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Raiders ready to ride the 'Tay Train' to full throttle

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fans know him as Latavius Murray, but his teammates since high school have known him as 'Tay Train'. His nickname says it all as Murray is big, fast, and powerful. One look at his 6-3, 230-pound frame combined with a 4.38 40-yard dash conjures up visions of the likes of Bo Jackson, Adrian Peterson, and O.J. Simpson. Murray has a long way to go to even be mentioned in the same breath as those players -- he only has 82 career carries -- but some of the ingredients are certainly there.

The moment the Raiders drafted Latavius Murray in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, many analysts were scrambling to watch game tape on him -- myself included. And my first reaction was how in the world did this guy fall to the 181st overall pick?

The answer can be summed up in two words: Blake Bortles.

Latavius Murray never had the chance to become a national star because he hardly saw the ball. His quarterback at Central Florida just happened to be Blake Bortles who the Jacksonville Jaguars selected with the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. While the star quarterback totaled 399 pass attempts in Murray's senior season, 'Tay Train' had  less than half those numbers with 198 carries. Compare that to San Diego Chargers 2015 top pick Melvin Gordon who had 343 carries in his final season at Wisconsin. Murray carried the ball just 307 times in his entire college career.

In his few carries, Murray shined. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry during his final three seasons at UCF. He finished his senior season with 1,106 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns.

His career got off to a slow start, missing his entire rookie season with a foot injury he suffered in the preseason.

Last year, Murray was buried in the depth chart behind Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew but burst onto the scene in week 11 when he ran for 43 yards on four carries against the San Diego Chargers.

The next week on national television against the Kansas City Chiefs, Murray sparked the Raiders first win of the season rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries before leaving the game with a concussion.

His efforts earned him the starting job the last three games of the 2014 season and he finished with 82 carries for 424 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.

After a week 15 win against the Bills in which Murray had 82 rushing yards, Buffalo linebacker Brandon Spikes said, "He comes downhill and makes guys miss. He falls forward. You have to respect that. He protects the ball, and he's got some speed on him, too."

Even more impressive is that he found success behind an offensive line that struggled all season.

That success has carried over to the start of the 2015 NFL season as "Tay Train" has impressed all off-season according to SB&P's Levi Damien.

"Murray has looked good each day of camp," Damien said. "Since camp started, all Latavius Murray has done is distance himself from the rest of the running backs as the runaway feature back. He is head and shoulders the best running back on the field. Today he took a handoff, went left, momentarily surveyed the line, saw his crease open through the left guard gap (of course) and shot through it for a good 15 yards before anyone had a shot to tackle him. These kinds of runs happen probably every practice for Murray."

But Damien is not the only one impressed by Murray.

New offensive line coach Mike Tice also likes what he sees from the Raiders starting running back. "For a big guy, Latavius has extremely good quickness," Tice said. "And when he gets behind his pads, he is hard to tackle. Smaller linebackers might be in serious trouble."

In the Raiders preseason opener against the Rams, Murray carried over his success on the practice field to the gridiron as he finished with six carries for 35 yards (5.8 yards per carry) against one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. Afterward, his head coach raved about him.

"He looked similar to how he's been looking." Jack Del Rio said of Murray. "He's been looking really good. He hit the holes, he's got good vision, good balance, I think he's done well."

It would seem that the Raiders have a 1,000 yard rusher on their hands. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie agrees. When asked if he thought Murray was ready to break the 1,000 yard barrier this season, McKenzie answered, "No question, he can do it all."

Latavius Murray has all of the traits to become a top running back in the NFL. But "Tay Train" is just getting started, is just beginning to reach full throttle.