Despite free agency being just about complete, we’re still months away from anything resembling fantasy football draft season. However, we can at least debate the newfound fantasy value of those free agents and debate which ones should do better. All summer, I’ll be looking at some of the conversations we’ll all have this fall, the ones that go “Would you trade this guy for that guy?” or “Who should you draft first of these two?” To kick off this summer’s series, we’re going to look at two running backs that switched teams after successful runs (no pun intended) with their original teams.
Eddie Lacy and Latavius Murray have both had multiple RB1 seasons in their careers, yet weren’t deemed valuable enough to warrant an extension with their respective teams, (the Packers and the Raiders). Both are now in their mid-20s and haven’t offered much in the passing game in the past, which is problematic for their pass-happy former teams and probably contributed to their departure. But they’ve moved on to teams — Lacy to Seattle, Murray to Minnesota — that wanted them and will start fresh in 2017. So which one should you draft before the other? I broke it down by the player, their team situation, and their 2017 outlook.
Lacy and Murray have some similarities, like age (they’re both entering their age-27 seasons) and yards per carry for their careers (4.4 for Lacy; 4.2 for Murray). But they also have very different pedigrees. Lacy was a second-round pick from perennial powerhouse Alabama while Murray was a sixth-round pick from tiny Central Florida. Lacy was a starter right away, racking up nearly 300 carries his rookie season, while Murray was part of a fairly weak committee in his, totaling 82 carries. But while Lacy was a top-10 fantasy running back in his first two seasons, he’s barely eclipsed 1,100 yards over the last two seasons due to inconsistent play and injuries. Meanwhile, Murray has put together top-13 seasons over that same span.
So both have had ups and downs in their brief career. And while there have been some similarities statistically, Lacy has a clear advantage when looking at team-independent data. For example, Lacy, when healthy, has been graded much higher in PFF’s running back grades, ranking fifth, third, and 14th in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons, respectively. This while playing behind an average offensive line, according to PFF (Green Bay finished 19th, 13th, and 12th in run-blocking in those same seasons). On the other hand, Murray, in his two healthy seasons, finished 42nd and 19th while playing behind a superior offensive line, which PFF ranked as the 10th- and fifth-best units, respectively, in those seasons. So Lacy was more valuable working with a worse offensive line.
Their elusive rating further illuminates the difference. Lacy, again in his three full seasons, finished 11th, second, and 13th between 2013 and 2015 in PFF’s elusive rating, while Murray finished ninth and 18th in his two. In their limited time in the league, Lacy has clearly performed better.