- Dan Graziano, ESPN New York Giants reporter
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Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is up in Bristol today, appearing on a variety of TV and radio shows. He's going to be on NFL Live at 4 pm ET. They call it the "car wash" up there -- they bring you in and run you through every show they've got. It's good stuff, and if you're a Cowboys fan or a Murray fan, I hope you're enjoying it.
Here on the NFC East blog, it's Fantasy Week, so my first thought was to check and see where Murray ranked among fantasy running backs in our preseason rankings. The answer: No. 21. Low-end No. 2 running back in a 12-team league. In a weak year for top-level running backs. And what this tells us is that Murray is no longer considered, by our fantasy football experts, to be a top-level running back. He was a late first-round/early second-round pick a year ago. This year, he's looking at middle of the third round.
Why? Well, as you know, Murray's had a bit of a tough time doing two very important things that a fantasy running back must do: Staying healthy and scoring touchdowns. The Cowboys have played 27 games since Murray became their starting running back in late October of 2011. Murray has missed nine of those 27 games because of leg injuries. He's also scored a grand total of six touchdowns, never more than one in the same game. So the 83.1 yards per game he's averaged as a starter is a decent enough figure, but it's not enough to get him any further up this list until we see some sustained proof that things can get better.
Can they? The Cowboys drafted Joseph Randle this year, and he's a threat to take over if Murray gets hurt, just as Murray was a threat to Felix Jones in 2011. Murray has incentive to stay healthy, for sure. And the Cowboys are changing some things about the way they design and implement their offense this year, with quarterback Tony Romo being more involved during the week and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan taking over play-calling duties on game day. There's also the chance of improved interior offensive line play with the help of first-round pick Travis Frederick, which would help Murray run better and possibly avoid injury.
But in the end, the biggest questions aren't about the Cowboys, but about Murray himself. He seems like a back who enjoys contact, and backs like that, while super-tough, tend not to last very long in the NFL. Murray was one of the guys on the film they showed us at the league meetings in the spring when they introduced the new rule about running backs leading with the crowns of their helmets in the open field. He's an angry, aggressive runner who puts himself in position to get hurt. It's hard to imagine that changing, regardless of what changes on the Cowboys' offense around him.
My fantasy advice? I think Murray in the third round has a chance to be a nice value pick, especially if you're thin at running back because you got shut out of the top guys and decided to go with a quarterback and/or receiver early. Murray is only 25 and clearly quite talented, and if he does stay healthy he's a fine No. 2 fantasy back at the very least. But if you get him, make sure you get Randle, too. And if Murray starts out with one or two really big games, look to trade him while he's healthy. Because he could produce for you, but it's tough to imagine a high-profile fantasy back right now who comes with more risk.
Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is up in Bristol today, appearing on a variety of TV and radio shows. He's going to be on NFL Live at 4 pm ET.