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2014 Fantasy Football: Why Latavius Murray is a Playoff Starter

“If you’re not first, you’re last.” It’s a ridiculous life philosophy, but something that should absolutely be one of the critical building blocks of strategy in the fantasy football playoffs. All that matters is increasing your chance to win. Whether you lose by 0.05 or 50 is completely irrelevant. If you’re chasing a heavily favored opponent, you need to take every risk you can to get a victory.

And that’s why I’ll be happily scooping and starting Latavius Murray in one of my leagues. He might be the most unpredictable commodity in fantasy football right now, but there aren’t many runners that can match his upside. Sure, the Jonas Grays and Matt Asiatas of the world will occasionally plant their personal flag in the end zone for a week; that’s not who Murray is. He’s an immensely talented player stuck in a tragically warped organization. There aren’t more than ten guys in the league who are capable of doing this on a regular basis.

And yet, Murray is only owned in about 48% of Yahoo! leagues. He’s being started in only 8% of Yahoo! leagues. Why aren’t there more fantasy owners willing to swing for the fences? Murray has been cleared and will play on Sunday. In a regular week, I could understand the conservativism, but this is the playoffs! It’s time to empty whatever’s left in your clip.

People seem willing to do it with wide receivers, but not with running backs. Human lottery ticket Martavis Bryant is on track to start in more than twice as many leagues as Murray this week. It’s odd that we can so easily think of wide receivers as explosive rolls of the fantasy dice, but for whatever reason, we tend not to think of running backs the same way. It seems like conventional fantasy wisdom always leans toward starting the guy who we know will get the carries. That logic would never fly with wideouts in non-PPR formats. You’d never play Andrew Hawkins over Bryant when it’s all on the line. I get the idea that a lead runner sees more volume of opportunities than a lead receiver, but outside the top ten-or-so guys, there aren’t any workhorses. Only seven backs have tallied a total of at least 200 carries while averaging more than 15 carries per game this season. Outside of that limited group of workhorses, there aren’t many runners who can match Murray for athletic upside. Unless you’re playing in a point-per-carry format, I think it’s time to reset our expectations about what type of RBs should get the starting nod for desperate teams in the playoffs.

I went to ESPN’s Consistency Ratings to compare whether back-end startable running backs really have been any more consistent than back-end startable wide receivers. I looked at the average Consistency Rating and Start % for guys inside the top 30 scorers on the season, but outside the top ten. For receivers, the numbers were .71 and 48%, respectively. That’s a pretty wide variance and a rather high likelihood to swing and miss, but nothing you wouldn’t expect from the receiver position. For running backs, the numbers were .71 and 49%. Almost identical. So why again are we ok with rushing to the waiver wire for Donte Moncrief, but afraid of starting a boom-or-bust running back in a make-or-break matchup?

I get it, Murray’s never been dubbed the unquestioned starter and he plays on a joke of an offense, but there’s nobody else in the Oakland backfield with a reasonable claim to playing time. And who exactly are you excited about starting in his place? Running back is a desolate wasteland this season. Are you really feeling good about leaving your playoff fate in the hands of Steven Jackson at Lambeau, or Denard Robinson facing J.J. Watt’s defense, or anybody coached by Bill Belichick?

If you just snuck into the playoffs or are still scrapping for that final spot, there’s no better addition for your team than my man Murray. Sure, his remaining schedule (SF, KC, BUF, DEN) is absolutely wretched, but he’s the kind of guy who’s somewhat immune to rough scheduling. He’s already proven it once, becoming the only runner in the league to score a touchdown against the Chiefs, then, minutes later, becoming the only runner in the league to score two touchdowns against the Chiefs. He’s a wildcard in the best way possible. He is the physical embodiment of pushing all in with a hand full of rags.

If you want to give yourself the best chance to win, start him, but don’t start him with confidence. Start him with the ferocious defiance and aggression of a cornered wolverine.

And win! Or lose spectacularly. Because that’s fantasy football.

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