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Cowboys Draft Blog #7 Running Back

April 24, 2013

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With the Felix Jones era officially over in Dallas the Cowboys find themselves with a stud young runner (Demarco Murray) backed up by a bunch of no names. Now I’m as big of a fan as you will find of scrimping at the running back position, as history shows that a team can find very capable running backs outside of the 1st or even 2nd round on a regular basis, yet the Cowboys have a depth chart at running back that is downright confusing. With Murray being injury prone, he missed 3 games in 2011 and 6 games in 2012, you would think the Cowboys would want a little better pedigree from their backup running backs than two undrafted free agents from North Texas and Middle Tennessee State. Neither was on my draft radar when they came out, neither averaged higher than 3.6 yards per carry in 2012, and neither should be expected to be any better in 2013 so there’s a clear need at the position. Also the Cowboys have a history of taking running backs early every few years as in 2011 they took Murray in the 3rd round, in 2008 they took Felix Jones in the 1st round, in 2008 they took Tashard Choice in the 4th round, in 2005 they took Marion Barber in the 4th round, and in 2004 they took Julius Jones in the 2nd round. All have had their moments, yes even Felix, yet only one was re-signed after his rookie contract ended. Considering how horrible that investment seems in hindsight, Marion Barber’s 7 year $45 million contract was one of the worst of the Jerry Jones era, I think it’s safe to say that the Cowboys will think twice about extending any running back going forward. With this history in mind the running back position becomes even more likely to be addressed in the 2013 NFL Draft as the Cowboys need a backup in 2013, will need a starter in 2013 if Murray is injured again, and will possibly need a full time starter in 2015 if they don’t re-sign Murray. It might seem too early to discuss this but I can guarantee you that the Cowboys have as they wouldn’t consider spending an early round pick on a position that at some point wasn’t opening up in the near future. The only draft pick I can guarantee won’t be used to address the position is the #18 pick in the 1st round but otherwise I think the Cowboys might surprise fans as to how early in the draft they take a running back. Below I breakdown players that I think would make sense for the Cowboys and that might be available on Friday and Saturday when they are on the clock.

Players possibly available for the Cowboys in the 2nd or 3rd round

Giovanni Bernard

Positives: A versatile running back that has punt return skills, pass catching skills, and is a very smooth runner. He can do a little of everything as he has the speed to make a long run and the strength to lower his shoulder and get a key first down on a short yardage situation. With the Cowboys being a passing offense Bernard fits how they play and the offense wouldn’t miss a beat when he subbed in for Murray.

Negatives: He isn’t the biggest RB in this draft (202 lbs) and with Murray being a similar back I could see the Cowboys wanting a back with different qualities, think Thunder and Lightning.

Fit for the Cowboys: Value wise he’s a perfect fit as he’s a late 1st rounder on my board and the #2 RB in the entire draft. Many analysts have him as their #4 or #5 back so it will be interesting to see where he goes but in the 2nd round he’d be good value and in the 3rd he’d be a steal.

Montee Ball

Positives: Is a spectacular short yardage and goal line back and has almost a Marcus Allen quality about him. Murray has never been that good in those situations so Montee would immediately provide an upgrade in this area.

Negatives: With as much wear and tear as he has on his tires (924 career carries) I question whether he will have a long career and as such a team taking him might not be expecting a 2nd contract with him. That isn’t a big deal from the Cowboys history though as they rarely re-sign their rookie running backs anyway. Ball also has almost no experience as a pass catcher so he won’t be able to get on the field as a 3rd down back.

Fit for the Cowboys: I have a mid 2nd round grade on him so he’d be decent value at #47 but would be more of a back I’d target with the 3rd round pick if he dropped. I like him a lot though and have felt he’s been undervalued the past few years just because the Wisconsin offensive line has been so good in front of him. Put on the game tape and you’ll see a quick back with elite vision and underrated strength. Add to that the fact that his best attribute, his goal line and short yardage skills, fills in a weakness of Murray’s and you have a great match.

Johnathan Franklin

Positives: A quick, athletic running back that his former coaching staff raves about. He got noticeably better all four seasons at UCLA and might be a player we look back at and wonder why he wasn’t ranked higher.

Negatives: An undersized back that isn’t great in short yardage situations. Some analysts think he’s an overrated player that is just a glorified 3rd down back (I disagree).

Fit for the Cowboys: Jason Garrett values character and there are few players in this draft that have more glowing reviews character wise than Franklin. Many compare him to Warrick Dunn in style and character which is a pretty lofty standard set for him. I project him as a future starting running back in the NFL and side with the group that thinks he’s an underrated 3 down back vs. the group that says he’s an overrated scat back. The opinions differ widely so he could be off the board early in the 2nd round or be available when the Cowboys pick in the 4th.

