The Real Felix Jones: Lead Off or Cleanup?

200px-felix_jones_in_2012_mediumIn 2008, with the 22nd overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys selected a shifty change-of-pace back out of Arkansas named Felix Jones. This is a fact. Another fact is that, for a while there, if I had heard the words "home run threat" attached to him one more time, I might have thrown my 55-inch flatscreen off the freakin' balcony. Don't get me wrong, I have jumped up and down and ecstatically cheered his name on the long runs he has occasionally taken to the house, but the home run hype burned out for me long ago, and I think it's fair to say this Felix guy was and is nothing but a base hitter. Which, at this point, I think is good enough.

Being relatively new to BtB, I'm sure the Felix Jones issue is a horse that has been thoroughly beaten, but I think it bears revisiting for the 2012-13 season, since our running game seems to have finally matured into something like an NFL-quality threat, the likes of which we haven't seen since He Who Holds the Record lit up our TV screens all those years ago. Here we are, with the shiny new Demarco Murray igniting everyone's imagination, and the old "home run hitter" chatterheads just cannot *wait* to make the comments about Felix being the "complimentary back" he was always meant to be.

Ok. I can buy part of that. But only the glass half full part, because the rest of the glass is just plain empty. Let's imbibe some numbers, shall we? Here they are---the glittering All American numbers everyone was soooo excited about from his Razorback career:

Rushing Receiving Kickoff Returns
Year G Att Yds Avg TD Lg Rec Yds Avg TD Lg No. Yds Avg TD Lg
2005 11 99 626 6.3 3 80 8 100 12.5 0 23 17 543 31.6 1 100
2006 14 154 1,168 7.6 6 85 15 107 7.1 3 29 23 554 24.1 1 100
2007 13 134 1,160 8.7 11 73 16 176 11 0 40 24 647 27 2 90
Totals 38 387 2,954 7.6 20 85 39 383 9.8 3 40 64 1,744 27.3 4 100

Glittery, yes? Yes. I agree. Now, his career statistics as a Cowboy:

Team Season G Rushing Receiving Kickoff Returns
Att Yds Avg TD Long Rec Yds Avg TD Long No. Yds Avg TD Long
Dallas Cowboys 2008 6 30 266 8.9 3 60 2 10 5.0 0 7 16 434 27.1 1 98
Dallas Cowboys 2009 14 116 685 5.9 3 56 19 119 6.3 0 30 30 678 22.6 0 41
Dallas Cowboys 2010 16 185 800 4.3 1 34 48 450 9.4 1 71 0 0 0 0 0
Dallas Cowboys 2011 12 127 575 4.5 1 40 33 221 6.7 0 27 7 186 26.6 0 69
Career Totals (4 seasons) 48 458 2,326 5.1 8 60 102 800 7.8 1 71 53 1,298 24.49 1 98

Now, assuming that Wikipedia is not (gasp!) incorrect, these are accurate, plain old black and white numbers. Let us pretend for a moment that our number 28 is not made of glass and has been a steady member of the team since 2008. As a "complementary back" in college, in three years, he scored 27 touchdowns. Great. Awesome. As a Cowboy? In a four year span? 10. Ten. Yeah. No matter how you look at it, that is a pretty huge bust. Touchdowns, to me, are the ultimate measure of a "skill player's" worth to your team. Jerry Rice is not the Greatest of All Time for no reason. Emmitt didn't stumble into our hearts with yards alone. Touchdowns, man. Six for sure.

But all this is old news, right? We've all been sighing and shaking our heads about Felix for the last four years. We like him. He's a good guy. The RKG, even...but, inevitably and inescapably, a huge disappointment. But here in 2013, even I, an avid Felix underrater, think he is finally the right guy for the job. Home run hitter? No. Veteran presence in the backfield and just enough shiftyness to throw off a defense, aka a change of pace? Yeah, I think so. I think he makes Murray more effective, which is really what a "complimentary back" is supposed to do. He may not be peeling off 60 yard runs every other week like we all used to want, but he does have just enough presence on the edge to make a defense look twice.

Last season I saw a Felix Jones that had matured into a pretty solid running back. No, he wasn't hitting home runs. He wasn't dancing and shifting and flying around the edge like he did in everyone's imaginations as a first round pick in 2008. But he was definitely getting on base, catching short passes and making sure cuts and getting up the field for those few workhorse yards that a running play just *has* to get, instead of gambling, cutting back, and shattering like glass when someone pushed him down in the backfield.

So he ain't exactly the cleanup guy we all hoped for. Ok. But all he has to do is provide a little setup for the guy up next, and hopefully our little 28 will finally make the kind of meaningful contribution we want from all our players from the top down. Because after all, it's not the individual players that's the system. Right, Tom?

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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