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Can Joseph Randle Be A Workhorse Running Back In The NFL?

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If DeMarco Murray leaves the Cowboys in free agency, the next question immediately becomes is Joseph Randle an every-down back.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys may lose the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year in DeMarco Murray this offseason, but that's not news to any of us at this point. Ultimately, that price range to re-sign Murray may not be something the Cowboys want to pay if they plan to re-sign Dez Bryant, while having a shot at retaining any of the other free agent pieces such as Rolando McClain or Bruce Carter.

With Dallas fans doing their best to cope with the fact that the NFL's leading rusher may be on his way out of town, the focus may have to turn to the future. One very important question that must be addressed before any decisions about the future are made (including possibly re-signing Murray), is if back-up Joseph Randle can be an every-down back. While Randle had an impressive 6.7 yards per carry in 2014, rushing for 343 yards and three touchdowns, he wasn't nearly as productive during his rookie season in 2013.

His numbers during that rookie year actually featured more attempts (54 compared to 51 in 2014), but less than half of the yardage at 164 yards on the ground. That's good for a yard per carry average of only three, while also tacking on two touchdowns. In all honesty, it's tough to predict Randle's potential by looking at just two seasons as a back-up, but when you look back to his college season, it shows that he's capable of handling quite a bit of work.

Randle's Time At Oklahoma State

The numbers that Randle produced with his first Cowboys' team back in college can't be ignored. It's not only the fact that he never fell below 5.2 YPC, but through his final two seasons at the collegiate level, he carried the ball a total of 482 times for 2,633 yards and a ridiculous 38 touchdowns. His 2011 season was the most impressive, as he averaged 5.8 YPC and scored 24 touchdowns.

Let's not forget that the 2011 campaign came in a year when Oklahoma State and then-quarterback Brandon Weeden threw the ball a massive amount. Between Weeden and back-up Clint Chelf, they threw it 595 times that season, showing that Randle's 1,216 yards had been just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he was capable of doing.

To go along with the rushing production, we must also factor in what he did in the passing game. Throughout all three seasons in Stillwater, Randle was a big part of the passing game. He caught 108 balls for 917 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers could be even higher if Oklahoma State hadn't made somewhat of a shift towards Randle and the rushing game in 2012, as he rushed 66 more times that year than he did in 2011. His pass-catching ability could be huge for Dallas in 2015 and beyond.

Consensus

Obviously making a prediction on whether or not a player can be a workhorse running back in the NFL needs to feature a comparison of both their college career, as well as what they can do at the next level. Just like so many other rookie running backs, Randle struggled in his first year in the NFL. Last season was a different story, though, and while fans shouldn't expect to see an average of 6.7 YPC on a consistent basis, he has the talent to be a feature back.

The Cowboys may not want to rely completely on Randle heading into 2015, but giving him the role of feature back will come along with a solid back-up working behind him. That backup may be found in free agency or in the draft if the Cowboys decide to roll with the third-year running back. There's also the chance that Ryan Williams turns into that guy, as I strongly believe that he has a future in Dallas.

I don't see any reason why Randle couldn't become the feature back in Dallas, but he does still need to show that he can deal with the additional workload that comes along with it. Time will tell, but don't be surprised to see Jerry Jones put his faith in the 23-year-old.