In this series, we examine how each player that wears the star on his helmet arrived at his current destination. When they line up on Sundays in the fall, "will player X outperform player Y" always seems to be at center of the discussion and rightfully so. However, there is more to a player than what you see on Sunday; his journey could have taken many different paths.
Did he seem to come out of nowhere to land on the television screen? Did the player arrive with fanfare and a high grade of pedigree? Was he an outcast from another team or did Dallas break the bank to attain him?
I'll highlight one player from the group to start the post, and then cover all other players at the position(s). The series kicked off here, with Roy Williams and the wide receivers. We then moved on to the Andre Gurode and the interior offensive linemen, and Doug Free with the tackle group. Now we'll look at the running backs.
Name: Felix Jones
Position: Half Back
College: University of Arkansas
Weight: 218 lbs.
A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Felix Jones was drafted with the 22nd pick in the 2008 amateur draft by the Cowboys out of University of Arkansas. He currently has two years remaining on his original rookie contract.The fact that he had been targeted by Arkansas alum and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was not a well-kept secret. Jones tried to refute the reports that he was targeting one of the two high-profile Razorback runners, as there was a lot of speculation initially that Dallas would sell the (Valley) Ranch to move up and select Darren McFadden. When it became clear that McFadden's price was more Bloomingdale than Burlington Coat Factory, Jerry set his sights on Felix.
Continue for more:
Dallas had earned the 28th pick in that year's draft as a result of their 13-4 2007 campaign. With Julius Jones being allowed to walk in free agency, the Cowboys desperately needed a complement to newly-named starter Marion Barber. The selection of Jones and fourth round pick from Georgia Tech Tashard Choice had two effects. Obviously, Choice and Jones are most fans preferred dynamic duo heading into the 2011 season, but their drafting undoubtedly played a part in a peace-keeping contract offer to MBIII the following month. Seven years, $45 million in the following climate: a player that had never shouldered a full load and plays a brutal brand of football, drafted two backs in the first and fourth rounds, and running a two-back system. You may have heard the rumor that Jerry Jones makes GM decisions with an undereducated fan's assessments. During the 2007 season, Barber was everything you wanted out of a player. He was a hard nosed, excitable Barbarian that searched for punishment and dished it out. The injuries have caught up with him, as he hasn't been able to duplicate that production or stay on the field consistently ever since.
In addition to their 28th pick, Dallas also had Cleveland's pick, #22, a result of the Brady Quinn trade the prior draft. Remember how hard we rooted against the supposedly morbid Browns that season? In classic 'World against the Cowboys' fashion, Cleveland ended 10-6, their best record in years. The conjecture spoke to Dallas trading picks for the right to move up and select McFadden. Dallas would have essentially been trading Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, and Martellus Bennett for him. Would you make that trade today? Last year, we charge the Raiders with phone solicitation; this year we don't hang up on t
he Cryptkeeper Al Davis.
Felix only played in six games his rookie year, suffering a hamstring injury. When he was on the field, we were constantly treated with dazzling displays of pure speed over and over again. Felix took his first professional carry 11 yards for a touchdown, and came close to maintaining that efficiency for the year with an 8.9 ypc average. The following week against Philadelphia, he made this dynamic kickoff return:
I lost my voice early in that exhausting 41-37 victory over the Eagles. Dallas started the season 4-1 and headed into
Freddy Krueger's world University Of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona for Week 6. We lost in overtime due to a blocked punt in the end zone, recovered for a touchdown, but this part of the game recap from Wikipedia shows the impact the game truly had on the season.
In the week following the game Tony Romo was listed as questionable with a broken right pinkie finger. In addition, Matt McBriar and Sam Hurd were placed in injured reserve, and Felix Jones was listed as out for 2–3 weeks with a hamstring injury. Furthermore, Adam (Pacman) Jones was suspended by the NFL for a minimum of 4 weeks after an altercation with his bodyguard.
Wow. How can all that happen to one team in one week? Felix injured his toe during the hamstring rehab and didn't suit up again for the rest of the season.
