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Felix Jones vs. Rashard Mendenhall; the debate continues


It looks like the Felix Jones vs. Rashard Mendenhall debate continues to be the one item discussed over and over about the Dallas Cowboys 2008 draft. It’s funny, but depending on which guy you like, you can make the stats slant in your direction or you can make the rationales for each pick work in your favor. And really, to me, both sides of the ledger have legitimate claims. But as Brandon wrote in this post, nothing will be settled until the 2008 season gets underway and we can see how effective both backs are at the NFL level. I already stated that if I was the guy turning in that 4x6 card at the draft, the name would have read Mendenhall, but this by no means says that I don’t think Felix Jones was a good pick. I’m not at all disappointed that we picked him and in terms of just the 2008 season, I still believe he was the choice that best fits our needs now.

Mendenhall may be the better everyday, workhorse back that you can feed the ball to over and over during a game. His size and speed are a potent combination. With the question of MB3’s long-term future in Dallas still undecided, I was looking at Mendenhall as the guy who would be his replacement in case we don’t get him signed. This also goes for the other back that I thought might be there for us at #22, Jonathan Stewart. In this case I guess I’ll have to defer to Jerry Jones who seems to be confident that he can eventually get MB3 signed so felt that he could pass on Mendenhall. Rashard would give us a lot of the same things MB3 gives us although with more speed and Jerry also covered his bases to some extent by selecting Tashard Choice in the 4th round who is sort of a mini-me version of MB3.

Like I said earlier, you can slant this in either direction to make your point. But a couple of arguments that have been made don't hold water. Like this one from JJT:

I would've gone with the guy who is bigger, a shade faster, just as quick and catches the ball just as well, although he doesn't return kicks.

A shade faster? I guess some people can’t let go of the 40-times at the one day event called the combine. I’m not dismissing that event altogether and have to admit I was impressed by Mendenhall’s 4.5 time. That’s outstanding. But all you have to do is watch both players on tape and you know that Felix Jones is the faster back. It’s also been noted that Felix ran a 4.37 time on the Arkansas campus. Really though, I don’t even need the 40-times to see which back is faster, it’s just obvious. Add on to that when I watch Jones on tape, it’s not just his top-end speed that was impressive; it was his ability to accelerate with his first step. His initial burst was phenomenal, the second he gets the ball from the QB he is moving at top speed. And his ability to cut and juke without slowing down is a special quality. Forget the 40-times; they are just a crutch to justify your side of the debate. Simply watch the players on tape and it’s obvious which guy has the faster game-speed.

Equally ridiculous is this quote from JJT:

I understand your point, but would you pass on LaDainian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson or any other top runner because another runner could return three or four kickoffs a game?

Holy crap, now, without playing a down in the NFL, Rashard Mendenhall is LT or AP? It doesn’t get more absurd than that. LT shared time his first few years in college then was the man the last two. He never had a season less than 500 yards and had over 1,800 and 2,000 yards his last two years. He finished with over 5,000 yards! Are you kidding me? Compare that with Mendenhall’s 640 yards two years ago and over 1,600 last year. Come on JJT, let’s stay within a zone of reality. And AP? Over 1,000 yards all three seasons even though he had to battle through multiple injuries that limited his starts. As a freshman he had over 1,900 yards. It’s absurd to say Mendenhall is LT or AP.

Another point I’ve been trying to make about Felix Jones is that while he will be in a complementary role to MB3 this year, there’s always the possibility he could be an every-down back. He’s 5-10 and 207 pounds with a very solid build and will probably put on 5-10 pounds in the pros through weight-training and natural maturation of his body. I commented on a post before the draft that backs like Brian Westbrook, Willie Parker, Tiki Barber, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, yes, even Emmitt, were about the same size at this point in their careers. I called him a scat-back once and that didn’t sit well with a lot of people. Maybe that was a bad term. What I’m trying to say is there isn’t anything that says he can’t be an every-down back at his size. Mickey Spags relays the Cowboys thoughts on this.

Jerry Jones, and even Wade Phillips, seem to be taking exception to people calling Felix Jones a part-time back, seemingly all ready to invoke the Eric Metcalf label on him as some sort of specialty back. "He's not a scat-back," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said, and Jerry Jones would remind you Felix is 5-10, 207. Not built totally the same, but recall Emmitt Smith came into the league at 5-9, 199.

Given all that though, it’s not Mendenhall the Cowboys were agonizing over in comparison to Felix, it was the other big back not named McFadden in the draft.  

Now the Cowboys thought there would be a tough decision to make at that pick, but they figured it would be between Felix Jones and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, whose stock had been hard to read because of his toe surgery after the combine.

In fact, multiple sources in the Cowboys' War Room said the club would've drafted Stewart over Felix Jones had he been available, but it became irrelevant once Stewart was drafted 12th overall by the Panthers.

I like Mendenhall but it’s no guarantee he would be successful in a backup role to MB3. He seems like the kind of back who needs a lot of touches to really show what he can do and there are reports he wasn’t the happiest camper when he was a backup at Illinois. In 2008, in Dallas, he would have been a backup and might not be as effective as he would be as a lead back. Felix, on the other hand, simply excels at being a backup and makes the most of his limited touches. Seriously, I’ve hardly ever seen a guy get so much production out of limited touches. His total yards, yards per carry and touchdowns are phenomenal for a guy in his role. Long-term it’s a question mark for me, but in 2008, Felix Jones is the better fit.

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