ running style, in what looks to be a RB-by-committee approach for the Vikings going forward.

And that is how Murray fits. He’s not a bell-cow, despite his size and speed, as he gets tired toward the end of games- leading to miscues- if given too many touches. But overall Murray, who turned 27 in January, looks to be a good fit in the new Vikings offense under Pat Shurmur, and with any luck could thrive in his role here. If not, there’s not a lot of dead money in his 3-year deal after the first year.

3/22/17 Addition:

StarTribune’s Michael Rand (Randball) wrote a piece today on Murray suggesting he’s an upgrade over Adrian Peterson in several ways.