Vikings’ Murray in rare company among tall running backs
EAGAN, Minn. -- At 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, Latavius Murray doesn’t look like a typical NFL running back. The other four backs on the Vikings’ roster are 5-11 or shorter.
Running backs are often shorter guys, enabling them to run low and better shed tacklers. Minnesota’s 5-11, 210-pound Dalvin Cook was asked what position he would think Murray played if he didn’t know.
“I would probably think he played linebacker or safety,’’ Cook said.
When Murray was at Onondaga (N.Y.) High School, some colleges recruited him as a linebacker because of his size. Murray was a two-way player who also starred at linebacker, but his heart was set on being a running back and he signed with Central Florida.
“I was born the way I was born, and I’ve always wanted to play the running-back position for as long as I’ve played the game,’’ Murray said. “There’s not many tall running backs so maybe the odds are against you just in general, but it’s a position that I love to play.’’
Murray and Tennessee’s 6-3, 247-pound Derrick Henry are the NFL’s two tallest running backs. Henry, with 966 yards, has a chance to join Murray on Sunday, Dec. 30, in an exclusive club.
Murray gained 1,066 yards for Oakland in 2015, which made him unofficially just the sixth pro running back 6-3 or taller to have a 1,000-yard season. Among the others to do it, Brandon Jacobs was listed at 6-4 when he played and hall of famer Eric Dickerson, Eddie George, Larry Csonka and Cookie Gilchrist were listed at 6-3.
“That’s pretty good company,’’ Murray said.
Murray, 28, led the Vikings in rushing last season with 842 yards. Entering Sunday’s game against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium, he has 566 yards this season as the backup to Cook, who leads Minnesota with 576.
When Cook was out with a hamstring injury, Murray had Minnesota’s top running game of the year with a career-high 155 yards in Week 6 against Arizona.
There are pros and cons to being a tall running back. One positive is Murray’s long reach, which helped him have 12 rushing touchdowns for the Raiders in 2016 and 14 during his two seasons with the Vikings.
“With my size, when you fall forward you’re going to gain a yard or two,’’ Murray said. “Part of it is knowing how to run with your size.’’
A drawback is Murray runs higher than most backs, which sometimes make him less elusive.
“It’s not as easy for a guy in the 6-3 range to get your pads down, so maybe that’s a disadvantage not being able to get as low,’’ Murray said.
Murray, though, has good speed, helping him often elude foes. He has good power, enabling him to break tackles.
“With Tay, you can either be intimidated or you either be one of those corners that hit him low,’’ Cook said. “That’s the downside it, you got to watch your legs when you’re that big. You got to run lower with a better base than a guy like me has to. … But he’s a big back and he can run through arm tackles.’’
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Murray’s size helps him in pass protection. He also said Murray has “good vision,” which, of course, has nothing to do with his height.
There’s a chance Murray, in line to be a free agent in March, could be playing his final game Sunday for Zimmer. Minnesota (8-6-1) must beat the Bears or have Philadelphia lose (8-7) at Washington to earn a wild-card playoff berth.
Even if they make the playoffs, Sunday could mark Murray’s final home game with the Vikings. It’s unclear if he would want to re-sign knowing Cook, fully recovered from a torn ACL that ended his rookie season in October 2017, is clearly the feature back.
“I really haven’t been thinking about that much, to be honest,’’ Murray said. “The fact that we got a shot to do everything we want to do, that’s my focus.’’
U.S. Bank Stadium has been a welcoming place for the tall back over the past two seasons. Murray has scored 10 of 14 touchdowns and has all three of his Minnesota 100-yard games there.