Friday, January 23, 2015

Offseason Digest - Leonard Williams, DeMarco Murray

Team Irvin running back DeMarco Murray (29) of the Dallas Cowboys speaks during the Pro Bowl Kickoff Press Conference at The Arizona Biltmore on January 20, 2015. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
When talking about DeMarco Murray's 2014, we will always start with the massive workload.  In the history of the NFL, Murray's 2014 ranks tied for 7th all time for most carries in a regular season with 392.  In other words, in the history of the sport, only 9 guys have ever done what he did.
Add in 57 catches, and the 449 touches are 6th all time for a season in the NFL.  Unfortunately, we do not know the actual workload of a guy like DeMarco Murray, because as I preach constantly in this space, one of Murray's real values is his ability to handle any and all blitz-pickup duty when he is on the field.  He is amongst the league's best at diagnosing and addressing any blitzing linebackers and defensive backs and protecting Tony Romo's health.  That adds on the wear and tear of dozens of more collisions that do not end up in the boxscore, but are vital to team success.
Add to that 2 additional playoff games and his carries zoom to 436 (7th all time in a season), his touches to 497 (6th all time!), and add another bunch of blitz collisions.  What a season for a workhorse.
He really gave the Cowboys absurd amounts of value in 2014 for what he was compensated - about $1.5m.
So now, as we consider options on how to keep the band together and how arguably the Cowboys MVP might factor into their 2015 plans, let us consider the other 8 players who have had at least 392 carries in a year.  What did their next year look like?  Most of this information will be as irrelevant as it gets, but for historical context, let's just take a look at the other men on that list.
Larry Johnson *2720064161789
Larry Johnson282007158559
#1 all time for carries in a 16 game season is Larry Johnson of the Chiefs in 2006.  He was a machine that year, so what happened in 2007?  Well, it started with a Hard Knocks-aired contract holdout in camp and a season-ending foot injury in Week 9.  It was a dropoff of over 1200 yards of production and he never came close to another 1,000 yard season.  Once he got paid, he disappeared.
Jamal Anderson *2619984101846
Jamal Anderson2719991959
Jamal had his massive 1998 season, but in 1999 in a Week 2 game against the Cowboys on Monday Night at Texas Stadium, he tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season.  He returned for 1,000 yards in 2000, but that was it for his career.
James Wilder2619844071544
James Wilder2719853651300
The Tampa Bay workhorse in the mid-1980's had a good news/bad news follow-up season in 1985.  The good news was it was for 1300 yards.  The bad news was that in his final 7 years, his production declined each year after 1984 and he dropped severely to 700 yards in 1986 and was done as a full-time back.
Eric Dickerson *2619864041821
Eric Dickerson2719872831288
Eric Dickerson was amazing in 1986 and pretty much every year from 1983 to 1989.  He was a spectacular rusher who did see his production drop in 1987, but only because it was a NFL strike year and he was traded to the Colts.  Other than that, he was good as new.
Eddie George *2720004031509
Eddie George282001315939
Eddie George is what inspired (along with Shaun Alexander) the Football Outsiders "370 carries Curse" barrier, it seems.  He ended up with less than 3 yards per carry in 2001 and the tread on his tires were closely examined.  He did regain some form after 2001 and his Madden Cover actually coincided with the 2000 season, but he is the name people look at when this topic is disconcerting.
Gerald Riggs2519853971719
Gerald Riggs2619863431327
Gerald Riggs pretty much kept being a Pro Bowl running back the following year.  Yards per carry fell a bit, but that requires so much more analysis than simply looking at workload, so I hesitate to discuss without examining Falcons game tape (which I am fresh out of from 1986).
Terrell Davis *2619983922008
Terrell Davis27199967211
Here is another famous one.  Terrell Davis had a 4 year span that was unlike anything we ever saw from 1995-1998.  Of course, it helped John Elway end with 2 Super Bowls, and in 1999, the Broncos would soldier on without the QB.  Brian Griese would at least have Davis, right?  Wrong. In Week 4, Davis would blow out his ACL, ironically, trying to tackle a defender who had intercepted a Griese pass.  Davis would never be an elite runner again.
Ricky Williams2620033921372
Ricky Williams27200400
Then, we have Texas' Ricky Williams.  2003 was pretty impressive, so you can remember the confusion when he then retired.  There was a marijuana suspension mixed in and Ricky was far from a normal player, but he did not play at all in 2004.  It should also be noted that in 2002, Williams had 383 carries for 1853 yards.  So his 2003 was technically his follow-up season, which went pretty well.  But, he is a curious case for sure.
