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Cowboys Draft Prospects: DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner

As you know, we are in the midst of a series of posts that will take a closer look at players who were invited to Valley Ranch earlier in the week or who will attend the "Dallas Day" festivities. For this installment, we'll look at a pair of third-down running back types, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner, a Dallas native who played for Middle Tennessee.

Let's start with Murray; as anyone who watched Big 12 football knows, he enjoyed a prolific career at Oklahoma, and piled up some impressive numbers over his time in Norman: he owns the OU career all-purpose yardage record, with 6,498, as well as marks for career TDs (64) and career receiving yards by a running back, with 1,512.  Murray is just the second player in OU history to surpass 1,000 yards in three categories: his 3,524 rushing yards (sixth all-time) sit alongside the 1,512 receiving and 1,462 kick return yards he accumulated.

As these numbers suggest, Murray is an all-purpose back, with a skillset of interest to teams looking for a third-down back. On top of this, he has breakaway potential, with numerous long scoring plays to his credit. A video featuring repeated trips to paydirt can be found here.

Looking at this video, a couple of things become clear: Murray has game-breaking speed, the ability to make quick cuts, and reasonably good open-field vision. This is substantiated by his workouts for teams and at the Combine (video of which can be fund here)

On the other hand, Murray's running style is upright and he seems to have a high center of gravity, which made him susceptible to big hits; indeed, he spent a great deal of his college career in the training room.  

This is just one amateur's opinion, however. See what the big-time scouts think after the jump...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 11th-rated RB; 149th overall:

Looks to have put on some weight this season and looks a bit thicker throughout his body. Possesses a good first step when asked to press daylight and gets up to speed quickly. Showcases impressive balance when accelerating around the corner, and when healthy the guy really does have that kind of initial burst to consistently outrun angles in space and create yards by the chunk. Plus, he does have the ability to consistently catch the football out of the backfield and can also create mismatches when split out in the slot. Exhibits some shiftiness to his game once he gets up to full speed and knows how to give a slight shoulder fake to a defender and explode into space. Displays a willingness to block in the pass game and although he isn't real physical and struggles with leverage, he does possess the body control to stick his head in and chop down defenders on contact.

Exhibits improved instincts in tight areas as a senior and does a better job picking his way through traffic, using his lateral agility to make a man miss and create after his initial move. Now, he still runs too high through the line, but does a better job lowering his pad level into contact to protect himself. But still seems to get tripped up and tackled by the fingertip of a defender too easily inside when trying to accelerate through a hole. Does have some injury concerns, as he has been banged up at times which can be a direct result of running high and exposing his frame to some bigger hits.

Impression: A violent slashing type running back who has improved his bulk and overall feel inside. I still don't think you want this guy starting for you at the next level. But as an X-factor type who can line up all over an offense and create, I think he can certainly add an element to an NFL offense.

The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 6th-rated RB; 60th overall:

Strengths: Is an athletic back with the ability to make plays inside and outside. Is a patient runner who follows blockers well and can make quick cuts off their blocks. Has good strength to run through grab tackles and gain yards after contact. Can get his shoulders down to make himself a smaller target. Has the agility to change directions quickly. Has good hands and some experience catching passes from a traditional running back alignment. Can pass block with good technique.

Weaknesses: Is mostly an upright runner, which makes it harder for him to run through traffic to gain yards after contact. Needs to protect the ball better. Must stay after pass blocks, as he will stop pass rusher's initial charge but gets beaten because he stops his feet. Durability is a concern. Has nice, but not elite speed.

Bottom line: Murray had a dominant sophomore season in 2008 when he set a number of all-purpose yardage records at Oklahoma, and he has the talent to be a productive starting back in the NFL. However, he was injured during his freshmen and junior seasons, which means he's a durability risk. Murray is not a premier prospect who needs to be drafted in the first round, but he's still a future NFL starter.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 11th-rated RB; 100th overall:

Positives: Terrific receiver out of the backfield-adjusts to throws, has soft hands, catches naturally outside his frame and was very productive in this area. Can stick his foot in the dirt and accelerate. Outstanding long speed.  Showed playmaking ability when healthy. Versatile-can line up in the slot and was an impact kickoff returner.

Negatives: Durability is a concern-is built like a receiver, lacks bulk and has been very injury-prone, struggling to make it through a single season healthy despite never shouldering a full workload. Lacks the physicality and lower-body power to run inside. Runs upright, is straight-finish, very tight-hipped and exposes his frame to some big hits-will always battle injury. Average suddenness and elusiveness and can be late to the corner. Needs to get stronger as a blocker.

