Best Player Available

Let’s talk about good football players.

Let’s talk about the best player available.

Let’s talk about upgrades.

The months and moments leading up to the 2015 draft all revolved around one player for me: Amari Cooper. Positional value, I guess, really drove Cooper down on some boards. The fact that Leonard Williams was still available probably upset some fans even more so. How could General Manager Reggie McKenzie pass on a talent like Williams for “just some wideout”?

Admittedly, I was a bit biased (ok, a lot a bit biased), so a majority of the arguments against Cooper were silly to me. I was told on numerous occasions that selecting a wide receiver inside the top 10 didn’t make sense if they “didn’t look and play like AJ and Julio”. Don’t bother with Cooper because he didn’t possess elite height, weight and speed, they said. I was reminded weekly how Lane Kiffin “manufactured” all of Cooper’s yards; his production in college wasn’t going to translate to the pros. My personal favorite was when I was told that he wasn’t a good blocker, and as such, wasn’t worthy of a top pick.

I’m not #here to bring up past arguments and opinions, or discuss why I liked Amari as much as I did. Rather, I’d like to take this time to simply let y’all know that I’m back, and that I’ve fallen in love all over again. No, it’s not another wide receiver, but rather another piece that could be added to this Oakland offense. This player is not only a good football player, but he also has a chance to be the best player available as well an obvious upgrade. We’re talking about an immediate, game-changing-type talent.

That piece, of course, is none other than Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.


Ezekiel Elliott is a shrewd runner who really doesn’t have a notable hole in his game. At 6’0″ 225, he certainly looks the part. With an elite blend of size, speed, vision, and balance – you name it, you’re going to find out that Zeke can do it, and do it a lot better than a majority of other backs. A true 3-down runner, you’ll find a lot of write-ups focus in on his ability to block, and block very well. The long and short of it, in Elliott, you’re getting a special player who really excels in nearly every single facet.

Reliving those Cooper evaluations is such a perfect bridge to discussing a player like Ezekiel. The over-thinking has been present from the jump, just as we witnessed in the curious case of Amari Cooper. It was early February when I first felt comfortable enough to express my true feelings, open my heart, and let everyone know how I felt about Elliott. I was instantly told how ridiculous the idea of a running back at 14 overall was. He’s “just a running back”, and you don’t draft backs in the 1st, etc.

This all sounded familiar, yet here we are. It’s funny how quickly and dramatically opinions can change about certain players in such a short amount of time, but that’s the most beautiful part of this whole “process” I suppose; you’re allowed to revisit and reevaluate.

Elliott now comfortably sits in the top 5 of most big boards you’ll come across. I’ve seen a handful of evaluators really get wild and call him the best player in this entire class. While I’m not there myself, I won’t be arguing with you either.

Before the Combine and his pro day, Elliott easily found himself at the top of my rankings (only behind players like Jalen Ramsey and Laremy Tunsil). Tape alone told the story, but hearing this kid talk, learning how he approaches the game (most notably, his words post-Michigan State), it was clear he’s a gamer and someone I’d want on my team. I briefly mentioned Elliott in my offseason preview, and likened his evaluation to that of Todd Gurley – not a direct player comparison, but simply from a talent standpoint. Gurley, an elite runner who stood out his rookie campaign (AP Offensive Rookie of the Year), is phenomenal. Ezekiel Elliott is in that same discussion, and honestly, he might be better.

I’ll be looking at things through Raider-lenses as you already know, but a lot of this group-think was evident across multiple fan bases. The “running back narrative”, as we know it, is still alive and well. “Why draft one early when you can get them in the later rounds?”

Not knowing how Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie would approach free agency left a lot up in the air coming into things. A majority of fans recognized the low level of talent in the secondary and wanted that position addressed early and often, in both free agency and the draft. Truth be told, I was in that same boat as the 2015 season came to an end. I wanted all the defensive backs. That was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. That narrow-minded approach leads to over-thinking (which we now know is bad) and, more often than not, a regrettable decision.

As the days and weeks go by, it’s become increasingly evident that Ezekiel Elliott will not be available when Oakland’s on the clock at 14. This obviously breaks my heart, but won’t stop me from telling all my pals why this pick was a no-brainer from the onset.

If you’re looking at Oakland’s roster, and more specifically, the running back position, you see starter Latavius Murray. For a certain contingent of fans, I get the impression that Murray’s a coveted asset. He’s coming off of a 1,000+ yard Pro Bowl season and appears to be a one of the “foundation players” on an ascending offense. With Derek Carr at the controls, Cooper entering his second year as a pro, Murray completes this potentially deadly trio.

Not how I see it necessarily.

