In the next couple of days, our draft profile series spotlight will focus on two players who most Cowboys fans were shocked to see appear on the lists of pre-draft visits to Valley Ranch: running backs Doug Martin and Cyrus Gray, of Boise State and Texas A&M, respectively. We found this surprising largely because Dallas appears to be well set at the position, with three runners, each of whom runs with a different style and seems to fit a specific role in the offense. That said, you can never be too deep at running back in the NFL, as the Cowboys were so rudely reminded last season, when both Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray missed significant games due to injury.
Enter Doug Martin, who has been BSU's bell cow for the past two seasons, gaining over 1,200 yards in each; for his career, Martin totaled 3,431 rushing yards and piled up 43 touchdowns. Here is a nice career highlights video; watching it, you can see that Martin is a decisive runner who hits the hole hard, ably negotiates tight spaces, and uses sharp cuts to make people miss in the open field. He is an effective runner between the tackles and can burst through the lane to take it to the house. Plus, he's multi-dimensional: he's a natural receiver and is a superb special teams player, both as a returner and a coverage guy.
In 2011, Martin earned first team All-Mountain West honors, after accumulating 1,892 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns. Martin then proceeded to put an exclamation point on his season by earning a Las Vegas Bowl MVP nod after roasting Arizona State's defense, totaling 301 all-purpose yards and two scores, including a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game (here's a terrific video of his work against the Sun Devils).
More importantly for the Cowboys, Martin is a full-blown "RKG," with off-the-charts intangibles. In 2009, he willingly accepted a move to defensive back before returning to running back due to injuries at the position. He's a diligent worker, especially in the weight room; at Boise, he consistently challenged his teammates to keep up with him and to push themselves during workouts and practices. As a redshirt freshman in 2007, he won offensive scout team player of the year.
Because of his intangibles, scouts assumed that Martin's on-field success was due more to effort than to ability - Martin quickly disabused them of this silly notion with his electric Combine performance, which included a 10-foot broad jump, a 4.47 and 4.57 forties, 28 reps at 225 pounds (first among RBs), a 36-inch vertical and second-best positional times in the three-cone drill (6.79) and short shuttle (4.16). Video of his Combine workout can be found here. These results forced scouts to re-evaluate Martin's tape; when they did, he began to climb up teams' draft boards.
How high has Martin climbed? Make the jump to read what scouts think of him...National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 4th-rated RB; 50th overall
A thick, compact back who is built low to the ground, runs behinds his pads and is a tough guy to wrap on. Martin exhibits a good initial first step when asked to press the line of scrimmage. He isn't a dynamic straight-line athlete, but he plays faster than he times because of his ability to reach top end speed quickly. He is quicker than fast, showcasing impressive lateral fluidity and balance with the footwork to pick his way through traffic, maintain balance and make defenders miss. He's consistently able to side-step/break would be tacklers in tight areas. He creates a significant amount of yards through contact because of pad level, balance and overall lower body strength. However, he possesses the short area quickness to plant his foot in the ground at full speed, change directions and accelerate up the field. He possesses a good feel in tight areas, and is natural setting up blocks and running between the tackles. He displays a "plus" burst out of his breaks and can instantly separate from defenders in the open field. Martin likes to finish runs, drop his pad level well into contact and consistently makes himself small, allowing him to knife his way through tight holes and really run his legs through any type of contact. He's effective on the perimeter as well, setting up blocks pressing the edge and making his way toward daylight. Again, he lacks big time straight-line speed in the open field and isn't a dynamic power back who can simply push the pile at the next level and run through tackles. However, he plays more powerful than his 5-9 frame would indicate because he runs with such good leverage.
Martin looks natural in blitz pick-up as well and slides his feet well laterally, is patient into contact and can anchor with success. He's comfortable out of the backfield as well plucking the football and isn't going to create one-on-one, but is effective in the screen game.
Impression: Martin isn't a dynamic size/speed back, but there aren't many negatives to his game as a back. He plays fast, runs low, is natural through the line of scrimmage and has a skill set somewhat similar to former Alabama RB Mark Ingram last year. He might fall a bit because he doesn't run overly well, but he has the skill set to start in the league.
Rob Rang (CBS Sports): 2nd-rated RB; 34th overall
Inside: Bowling-ball runner between the tackles. Flashes a burst into and out of the hole. Lowers his pads and delivers a blow into the chest of defenders. Falls forward on nearly every run due to lean. Finds creases with jump-steps and bounces into open on some plays, but buries his head too soon at times. Short build makes it difficult for defenders to find among lineman. Does not always read blocks correctly from pulling guards. Holds ball high and tight when inside. May not be big enough to move piles at the next level, but gets low and gives great effort to pick up short-yardage plays.
Outside: Good acceleration and straight-line speed to break off long runs. Cuts hard to his left and right equally well to avoid hard-charging safeties. Flashes setting up straight-on defender with inside-out cut which freezes them. Strong stiff-arm denies oncoming tacklers. Shows patience on stretch runs, plants foot and accelerates to avoid penetrating defenders or once finding a hole. Does not always move ball to outside hand. Ball gets away from his body when running at full speed; fumbled three times in 2010, twice in 2009 in limited carries. May not break away from NFL defenders as regularly as he did against non-BCS conference competition.
Breaking tackles: Low center of gravity, strong lean, and powerful legs let him bull through arm and shoulder tackles. Good balance to spin off a hit, maintain balance and continue downfield. Lowers pads on contact and churns through cut tackles in space. Cuts quickly and even jump-cuts through traffic and past second-level tacklers. Plays through the whistle.
