DeMarco Murray is the toast of the NFL, but injury and team issues clouded some observers’ view of his talent. Texas RB Malcolm Brown might have the same problem this winter.
By Matt Waldman
More than a few times in the past ten months I have either read or had someone connected to the NFL discuss the trajectory of a college player’s career as something worth evaluating. If you are an avid reader of NFL draft news then you have probably seen commentary that scouts believe a player’s college career “plateaued,” or that he “peaked” as an athlete.
This could have been said about DeMarco Murray. A celebrated recruit who scintillated early in his Big 12 career. His freshman year set a trajectory with the arc of a superstar. When injuries and surrounding talent contributed to Murray’s failure to maintain that trajectory, some evaluators say he physically plateaued.
More than a few draft analysts and independent scouts nitpicked Murray’s gait, pad level, and vision, and his performance in Senior Bowl practices cost the runner in the draft. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the scouts these media types spoke with never played running back or were feeding bad intel.
Murray proved the doubters wrong, debuting with a 253-yard performance in his first extended time in the lineup as a rookie. Now with a stronger offensive line, the former Sooner has become the most productive back in the NFL. The injury concerns were (and still are) understandable, but in hindsight a lot of the criticism about Murray’s style of running seem inconsequential to what makes a running back good enough to produce as a professional.
After watching Texas runner Malcolm Brown this weekend, I asked a colleague about him. The early book on Brown seemed similar to Murray’s college story on the surface:
- Five-star recruit to Big-12 program.
- Appears to have peaked physically a little early for desired career trajectory.
- Injury issues and time share for the past two seasons.
Brown’s injuries haven’t been as troublesome as Murray’s, but the demise of Mack Brown’s regime has been an issue that some scouts will consider. I haven’t watched Brown’s 2014 tape yet, but his 2012 performance against Ole Miss is an impressive display of running, and the NFL athleticism is on clear display.
In this week’s Gut Check column at Footballguys, I devoted a section to seeing faults with my predraft analysis of Jeremy Hill. I based more of my overall evaluation on Hill’s senior tape, where I saw a more sluggish runner, and I didn’t factor enough of what I saw from Hill in previous seasons, where his quickness and change of direction was more impressive.
Estimating which version of a back the NFL is going to see if that prospect has noticeably different performances from one season to the next can be a difficult task. I’m sure this is one of the reasons Murray tripped up evaluators.
Murray’s style early in his career was far more big-play oriented — more Reggie Bush. As a senior, Murray was a more conservative decision-maker, and because he was performing with an injury that limited his athleticism, it forced Murray to display a more downhill-oriented, powerful side of this game that wasn’t flashy in the box scores, but was far more impressive in context. Murray was winning with a higher level of decision-making that was required of good pro running backs and not just a great college athlete that carried the football.
If Brown’s 2014 performance isn’t impressive, and there’s a reasonable explanation, the Longhorns runner could be one of those prospects whose earlier tape is more indicative of his potential than his recent work. Against Ole Miss, Brown earned 126 yards and three scores on 21 carries, and he looked like a prospect with feature back potential. Read the rest at Football Outsiders