Zach Whitman handles all-things SPARQ-related and does some really noteworthy work over at FieldGulls and his own site 3SigmaAthlete. He is the man. He’s been known to drop in at Rotoworld from time to time as well, and back in 2014, he blessed us with this piece. Long story short, I blame Zach for Raider Nation’s obsession with Latavius Murray.

In all seriousness, on paper, it’s really hard not to like what you see when you look at a player built like Tay. Those All Day comparisons, athletically, make sense. But that’s where the love stops. Rather abruptly actually.

We can briefly review “the good”, or what immediately comes to mind for me when I think of Murray, in an effort to save my mentions. At home vs. the Chiefs (Week 11, 2014) is when he officially stepped on the scene. Fans everywhere (Raider fans, fantasy fans, or otherwise) were convinced that those measurables could equal some serious production. The future looked bright.

His first of two end zone trips, Murray shows some nice bounce outside:


And then, of course, hitting home runs for his second touchdown of the evening – this is of the 90-yard variety:


Vision and decisiveness in traffic, again shows the ability to cut, and obviously the breakaway speed at the end. The total package, right?


Murray’s a frustrating player to watch, in my opinion. There are flashes from time to time. He boasts inexhaustible potential, but none of that really matters when your ceiling is capped in a sense. Those nifty cuts detailed above are not the norm for Murray; he’s a straight-line runner, plain and simple. His footwork is poor, and he more or less just lumbers around. Combine that with spotty technique and questionable hands, we have a different picture being painted than that of a Pro Bowl running back. Being unable to adjust and correct for these shortcomings will keep Murray from being a true difference-maker in the league.

It’s become a weekly tradition to point out how “high” Murray runs. Rarely do you see him lower his pads and take on contact. For a man standing at 6’3” 230, you’d expect more. He’s big, sure, but I wouldn’t say he’s a power back by any means. No one is questioning his pure athleticism, but is that all his game really is? When I watch Murray run, there’s a lot of hesitation. That decisiveness comes and goes.


Nice play on the edge, but you’d like to see Murray get real cliché with it, and act like he’s been shot out of a cannon.

Some suspicious mittens here:


Make no mistake, (former Raider) Mike Mitchell always brings the hammer:


Back to that 2014 home game against Chiefs (for the last time, I promise): Murray’s evening was cut short due to a concussion. At the running back position, injuries are to be expected. Any position, of course, but I guess you can make the argument that backs simply take more of a beating. While no one is immune, with Murray, it’s definitely something to note for other reasons. Murray’s missed a couple games at a time in both 2014 and 2015 with concussions. I think it’s relevant to discuss injuries when they could potentially be affecting a player’s game. That hesitation, not lowering his shoulder, etc. – it could be it fair to ask if he’s worried about being hurt again?

Many members of the Pro-Latavius Fan Club will point out the poor pass blocking. I get that. The offensive line as a whole faded down the stretch, but stood out in pass protection for a good part of the season. Run blocking, much like Murray’s game on the ground, really came in spurts. At the end of the day, it all feels like an excuse for Murray’s inadequacies.

Questioning Latavius Murray’s potential and asking yourself “what if…” may never go away. We could very well be looking at a finished product. If the opportunity presents itself to move on from that, I think you jump on it before it cripples the progress this offense has been able to make to this point. McKenzie, Del Rio & the gang have been vocal in their attempts to add to the backfield. They spent last offseason chatting with DeMarco Murray, only to have him choose the “better situation” in Philadelphia. It was the same story this year, with the rumored connection to DeMarco along with pushes for Doug Martin. Alfred Morris was also discussed, amongst others.

I’ll just leave those right here.

I obviously highlight Lat’s less-than-memorable moments on purpose (with only 3 clips above, the sample size is small as well). We can continue to run back the All-22 footage and figure out what Murray did right, what he did wrong, and where he can improve. Regardless, this chapter is nearly closed for me, and the possibility of adding a talent like Ezekiel Elliott really seals the deal. Worse case, I think the evidence is mounting, and Murray at least needs some help going forward. A player like Chris Ivory, for example, would’ve been swell.

Back to Ezekiel Elliott: I’m not breaking down any tape or expanding on why you need to draft him as early as possible. At this point, there are dozens of articles where you can find all the scouting reports, GIF’s, and content you’ll need if you’re still not sold (that’s really bad if you’re not sold, by the way). Don’t believe me? Listen to everyone’s friend Mr. Natan:

For me, I got too caught up in my feelings to proactively get my own report out. I’m not ashamed to admit that. The hot takes that once resided in that rough draft don’t appear all-that-hot anymore and for that, I apologize to you all.

Either way, in the end, I need more from Latavius Murray. That should rightfully open the doors for a player like Ezekiel Elliott come this spring. Now whether or not Reggie will be so lucky to call his name is another story entirely.


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