Blocking: Does not offer much in terms of pass protection. Often subbed out in obvious passing situations, best help for the quarterback is as an outlet receiver. Does not anchor against oncoming blitzers. Poor cut tackler, defenders easily elude him. Lacks height but possesses strength, build and attitude to improve with more coaching.
Receiving: Solid receiver in the flat, capable of running through tackles on the edge to move the chains. Flexible enough to catch passes thrown behind him. Effective on center screens, makes first man miss to get into space. Rarely goes out of bounds (unless time requires), cuts inside tacklers to get extra yardage.
Intangibles: Offensive weapon with defensive mindset. NFL body comes from excellent weight room work ethic. Teammate Matt Slater referred to Martin as a "muscle hamster" due to his compact build.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 3rd-rated RB; 45th overall
Positives: Thick, muscular build. Decisive in the hole—terrific vision, balance and instincts. Runs with determination—spins off contact, keeps legs churning and finishes. Outstanding playing temperament, urgency and effort. Hungry competitor. Good initial quickness and short-area burst. Runs out of ankle tackles. Can explode out of cuts and string moves together. Has speed to go the distance—sinks his hips and can open his stride in the clear. Cleanly catches and consistently makes plays in the screen game. Aggressive and effective in pass protection. Well-respected with rock-solid character. Loves football and takes care of his body. Excellent weight-room results and functional football playing strength and explosion. Posted a 3-cone time of 6.79 seconds and repped 225 pounds 28 times (tied for best among RBs). Detail-oriented. Proven special-teams stalwart early in career with kickoff-return ability. Unselfish, team player with ingrained work habits and a likeable personality.
Negatives: Shows some tightness in his hips and can learn to be more crafty running routes. Average hip power to clear through the first wave. Has been nicked with hip, hamstring and ankle injuries, and his hard-charging running style could always invite injury. Was contained by Georgia and did not regularly face top competition.
Summary: A compactly built, energetic, turbo-charged complete back with starter-caliber traits, Martin can run inside and outside, over or around tacklers and is effective as a receiver and blocker. All-out mentality, sheer competitiveness and perfectionist traits will endear him to coaches and could drive up his draft value. Will play for 10 years and can produce on all downs and in multiple phases.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 2nd-rated RB; 42nd overall
Competitiveness: Would have an elite grade in this area if not for ball security issues. A determined and aggressive down-hill runner. Hits the hole hard, does not shy away from contact and will lower shoulder to finish runs. Keeps feet churning upon contact and consistently falls forward for hidden yardage at the end of runs. However, he needs to do a better job of protecting the ball. Frequently carries ball out wide of frame. His career fumble percentage (1.13) is middle of the road compared to the other 'draftable' RBs in 2012 class.
Vision/Patience: A north/south cut-back runner. Wastes very little time in the backfield and hits the hole quickly. Has a natural feel for cut-back lanes. Can become impatient at times but improved in that area as a senior. Does a nice job of setting up and utilizing blocks. Above-average second level runner and shows good vision in the open field.
Agility/Acceleration: Shows very good initial quickness. Does not possess the homerun hitting top-end speed of David Wilson (VTU) but is quicker out of the gates. He can accelerate through vertical cuts without losing momentum. Also shows ability to turn pads and get skinny through holes without sacrificing much speed. Lateral agility is good. Can stop-and-start quickly to avoid penetrating DL. Does a great job of setting up defenders with quick double moves.
Power/Balance: Not a bulldozer but he runs behind his pads and with a wide base. Shows very good balance. Possesses a low center of gravity and can bounce off of contact to pick up extra yards. Does a nice job of keeping legs churning upon contact. Can break through most arm tackle attempts and does a nice job of lowering shoulder to ward off tacklers attempting to chop out legs.
Passing Game: Very natural receiver for a RB. Gets into routes quickly and flashes ability to separate from man coverage. Displays natural hands and can pluck the ball on the run without breaking stride. Also shows ability to pull in catch outside of frame. Not a homerun hitter after the catch but can pick up healthy yardage when catching the ball with some grass in front of him. Shows good effort, strength and awareness in pass pro. Cut block technique needs work but love his willingness and toughness in this department.
Intangibles: A team player with experience on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Was moved to a hybrid safety/linebacker position for the beginning of the 2009 season before injuries forced him back to the RB position. Diligent worker off the field, especially in the weight room. A pace setter in practices. Respectful and accountable. Won offensive scout team player of the year during redshirt season (2007).
Reading scouting reports and watching Martin's tape has me sold. Maybe its his uniform number - 22 - but I want to see him wear the star. The problem is what it will cost to get him into a Cowboys uniform. These scouts are fairly uniform in their assessment of Martin. If they are at all accurate - and I think they are - he'll go in the late first or early second round. In terms of draft grade, he looks like an ideal candidate for the Cowboys' second round pick, number 45 overall - and that's where I'm going to place him on my "little board."
The question is: with all the soft spots on the Dallas roster, can the organization justify taking a running back in round two? Martin seems an ideal test case for Jason Garrett's February claims that the Cowboys wanted to use free agency to pursue a "best player available" philosophy in the draft. Certainly, they used FA to set themselves up to do just that. If Martin's the best player on their board at the 45th pick, will they pull the trigger? Could prove interesting...
Next up: Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray