If you've been following the Cowboys' running game over the last few years, you're probably a living thesaurus when it comes to names and descriptions for running backs. Between 1977 and 2002, in the days of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, the Cowboys had a running back. Since then, our vocabulary has expanded in leaps and bounds
We now know what a starting back, a featured back, or a change of pace back are. Heck, we even had a razorback at some point, and more recently we've heard about the jitterbug and the scatback. We've referred to our running backs as a rotation, a committee and a triple threat.
Think back a little: After Emmitt Smith left, the Cowboys eventually drafted Julius Jones in 2004 as his successor. A year later, they brought in Marion Barber as the team’s third-down and red zone back. Julius Jones rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2006 (incidentally, that was the last time a Cowboys running back reached that mark), but left after the 2007 season, and the Cowboys elevated their former third-down and late-game back to starting back, a role in which Marion Barber would be plagued by injuries and poor numbers. To complement Barber, the Cowboys brought in Felix Jones as a change-of-pace back in 2008 and added Tashard Choice for reasons that remain not quite clear to this day. By 2010, Barber still got the ceremonial start at running back, but Jones had become the featured back. In 2011, the Cowboys drafted DeMarco Murray, and it took him all of six games before becoming the starter in Dallas.
Two years later, the Cowboys are once again in need of a running back. This time though, it looks like the Cowboys will try to get a running back who can replace DeMarco Murray if Murray has to sit out with an injury - as has been the case every season so far.
The Cowboys appear to be eyeing two running backs in particular: Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell. Randle appears to have announced via Twitter that he'll be visiting with the Cowboys on Tuesday:
@blessedla3 I'll be there on Tuesday for a visit with the Cowboys!— Joseph Randle (@JRAN_1) 28. März 2013
In 2011, the 6'0", 204 Randle rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 TDs, the second most TDs in school history behind only Barry Sanders (37). He followed that up with a 1,417-yard, 14 TD effort in 2012. Randle probably played 99% of his snaps at Oklahoma State out of the shotgun, and his skillset reflects that. He's great in pass protection, a trait the Cowboys desperately look for in their backs, and also an outstanding receiver. Randle is very elusive, runs hard and never gives up on a run. The only knock on Randle is that he's not very fast, only recording a pedestrian 4.63 forty at the Combine, but he improved on that with a 4.51 at his Pro Day. Randle is widely ranked as the third or fourth RB in this year's draft class.
The other back the Cowboys have shown interest in is Le'Veon Bell. The Cowboys have already worked him out and will also bring him in for a visit in the coming days.
Pound-for-pound, the 6'2", 230 Bell is the second fastest runner in this year's draft class, with a speed score of 110.2. Murray, at 6’0" and 213 lbs had a speed score of 112.6, and Bell could be a runner who can come in and handle 20+ carries for a few games the next time Murray misses a month, without the Cowboys offense missing a beat. This is a guy who compares favorably to LaGarette Blount in terms of size and power and pure "ground and pound" ability. He's also a solid pass catcher and has the size (the skills he'll need to learn) to be a good pass protector.
What both have in common is a track record of production in college:
Additionally, like Murray, both backs are big and strong. Both have shown to be durable when asked to carry the load at running back. And both could come in in place of Murray without the Cowboys offense missing a beat.
If these visits are anything to go by, the Cowboys will be looking for an every-down type of back in the draft this year. The Cowboys got lucky when they found Marion Barber in the fourth round in 2005 and DeMarco Murray in the third round in 2011. Randle is frequently ranked as a second-round prospect, Bell will likely be available a round or two later. At the very least, both present solid options when it's time for the Cowboys to make their picks in the 2013 NFL draft.