First things first, DeMarco Murray had an incredible year last year and I am not taking anything away from him. While averaging 4.7 yards per carry Murray rushed for an astounding 1845 yards and 13 TDs and added in 57 catches for 416 yards.
Rushing for over 1800 yards is a huge accomplishment, as he became only the 17th player to do so in the history of the NFL, but this will also lead to his demise. It has been 18 years since a running back has had two 1800+ yard seasons in their career, meaning Murray was 8 the last time it happened. Only Hall of Fame backs Eric Dickerson (3 times), O.J. Simpson (2 times) and Barry Sanders (2 times) have been able to surpass the 1800 yard plateau multiple times. The odds are against Murray at this point.
DeMarco Murray was the clear cut number one running back in Dallas last year, rushing the ball an astounding 392 times. Second on Dallas was Joseph Randle with just 51 carries. Not only does Murray have to learn a new offense this year, but he also has fellow free agent Ryan Mathews to share carries with in addition to Darren Sproles. Philadelphia should use all three running backs in different sets and I look for Murray to get about 250 carries, Mathews 150 and Sproles about 50. With Murray’s career average at 4.8 yards/carry that would give Murray about 1200 rushing yards.
In addition to learning a new offense, Philadelphia still has to choose a starting QB out of the carousel which includes Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow. The Philadelphia offense needs to figure out their identity before anyone commits to Murray with a first round pick this year. I look for him to come closer to his 2013 numbers where he finished with almost 1500 total yards and 10 TDs. Still worthy of an early pick, but be aware there is almost no possibility of him matching his 2300 total yards and 13 TDs from last season. I would let someone else spend a top pick on him as your first pick should have little to no risk attached to it.
Curtis Lofton has quietly been one of the NFL’s best linebackers since joining the league in 2008. In his 7 years in the league he has been extremely durable, impressively never missing a start. The 2nd round pick out of Oklahoma has also eclipsed the century mark in combined tackles every year since his rookie season when he just missed it with 94. Last year he trailed only Lavonte David, DeAndre Levy and Luke Kuechly in total tackles, with a career high of 145, but this year will be different.
Signing a free agent deal in Oakland, the Raiders are looking to finally grab the linebacker they have been searching for. Since Lofton’s rookie year the Raiders have used a different combination of starting linebackers every season including a different MLB each of the past three years. Nobody can seem to lock down that starting job which is why the Raiders signed him to a 3 year $18 million contract. Lofton will step in as the signal caller this year and be relied upon to lead the Raiders defense.
What concerns me is that Lofton graded outside the top 24 LBs the past four seasons according to advancedfootballanalytics.com after being #8 in 2010. At his age 29 season he will only continue to decline. He only achieved a 60% stop rate against the run which came in at 47th in the league last year. Comparatively Kuechly’s was at 70%, David 69% and Levy 68%.
Another factor is that Lofton has gotten away from being dependable at defending the pass. He had only one pass defense last year after averaging 6 or more the previous three years. Lofton also failed to record a sack in 2014 for the first time since 2009. He is clearly declining and even with his new contract Lofton is still going to struggle in pass protection.
So even with the flashy tackle total and the new position leading the Raider defense, Lofton will continue to decline this year and may even fall off the map and never again live up to the LB2 status he once had.