Le’Veon Bell

Positives: A huge back, played at 245 lbs last season, with surprisingly good hands. He led the nation in yards after contact and had nearly 1,800 yds last season despite playing behind a mediocre offensive line. There are a few scouts out there that consider him the draft’s #1 back.

Negatives: While he has good hands he won’t do anything with the ball after he catches it as he’s slow. I question whether he will be able to turn the corner in the NFL and see him as a 2 down back.

Fit for the Cowboys: Bell was the hardest evaluation in the RB class because he is a massive runner with good hands, surprising quickness for his size, and is impossible to take down individually yet there are basically no runners in the NFL like him and in my opinion he’ll either be a Pro Bowler (Jerome Bettis) or a worthless early round pick (TJ Duckett, Greg Jones). He doesn’t fit a passing offense like the Cowboys anyway and personally he’s one of those prospects that scare me as I still can’t get a good read on him so I think it’s best if the Cowboys just pass on him and go in a different direction.

Joseph Randle

Positives: A fast, athletic running back that would fit perfectly into a time share backfield. He’s dangerous in space and has very good hands so he fits a passing offense perfectly

Negatives: Murray has good hands and is good in space as well so they don’t really complement each other but more get in the way of each other. Randle is terrible as a short yardage runner and I see him being a career time share back and not a 3 down type.

Fit for the Cowboys: If the Cowboys want a player that can pick up right where Murray left off when he inevitably gets injured next year then Randle is their guy. If they want a guy that can fill in some of Murray’s holes and be a great one two punch with Murray then Randle couldn’t be a worse fit. I personally like him but don’t think he makes great sense unless the Cowboys could add another RB to their roster that is a bruiser type. Peyton Hillis is currently a free agent and he would complement both backs to a tee so that would be the type of move needed if they went for the pairing of Randle and Murray as Murray’s flaws are even more pronounced on Randle.

Stepfan Taylor

Positives: A hard nosed running back that fights for every yard and never stops. He also is the #1 pass blocking running back in this class which would be instrumental in getting him on the field early as a rookie.

Negatives: He’s arguably the worst athlete in this running back class and I worry that when he gets to the NFL his “hard nosed running style” will just be looked at as “slow.” While Montee Ball was too harshly criticized for his great OL Taylor somehow avoided it despite having probably a superior line, especially in 2011 when he had a 2nd round left tackle and a 1st round left guard blocking for him. There are those that think he’s simply a product of his system.

Fit for the Cowboys: I like Taylor and think he fills a lot of the holes in Murray’s game so to me they are one of the better fits. Also due to Taylor’s atrocious Combine performance he could fall on draft day and be a steal.

Four wildcards that the Cowboys should consider if they’re available later in the draft

Marcus Lattimore-Most have a 3rd round grade on him but I don’t as I think his knee injury will permanently reduce his overall speed, something I questioned about him before the back to back knee injuries. Yet if he’s available in the 4th round or later why not take a shot on a guy many thought was a 1st round caliber player before the horrific injury.

Knile Davis-In 2010 he was an early 2nd rounder on my board. Since then he missed all of 2011 due to an injury and didn’t play well in 2012 despite being 100% healthy by most accounts. He’s a highly talented roll of the dice that helped his cause by running an impressive 4.37 40 at the Combine. Think a poor man’s Darren McFadden.

Christine Michael-It’s not hard to argue that Michael is the most athletic running back in this draft. It’s also not hard to argue that he’s the biggest dumbass in this running back class as well. He was in coach Sumlin’s doghouse all season, ended the year getting kicked out of a game for throwing a punch, and then slept through two meetings with teams at the Combine. The kid isn’t evil he’s just dumb and impossible to count on consistently so as a #2 or #3 RB he’d be great. The more you count on this guy the more he will let you down so he needs to be in a situation where when his head is on straight a coach can use him and when he’s off in la la land he can be properly disciplined without it being too detrimental to a team. He’s worth a shot in the mid rounds.

Michael Dyer-Apparently despite word in January he was entering the NFL Draft he is now discussing transferring again (3rd time) to an FBS school so I am withdrawing his name from my RB rankings. I doubt it works out and would bet money that he ends up in the supplemental draft in a few months but who knows.

Conclusion: The running back rankings in this class differ dramatically from team to team so the best scenario would probably be for the Cowboys to let the players fall to them as either in round 3 or 4 I suspect there will be good value on their board at the position and they should be able to find a capable backup for Demarco Murray. With Murray’s injury prone nature it’s imperative the team addresses the position but considering their history (A top 4 round pick has been used on a running back 5 times in the past 9 drafts) I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion that one of their first 4 picks will be a running back.

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