[UPDATE] As this article was being published, we found out that Darren McFadden was placed on the active PUP list to start camp. His hamstring issue from over the summer is still not completely healed. [END UPDATE]
The Dallas Cowboys have landed in Oxnard, California and are set to begin their month-long practices today. Though the Cowboys have plenty of questions to answer in order to improve on last season, none is more prevalent than that of the running back situation.
The problem all along has been the notion that the Cowboys must replace DeMarco Murray. That's simply not the case in the eyes of the Cowboys' Brass. Murray's 1,800+ yard season is more of an apparition than a standard. He had an amazing season, but does anyone really believe he will repeat or exceed that number? For the Cowboys, they just need to have a solid running contribution, no matter how they get to that result.
Earlier this week the news of Ryan Williams being cut didn't sit well with everyone in Cowboys Nation, but what can you do? We are talking about a guy who's body has not been kind to him. After another surgery, it just didn't seem likely that he was going to create much competition for himself anyway. The fact remains that a guy who has played in zero games since 2012 is not likely going to all of a sudden light it up with his litany of injuries. So that brings us back to the two contenders that sit atop the Cowboys' depth chart.
Darren McFadden or Joseph Randle? The Cowboys have been headstrong that they are not currently in the market for any "big name" backs. They are going to give these two the best shot to win the job outright. Both backs offer the Cowboys different skill sets. Let's look at the tale of the tape between the two once more.
Darren McFadden, 6'1 220 lbs
The narrative is known; fourth-overall pick with tons of hype coming into the NFL. Injuries and various scheme changes have left him with only one truly productive season (2010), a season in which McFadden rushed for 1,157 yards, seven rushing touchdowns and a 5.2 YPC average. What McFadden offers is a back with great elusiveness and wiggle to him. Of course, the speed is the first thing that jumps off the table at you but he doesn't get enough credit for seeing the hole and exploding through it. McFadden doesn't necessarily look for contact, which is good for him because he hasn't shown the ability to hold up under that punishment. McFadden can also add a dimension in the return game should the Cowboys choose to deploy him.
What sets him apart from Randle? Run DMC, as he is affectionately known, is by far the better pass blocker. That is certainly something that cannot be overlooked. For Tony Romo, to have a guy that can help alleviate the pressure of the rush but also be in position on check-downs is a huge lift for the offense. Murray was very good at protecting Tony Romo on blitz packages, McFadden can step in and fill that role for Dallas.
Joseph Randle, 6'0 198 lbs
Though Randle is not as fast as McFadden, he's not as slow as some scouts thought coming out of college. Randle, like McFadden, possesses the innate skill of hitting the hole and using his explosiveness to be downfield in a flash. Randle is closer to the one-cut style that Murray was but he doesn't look for contact. He's got some good strength in his arms to get defenders off of him but prefers to run through manufactured holes instead of create his own. Randle has the home-run ability which was shown by his many scampers last season. The Cowboys coaches have praised Randle this offseason for his approach to the opportunity in front of him. He was drafted as a potential solution if Murray continued to miss games. Randle has the pedigree and confidence to be the lead back in Dallas but there are still concerns and trepidation.
What sets him apart from McFadden? It has to be his vision which is his best trait bar-none. Where McFadden may have a delay and can get caught up if the lane is not there immediately, Randle can use his patience and vision to really burst. Joseph Randle has really good start-and-stop speeds that allowed him to make some of those plays last season. The run against Jacksonville showed a very patient runner who will follow his blocks to daylight. This what excites coaches the most about Randle and will lead to bigger totals in 2015.
As said previously, the Cowboys are not trying to replace one player but more so just trying to establish their rushing attack. It became such an important part of their game plan last season and both the front office and coaches understand that's the recipe for their winning formula. As we await for these practices to begin, we will soon see if the Cowboys' plan will work or if they will be back at the drawing board. Now is the time for somebody to answer the bell.