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DeMarco Murray vs. the "Curse of 370"

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There's a popular narrative that DeMarco Murray is spent after 392 carries (plus 44 more post-season) and 70 pass targets in 2014. Apparently, he's doomed by "the curse of 370." Does that hold up?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Eagles signed DeMarco Murray at top dollar as a free agent to replace LeSean McCoy, there was a lot of skepticism. He was written off as used up and injury prone. FootBallDocs.com said that the Cowboys "road [sic] him into the ground like a rental car."

We can dismiss the "injury prone" label right now, because Murray had his career year in 2014, playing all 16 games after all of those injuries, and he kept going even when the Eagles broke his hand.  (He probably signed with Philly just to avoid further pummeling.)

There's no denying that Dallas abused Murray last year, an especially cold-hearted choice given their plan to let him walk in free agency. It's nice that he'll have two chances to cram it down their throat every year.

But will he be able to? Football Outsiders has championed "the curse of 370," the idea that players who reach that many carries in one year are doomed to injury or career collapse.

If you ask me, this is magical thinking with about as much scientific value as the new agey "Law of Attraction." It's numerology, really -- assigning magical powers to a particular number, the evil twin of getting excited when your odometer crosses 100,000 miles.

Obviously too many carries is bad for a running back, and 436 carries (plus 70 targets) was way over the line.  But there's nothing special about 370 -- 363 carries is bad, too, and 416 (Larry Johnson's record) is way worse.

There are only 33 times in NFL history where an RB has carried the ball more than 370 times in a season, so the sample size is way too small to support iron-clad rules, and many of those seasons took place in the 1980s when sports science was a contradiction in terms and an ACL tear was a career-killer.  7 of those 33 were by players who repeated -- Ricky Williams and Emmitt Smith did it twice, and Eric Dickerson three times.

With this few examples, you have to look at each case individually. LaDainian Tomlinson ran 372 times in his second year (2002), and it obviously didn't slow his career down.

Those are all marquee names, which is part of the point. Teams don't run random RBs 371 times. They run you a lot because you're having a breakout year. Naturally an RB's running total is likely to drop the next year, just because it's stupid to have so many carries, and magic rarely strikes twice. But that doesn't mean a player is doomed to injury or a quick fade.

You need to look at the overall pounding a player has taken, and what happened to them after their big year.  Let's the consider the other two players with exactly 392 carries in a year -- Ricky Williams and Terrell Davis.  Each had a ton of carries for 3 years in a row, not just a single spike.

Williams had 313 carries in 2001, 383 in 2002, and 392 in 2003.  His YPC was already dropping in 2003, from 4.8 to 3.5. Why did his numbers go down the following years? Because he retired in August, 2004 after a positive marijuana test, and studied Ayurvedic medicine for a year. (Williams suffered from depression and social anxiety disorder, conditions probably unrelated to his number of carries.) When he returned, he wasn't quite the same.

Davis carried 345 times in 1996, 369 times in 1997 -- hey, no problem! It's under 370-- and 392 times in 1998.  His YPC went up each year, from 4.5 to 4.7 to 5.1, and he finished 1998 as the league MVP with 2,008 yards while winning a Super Bowl ring.

His career went south the following year when he tore both his ACL and his MCL in game 4, while attempting a tackle after an interception.  Pre-Adrian Peterson, that was a career-crushing injury, but again, there is nothing about lots of carries that makes future ligament tears more likely.

What about Murray?  Before 2014, he never ran more than 217 times, and Dallas thoughtfully missed the playoffs all 3 years to keep his mileage low. Even after last year, Murray has a grand total of 934 carries in his career. Compare that to Davis (1,343) and Williams (1,589), who each had 3 consecutive years well over 300 carries.

Or compare him to LeSean McCoy, who -- thanks to a young start -- has 6 NFL seasons and 1,461 carries under his belt (plus 300 pass receptions to Murray's 171.) Shady is much more likely to see a (continued) decline, though he might reach 370 carries himself this year in Rex Ryan's offense. He could easily see a season like Williams' 2003, with a career high in carries and a declining YPC. Shady may total 1.400 yards, but he'll take a pounding in the process and faces serious injury risk given Buffalo's offensive line.

So, yes, Murray touched the ball way too many times last year, and yes, I'm sure he will get fewer than 1,800 yards this season. But as the linchpin of a running back corps including Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, he's more likely to see 300 carries or fewer this year.  There is no reason to think that some mystical "Curse of 370" will haunt him going forward.