Felix followed up his promising rookie season with a successful sophomore year. So much so that many fans clamored for him to earn the starting nod above Barber as the season played out. Jones made his first start against Carolina in place of an injured Barber, but hurt his knee himself and missed the next two contests. Upon his return his 5.9 ypc average showed he deserved more opportunities, and the Cowboys spoke to their desire to get them for him. By the end of the season, Felix was clearly the superior option and made huge plays in the regular season finale and playoff dominations of the Eagles. He was firmly entrenched as the starter in Cowboys fans' eyes. There was even an off-season announcement that Jones would start.
Well, so much for that. Jones bulked up over the off season, rumored to be at the request of the team, so that he could shoulder the starter's burden. Yet, there he was not in the starting lineup and still splitting carries evenly with Marion Barber. Jones would start the November 14th game as an injury replacement and then would take the title for good against Indianapolis in early December. He finished the year with 800 yards rushing (4.3 avg), 450 yards receiving (9.4 avg) and only two touchdowns. It was widely speculated the weight gain caused a lack of shiftiness, and Jones has admitted that to be the case.
-From Todd Archer, ESPN.com
"I started out a little heavier than I had but the season progressed and I did drop the pounds and got back to my normal weight where I played at," Jones said. "To have weight on me it was tough, but like I said I worked it off."
That appears to be the case, as he averaged 5.85 yards per carry in the Cowboys' final three games. So as we head into the 2011 season, we assume that Jones will be the starter, that we won't draft a running back to replace him or sign a free agent. We assume, because we never really know. No one really looks beyond the next two seasons at this point, so there has been no rumblings about signing Felix to an extension just yet. We'll all just have to wait and see what he has in store for us now that he plans to lose some of the weight he put on purposely. For those of you are having trouble remembering some of Felix's highlights before the weight gain, take a gander at this epic pro highlight video:
Players drafted soon after Jones:
--- CB's Antoine Cason, Mike Jenkins, Brandon Flowers
--- LB Curtis Lofton
--- S Tyrell Johnson
--- WR DeSean Jackson
--- DT Jason Jones
---TE Dustin Keller
--- His 7.7 yard-per-carry average was second only to Glen Davis (Army - 8.3 from 1943-46) in NCAA history. He also joined Mike Rozier (Nebraska - 7.2) and Reggie Bush (USC - 7.3) as the only backs to average over 7.0 yards-per-carry with a minimum of 350 attempts.
--- Was an All-SEC first-team selection as a sophomore, adding second-team accolades from the league's coaches and Associated Press as he became only the eighth running back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards when he earned 1,168 yards - good for eighth in school record books - on 154 carries (7.6 avg.) with six touchdowns for an offense that finished fourth in the nation averaging 228.5 rushing yards-per-game.
High School Notes:
--- Attended Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Okla., and was named the Tulsa World Player of the Year following his senior season, rushing for 2,282 yards and 48 touchdowns on 205 carries (11.1 avg.).Led his squad to a 13-1 record and a state runner-up finish, rushing for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the 5A state championship game.
--- Sidelined with a broken ankle early in his junior season, but still managed to rack up 800 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
--- Rivals.com ranked him as the 19th-best athlete in the nation and the fourth-best overall player in Oklahoma.
Here's a look at how the remaining backs on the roster made their way to Valley Ranch.
|Player Name||Pos.||DOB||College||Path To The Cowboys|
|Chris Gronkowski||FB||12.26.86||Arizona||Signed as an undrafted rookie free agent the day after the 2010 NFL Draft out of the University of Arizona. Replaced Deion Anderson on the 53 man roster.|
|Marion Barber||RB||6.10.83||Minnesota||Drafted in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. Has been a Cowboy his entire career. Signed a seven year deal in before the 2008 season total value $45 million. Lef the NFC in rushing TDs in 2006 with 14. Selected in the 32 picks right after him: RB Brandon Jacobs, DE Trent Cole, S Gerald Sensabaugh|
|Tashard Choice||RB||7.12.86||Georgia Tech||Drafted by the Cowboys out of Georgia Tech in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft. 2011 will be final year of rookie contract. Some players drafted in the 32 picks after Choice include: TE Jacob Tamme, RB Ryan Torain, Packers starting RG Josh Sitton|
|Lonyae Miller||RB||4.29.88||Fresno State||Signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 draft by the Cowboys. Backed up Ryan Matthews at Fresno State, promoted from practice squad in December 2010 after Marion Barber's injury.|