Summary: Narrowly-built, one-cut, stretch-zone runner who will be overdrafted because of his size-speed combo, hands and return ability. Likely to spend a short-lived career in the training room once he has to deal with the rigors of the NFL.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 9th-rated RB; 98th overall:

Competitiveness: A determined runner that almost always finishes runs falling forward. Will lower shoulder and fight for hidden yardage after contact. Does not duck out of bounce near the sideline. Needs to do a better job of securing ball with two hands when running in traffic.

Vision/Patience: Vision is average. Can quickly hit developing hole on front side of runs. However, does not have a natural feel for cutback lanes and can miss the crease. Also needs to show more patients as inside runner and can be too quick to bounce runs to the outside. Above-average vision when hitting the second level or open field and does a nice job of setting up blocks.

Agility/Acceleration: Shows very good initial burst to get to and through the hole. Shows ability to plant foot in ground and accelerate. Very shifty in space and can accelerate through cuts to make defenders miss. However, he does not show great lateral agility and is a bit more of a straight-lined runner than the perception. Simply lacks elite lateral quickness to make defender miss in the hole or in confined areas.

Power/Balance: A narrow based runner and is susceptible to taking big shots when not seeing defenders closing from the sides. Lacks elite power to push pile in short yardage situations. On the flip side, he does run hard and does a nice job of getting low when meeting defenders head on. Also runs with adequate balance and can bounce off initial contact to pick up hidden yardage.

Passing Game: Marginal size makes pass pro a difficult chore. Is tough and willing to scrap, but he will be overmatched at the point of attack most of the time.

Intangibles: Good student and handles his business both on and off the field. Has shown the mental toughness to work through an injury-plagued career.

Murray's scouting reports quite clearly define him as a third-down/ specialty back, who can shift into the slot and do damage against linebackers and safeties. His one other team visit was to the ions, who need a third-down back (or at least one younger than Maurice Morris) to take some of the pressure off of Jahvid Best.

Murray seems to have some very good qualities mixed with some very problematic qualities, which mitigate his second or third round talent. Drafting him would appear to be a gamble on his upside and ability to stay healthy. The above scouts' consensus would place him at about pick 100, which falls at the top of the fourth round. That's where I'm inclined to put him as well--where the Cowboys pick at # 109

Now, lets turn our attention to Middle Tennessee's Philip Tanner, who has been flying under the radar after playing in a spread offense and splitting carries with two other backs as well as his quarterback. In spite of this, Tanner managed to put up impressive numbers. In 36 career games, he amassed 2,024 yards (at 4.7 per clip) and scored 33 touchdowns. He also caught 42 balls for 481 receiving yards and a TD.

Here's a nice piece on Tanner from the Dayton Daily News, of all places. Scroll down the page and see some video of him in action. Some good info from the article:

Tanner is a compact power back (measuring 5-10 and 210) who finishes off runs with authority. He's a one-cut runner who can make tacklers miss. He shows good peripheral vision, runs through arm tackles, moves the pile in short yardage situations and is tough to bring down. He's an aggressive blocker picking up the blitz, rarely fumbles and respectable return man in the kicking game. Tanner is a high character guy who is well respected by teammates. Sound familiar (ahem, Barber, cough, cough)?

But wait, he's got something that #24 never had: an extra gear. He has breakaway speed, or at least plays faster than his 4.55 pro day forty would suggest.  As a result, when he makes defenders miss, it can result in big gains.  Perhaps this is why he reminds out resident professor of draftology, ChiaCrack, of Tampa Bay's LeGarrette Blount

Like Murray, Tanner has positional versatility with the ability to play wide receiver and return kicks. Both players offer added value because they can potentially save teams a roster spot.

Strangely, none of the leading scouting types have any information on Tanner. This is clearly not the case for NFL teams, however; his pro day workout was attended by representatives from the Titans, Texans, Ravens, Chargers, Browns, Raiders, 49ers and  Buccaneers. And now the Cowboys are interested as well.

Because of this interest, I'm going to qualify him as a draftable player-but I'll relegate him to the seventh round. I'll say that if the Cowboys spend a pick on Tanner it will be one of their two seventh-rounders (at # 219 or # 251)

Next up: Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh

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