And that brings us to DeMarco.  I don't buy that he looked tired in the 2nd half of the season.  I thought he was pretty awesome all the way through the playoffs.  I think, if they choose to keep him, he will be pretty salty in 2015 as well.  But, as we can see above, and as the financial commercials reminds us constantly, past performance is not indicative of future success.
DeMarco Murray *2620143921845
DeMarco Murray272015??????
(Each issue of S.O.D., we shall tackle another draft prospect.  No, I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football.  By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better.  It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Leonard Williams, DE, USC - 6'5, 300 - Age 20
Defensive end Leonard Williams #94 of the USC Trojans sits on the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
There are players that come along that get you very excited to know you are looking at a guy who people will most likely talk about for the next decade.  There are no guarantees, but once in a while a prospect arrives and has almost nothing to complain about.  Welcome to that guy in this draft.  There may be someone who we examine that will be on his level, but I highly doubt there is anyone who will exceed his level of excellence in the 2015 draft.  I watched the Nebraska, California, and Stanford games to review his work.
Williams is just 20 years old.  He played at USC (very well) as a true freshman, and now, just 3 seasons into his college career he has turned pro and shot to the top of everyone's board.  He was a "Top 5" guy in the spring, the summer, the fall, and now the winter.  He is as versatile as they come and that is why it doesn't seem that he is scheme dependent.
What I liked: In short, just about everything.  He is versatile in every aspect, meaning he can beat you with cat-like quickness that is uncommon for a player of that size or he can beat you with strength.  He can beat you inside or outside.  He can play DT, NT, RDE, or LDE.  He can play the 5-technique in a 3-4 or the inside.  He can even stand up as a OLB on the outside if you wish, although that doesn't seem to be as natural.  The point is, you don't have to worry about how he fits.  His hands are quick and powerful, he swims right past his man in a blur, and the best attribute may be his ability to contort and squeeze through tight areas to split gaps wide open.  He gets off blocks, but he also holds them up with 1-arm until the ball carrier gets close, then pushes the OL away to make the stop.  His motor is great and he is as disruptive as they come.  You constantly see offenses scheme their entire day around him so as not to mess with him if possible.  In short, he is the best up front at what he does since Ndamukong Suh was at Nebraska.  In fact, if you needed a clone, there you go.  He plays the run very well and he has really impressive pass rush for a 300-pound hulk.  I could go on about him for quite a while.
What I did not like:  In short, almost nothing.  If there is anything that gives you brief pause, it is that he seemed to always be dealing with a nagging issue or injury.  It never appeared overly serious, but he had to gut through a shoulder and ankle issue in both 2013 and 2014.  Otherwise, he is a plug-and-play difference maker.
Summary: Every year, those of us who study prospects see plenty of players we think could go either way and end up making us look silly.  But, there are a few you are willing to guarantee their stardom moving forward, so much so that you realize he won't fall to your spot in the draft - which means now you just hope he goes somewhere in the league where he won't destroy your team very often.  In other words, Washington at #5 would not be a preferred destination for Mr Williams.  I am pretty sure he is going to be a force in the trenches for a long, long time.  And he is 20!
Today's Email/Tweet Of The Day:
I will work on this.  The guy I missed on most in 2014 would certainly be Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin.  I thought he was too big and headed to tight end.  Then, he had a spectacular rookie season in Carolina.
I have missed on plenty of guys over the years and have a few wins as well.  I will try to put some lists together.  My favorite argument with Norm Hitzges was about DeSean Jackson out of California.  I thought he was going to be an electric pro who would make plays and be awesome.  Norm thought he was too small and had a personality who would be problematic.  Who won that one?
Next time, let's start diving into Washington DT Danny Shelton.  Have a good weekend.

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