The Cowboys went into this year's offseason with a big question mark at running back after DeMarco Murray took a big payday from Philadelphia. Which in turn lead most of the gurus circling the position with a red sharpie for this year's draft in order to duplicate their success from 2014. Despite these laments, Jerry Jones made it clear in his pre-draft press conference that "running back was not as urgent as defensive help."
Then folks essentially threw wet blankets on that idea and continued to discuss the Todd Gurleys and Melvin Gordons of the world as the potential target. They were flabbergasted when not a single running back was taken by Big D. Instead, as Jones reiterated days earlier, the Cowboys were focused on defense.
So unless anything changes soon, Dallas will enter their organized activities with Darren McFadden, Ryan Williams, and Joseph Randle as the primary options. I think it's safe to rule out Lance Dunbar because at this point, Dallas has a third-down role for him. Should we be worried that the Cowboys are being just a little too cavalier with the position in 2015? Let's take a closer look and see.
Run DMC was taken fourth overall in 2008 by the Oakland Raiders. The once touted can't-miss prospect out of Arkansas went from boom to bust after many injuries plagued him throughout his tenure. It didn't help that the Raiders changed coaches and systems several times without ever being able to maximize his potential. Oakland has been a team in transition for many years. Their offense has ranked near the bottom in production with a -74.9 per season since 2008.
McFadden's best season in 2010 still boasted an offense with a lousy -61.2 production rating. Where did the Cowboys stack up in this timeline? Try an average +66.5 each season, they only had one year of negative production. Coincidentally, that was the same season that the Cowboys drafted Felix Jones, McFadden's backup at Arkansas. Of course, we can point at the quarterback situation in Oakland but the real caveat has got to be their offensive line. Now McFadden will get the chance to run behind a line that posted PFF's highest production grade last season with a whopping +139.5. To further break that down not a single position posted negatively in run support with TE (+5.5), LT (+11.2), LG (+9.8), C (+19.0), RG (+4.9) and RT (+11.4). Pretty impressive company for the two-time Heisman runner-up to be behind. At 28 when the season begins, McFadden will look to improve on his 4.1 career average per carry, where better to start?
Randle was selected by Dallas in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Up to this point he's primarily served as the backup to Murray. He got a chance to start in 2013, but was only able to manage 164 yards in two games. In 2014, Randle didn't get any chances to start, but he did make the most of his carries. On 51 rushes, Randle gained 343 yards with a 6.7 average per carry. He also found the end zone three times on scampers of 17, 40 and 63 yards respectively.
The Mothership's Mickey Spagnola has pointed out that the one thing often missing from Murray's game that Randle has is that home run ability. The same could be said for Randle but on the opposite side of the spectrum - Can Randle get the "dirty yards" Jason Garrett talks about? In two seasons, Randle has only played on 219 snaps. This coaching staff was rather unimpressed with his first debut at lead back, not to mention his off-the-field knucklehead behavior. Randle will have to really take a leap forward in the offseason to be considered the guy but he'll surely get his chance to compete.
Williams is definitely the most unknown commodity on the roster. One thing is certain, Williams wants to be a Dallas Cowboy. He was rumored to have turned down several offers from other clubs to remain in Dallas. He was the second running back drafted in 2011. He debuted for the Arizona Cardinals in a preseason game where he ruptured his patella tendon on his very first run. Williams would miss the rest of his rookie season. He was able to start three games in 2012, but only gained 164 yards on 58 attempts for a 2.8 yard average. Various injuries have stood in the way of Ryan William's career, but Dallas thinks very highly of him. In fact they guaranteed $240k for him this offseason to retain his services. Williams now hopes to shed the injury-prone label of the past and get his first real shot at becoming special.
The bottom line is that the Cowboys are gambling that their backs will become the product of their offensive line. Every one of these options come with it's own set of warning labels but Dallas seemingly isn't worried. There is merit in their beliefs too, people tend to forget that DeMarco Murray just played his only full season. He's had injuries and missed 11 games in his four-year career. The Cowboys are banking on their Pro Bowl, all-world offensive line to do for one of these young men that they did for Murray.
There's no reason to believe that notion is out of the realm of possibility. It's no coincidence that almost every running back from Adrian Peterson to Chris Johnson are expressing their desires for the opportunity. Who really knows what the rest of this offseason will have in-store for the Cowboys? At this point this team looks steadfast toward their training programs, all other things are just noise. Are they being cavalier? Sure, but whose to say they are wrong in their approach? They got five big men ready to back their statements.