Commentary

Is DeMarco Murray dependable?

Updated: August 28, 2012, 9:34 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

How much should we trust DeMarco Murray as a starting RB for fantasy?

Decisions 2012

Let me paint you a picture. A second-year running back has started seven games. He has 164 career carries. He has scored two touchdowns in his NFL life. The man in question was injured throughout his collegiate career and had his rookie pro season ended by a broken leg. This kid we're talking about, he might be a nice sleeper this year, right?

Or he might be the No. 8 running back in fantasy.

DeMarco Murray is a fine symbol for everything that ails the RB position heading into 2012. He's the devil we don't know. And we love him for it. Whereas players such as Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews have committed the sin of being injury-prone for multiple seasons, Murray has crushed his fantasy teams only once, so it's easier for us to assume that one year might've been an aberration. He's young. He's fast (Murray ran a 4.41 40 at the combine). He has tremendous receiving hands. And, a year after Felix Jones spit the bit as the Dallas Cowboys' starter, Murray appears to have a huge edge on backfield touches.

But should we trust him?

Let me answer that question by posing another question for you. You have been stranded on a desert island for three weeks, eating nothing but questionable-looking berries and drinking coconut milk, the supply of which is rapidly dwindling. A crate washes up on shore. This crate contains two items: a box of moldy Twinkies and a sack of horse manure. The moldy Twinkies are blue and smell like death. But at least they aren't horse manure.

DeMarco Murray is the moldy Twinkie in this analogy.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanDeMarco Murray rushed for 897 yards and two TDs last year but had emerged as the Cowboys' top back before breaking his leg late in the season.

Listen, obviously, all kinds of things could go wrong with Murray. He's been a leg injury waiting to happen since early in his days at the University of Oklahoma. The Cowboys' offensive line looks as if it might struggle to begin the year. Tony Romo's aerial weapons can't stay healthy. Heck, take away that ludicrous 253-yard Week 6 effort against the St. Louis Rams last year, and Murray has just three carries for more than 20 yards (and exactly one TD) in his career. I can't recall a less experienced player ever making my RB top-10 list.

But he's there. He's there because the gentlemen around him have similar disaster potential. Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry of the preseason. McFadden's ankles and feet appear to be constructed of papier-mâché. Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson are returning from torn ACLs. Steven Jackson and Frank Gore are likely deep into their respective back nines. And pretty much every other RB in the league is probably in some form of time share.

Do I trust Murray? I trust that, as long as he's healthy, he'll produce decent numbers. Including his breakout game against the Rams last year, he had five games of 20-plus carries in a six-week span, and he eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage in each of those five contests. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He's actually something along the lines of a McFadden clone: an all-around player who runs fast for his size, catches passes amazingly well and packs a wallop when he meets tacklers. A healthy season could see him emerge as fantasy's No. 1 RB. I wouldn't be shocked.

But I also wouldn't be shocked to see him get hurt in Week 1, and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Cowboys' offense founder early in the year. I wouldn't be shocked if Jones produced a better season than we expect in a supporting role, draining Murray of some of his upside. Is Murray a good goal-line back? I expect he'd be fine, but the truth is: He has six career carries inside an opponent's 10, one of which has gone for a touchdown. We simply don't know yet.

This RB morass explains why there are so many dang quarterbacks in our top 20 this year, and it explains why Murray -- the No. 8 RB -- who in past years might've found himself ranked No. 11 or No. 12 overall, is No. 18 overall this season. Personally, I have five QBs, four WRs and a TE rated ahead of Murray.

So, do I trust him? About as far as I can throw him. But will I own him in leagues where he falls to me late in the second round?

You bet.