Oakland CA — When the Tennessee Titans come to town Saturday to take on the Oakland Raiders we will get to see (in vanilla fashion) a heavy dose of starters on both sides of the ball. That means second year QB Marcus Mariota and 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry for the Titans and a plethora of young talent for the Raiders. Yes, we will be excited to see how Derek Carr connects with his talented corps of pass catchers Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Clive Walford (who I predict will unleash his freakish ability in grand fashion this year), but it is another element I will be paying the most attention to Saturday night. That will be the bullish offensive line Reggie McKenzie has assembled and the holes they create for the electric Latavius Murray.
Let’s start up front and see where the Raiders’ offensive lines ranked for Murray’s first two seasons. In 2014 Pro Football Focus had the Raiders ranked 16th overall but only 24th in the run game. This was when Latavius burst on the scene with some huge plays giving a glimpse of what he was capable of. Last season we saw an increase in performance across the board on the O-Line. This led to a jump from 16th overall to the 6th best in the entire league. However, while ranking as the second best in pass protection they were a pedestrian 18th in the run game.
You can quote me here on this: At the end of the 2016 season the Oakland Raiders will have the top rated offensive line in the NFL. I already talked about their upgrades with this position group and you can check that out here: Upgraded O-Line Key If Raiders Want A Return To “Excellence”. We know the Dallas Cowboys have held that moniker for quite a while and I believe that could come to an end this season. What does this mean for Latavius Murray?
For a guy that has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his first two seasons it means a lot. He’s done so with an average run blocking line. With Carr and Cooper striking fear in the passing game, and run blocking personnel upgrades, Murray could actually contend for a rushing title. There might be question marks about his durability, but his coaches and teammates all say he has their trust.
Saturday night will be great to see if some big holes are opened up for the speedy Murray to burst through. Even in a situation where teams don’t want to show their actual playbook, we all know Preseason Game 3 is a chance to see what the studs can do. While the Titans are focusing on stopping Carr from finding his guys downfield, look for the Raiders offensive line to flex their power up front with Latavius Murray gashing them in chunks.
We know they drafted another intriguing back in DeAndre Washington and he’s already shown he can make plays, but year 1 in the NFL is typically when a back learns the ropes. Unless they are a dominant player, they will be learning the nuances of the game. Murray has shown he can pass block and Derek Carr will want a player he can trust on the field more than an unproven rookie. This will lead to Latavius getting the majority of the snaps.
From a Fantasy perspective it seems Murray will have an opportunity to bolster your roster in a big way. Fantasy Pros have his ADP at 39 which puts him late 3rd or early 4th round depending on how many teams are in your league. I think this is conservative and it is possible when all is said and done it’s not unthinkable that Murray is a Top 5 fantasy back come playoff time.
Whether or not Latavius Murray get’s all the carries or meets these lofty standards remains to be seen. One thing we know that will change this season is that week to week opposing teams are going to have a challenge when they are facing the Oakland Raiders. They have an arsenal that consists of a talented young QB on the rise, an amazing talent running routes in Amari Cooper and an underrated talent in the backfield in Latavius Murray.
Bolster all this together with one of the best offensive lines in football and a defense that is only getting better and you have a recipe for long term success. It’s reminiscent of a team that had a Big Three of their own. That’s the Dallas Cowboys of the early 90’s. I think it’s a good comparison if you break down the way the team is built. If that is the case, the sky is the limit and the Oakland Raiders could be better than anyone is even predicting in 2016. Look for Latavius Murray to be a big factor in their success and for him to make a big jump as a top RB this season.