When Bovada.lv released their preseason odds for NFL MVP, DeMarco Murray came in last on a 40-player strong list of MVP candidates.
Since then, DeMarco Murray has rushed for five straight 100-yard games en route to a league-leading 670 rushing yards, and has seen his odds improve dramatically. Today, Bovada has Murray with 5/1 odds, the third best MVP odds in the league behind only Philip Rivers (4-1) and Peyton Manning. Here's an overview of the players with the highest current MVP odds, which includes two Cowboys in the top ten.
|2014 NFL MVP Odds (courtesy of Bovada)|
|Player||Pos.||Team||Week 5 Odds||Preseason Odds|
The table illustrates the fickle nature of preseason projections. Philip Rivers was an also-ran among the many QBs on the preseason list, but is suddenly the favorite. DeMarco Murray was ranked behind nine other running backs with 200-1 odds, and now finds himself third overall. Even J.J. Watt, who was held without a sack, a QB hit or a QB hurry in the game against the Cowboys, makes the top ten on a preseason list that didn't have any room for him.
Some preseason favorites for the MVP award like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson or Calvin Johnson (all with 25-1 preseason odds) don't even show up on the week five list anymore.
With that in mind, we'll take the Week 5 MVP odds for what they are, a snapshot of outstanding performances over the first five weeks of the season.
But for all the excitement over Murrays rushing totals and his five consecutive 100-yard games, it's easy to overlook something else he's giving the Cowboys: first downs.
The Cowboys offense ranks third in the league overall with 23.8 first downs per game. Murray has directly contributed 37 first downs himself, far and away the most by any RB in the league. But his contribution to the Cowboys offense ges far beyond that, because he helps put the entire offense into manageable third down situations.
Football Outsiders show that despite an unparalleled workload, Murray has the second highest success rate of 61% among all qualifying NFL running backs. That means that 61% of his carries are counted as a "success", i.e. a carry gains 40% of the required yards on first down, 60% of required yards on second down, and 100% of yards on third down.
And if you're successful on first and second down, you put yourself in favorable third down situations: With 6.52 yards, the Cowboys have the sixth lowest average yards to go on third down. With that, it doesn't come as a surprise that the Cowboys offense is ranked number one in the league with a 55.6% third down conversion rate.
All of this, and more, is why DeMarco Murray is one of the leading MVP candidates this year.