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Chip Kelly: DeMarco Murray's workload a valid concern

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Armed with the knowledge that All Pro tailback DeMarco Murray was ticketed for free agency, the Dallas Cowboys saddled up their workhorse for the seventh-most carries (436) in NFL history last season.

The Philadelphia Eagles were steeped in the research of excessive single-season workloads -- such as the "Curse of 370" popularized by Football Outsiders -- but opted to sign the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year to a five-year, $40 million contract regardless.

Every game, all season

Coach Chip Kelly understands his sports science program won't be enough to stave off the injuries and regression that have haunted backs of Murray's statistical profile.

"I think there is a lot of validity to it," Kelly told The MMQB's Peter King this week. "But how do you manage him going into a season?

"Our plan all along was to get another running back with him. I wanted to have two running backs, and that's why we got Ryan [Mathews]. I don't think you can have a guy carry it 370 to 400 times per season and be successful. We're going to run it a lot -- we always do -- but we'll have more than one guy doing it."

It's an astute approach to utilize Mathews as the "Robin" to Murray's "Batman," allowing the twin downhill, one-cut-and-go power backs to tag-team opposing defenses with little to no dropoff in production.

In fact, the Around The NFL Podcast has repeatedly toyed with the idea that Mathews might just be the more productive of the two backs in Kelly's offense.

Consider the following:

RBs, Season After Having 400+ Carries Since 1990
Year
Team
Players
Games Played
Rush Yards
2015
PHI
N/A
N/A
2013
HOU
8
542
2007
KC
Larry Johnson
8
559
2006
SEA
Shaun Alexander
10
896
2005
NE
Corey Dillon
12
733
2005
NYJ
Curtis Martin
12
735
2004
GB
Ahman Green
15
1,163
2004
BAL
Jamal Lewis
12
1,006
2001
TEN
Eddie George
16
939
2001
IND
Edgerrin James
6
662
2001
BAL
Jamal Lewis
0
0
2000
TEN
Eddie George
16
1,509
1999
ATL
Jamal Anderson
2
59
1999
DEN
Terrell Davis
4
211
1998
DEN
Terrell Davis
16
2,008
1998
PIT
Jerome Bettis
15
1,185
1998
GB
Dorsey Levens
7
378
1996
DAL
Emmitt Smith
15
1,204
1995
SD
Natrone Means
10
730
1993
DAL
Emmitt Smith
14
1,486
1993
PIT
Barry Foster
9
711
1992
DAL
Emmitt Smith
16
1,713
» Since 1990, 22 running backs have carried the ball 400 times in a season (playoffs included). Only four of the previous 21 played a full 16 games in their next season. Only eight of the previous 21 managed 1,000 rushing yards in their next season.

» Murray's 2014 regular season was the 29th in NFL history in which a running back toted the ball at least 370 times. Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson remains the only player to gain more yards the next season. In 11 of those 28 seasons, the player's production dropped by more than 50 percent the following year.

» Since 2005, nine other players have carried the ball 350 times in the regular season. Five of those nine missed at least five games the next year. Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson never reached 1,000 yards again.

» Murray is the eighth player since 2010 to rush for at least 1,500 yards in a season. None of the previous seven followed suit with another 1,500-yard season.

» Since the turn of the century, LaDainian Tomlinson (2006-07) is the only rushing champion to repeat. Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson are the only players with multiple rushing titles over the past 15 years.

» In an interview with Around The NFL's Conor Orr last November, Steelers running backs coach James Saxon said he tells his players, "every time you carry the ball in the NFL, every time, you take one day off your life."

What can we draw from that data?

As a general rule, running backs who fit Murray's profile suffer from disappointing production and/or injuries the next year. Even in the best-case scenarios, the player stays healthy, but still sees his effectiveness wane as a more pedestrian runner.

Murray's background offers two additional concerns.

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Prior to last season, he was a fixture in the trainer's room, missing 11 games in three seasons after an injury-prone college career at Oklahoma. Because he's a heavy-contact runner, Murray will always be susceptible to the assortment of knee, ankle and foot issues that have hounded him in the past. Look no further than that dubious medical history for the Cowboys' stance that Murray was simply not a franchise back.

Perhaps just as unsettling, Murray was not the same explosive physical force in December as he was en route to a record-breaking seven consecutive 100-yard rushing performances to open the season. The numbers bear that out as well: Murray averaged 3.9 yards per carry in the final five regular-season games after topping the 4.0 mark in every game from Weeks 1-11.

The Eagles will enter the season with an emphasis on taking control of the line of scrimmage via a dominant ground attack featuring Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles.

Murray was a great player in 2014. The concern is not that he owes his success to Dallas' road-grading offensive line. It's that he will be outplayed by a fresher, more resilient Mathews in a tandem attack.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down Week 1 of the preseason and kicks off a week's worth of spectacular fantasy insight.

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