There was some consternation, both among fans and media, that the Cowboys lost an integral part of their offense when running back DeMarco Murray signed with the Eagles. But the price -- a five-year, $42 million deal ($21 million guaranteed) -- was prohibitive and the Cowboys were right to look for running back help elsewhere.
A lot can happen between the start of training camp and the regular season, and the Cowboys will no doubt be on the lookout for backs that can help them. And that list could include Chris Johnson, the former Titans first-round pick who struggled with the Jets last season and remains unsigned.
If the Johnson-Cowboys rumors sound familiar, they should; CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora wrote earlier this month that several NFL executives brought up Dallas as a possible landing spot for Johnson. And Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said in May that Johnson was on the team's short list, according to the story. It could be significant news for those targeting, or looking to keep, Joseph Randle.
Nick: I think there are a few good battles, but I don’t know how any of them compare to running back. It’s not only the most wide-open, but the highest-profiled position as well. I think Joseph Randle will get the early nod but something tells me Darren McFadden will end up getting more carries. And the way this team uses Lance Dunbar will be interesting. So to me, it’s running back all the way.
Bryan: Running back. I have put my eggs in the McFadden basket but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see one of the other backs step up and have the type of camp that makes this front office and coaching staff sit up and take notice.
We believe that Randle is certainly the better option at this point, but Broaddus and Eatman both think that McFadden still has the better chance to lead the team in carries. Randle's ADP has climbed into the 4th round, so he's a risky pick at that point in the draft given this uncertainty.
Just like in the game of cards, jokers are amazing weapons in football because they don’t fit into the book easily when it comes to figuring out ways to defend them.
It is often used to describe the difficult to handle tight ends, but I think we can also list the running backs who aren’t actually running backs. Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, maybe even Randall Cobb, and yes, the Cowboys hope, Lance Dunbar is at least a “poor man’s” version of that. He is listed as a running back, but if we judge him as running backs are judged, we will quickly be underwhelmed with his running the ball (especially inside) and his pass protection. Both are just not up to the NFL grade.
This is a very detailed story breaking down Dunbar's strengths and weaknesses. The article goes on to say the Cowboys remain convinced that his role must be expanded as a weapon used in ways that are simply difficult to account for by a defense. The author added Dunbar as a runner has a 2-year track record of A) not getting the ball as a RB and B) not being productive enough to compel the staff to give him the ball more. But, he pointed out a Dunbar-led attack helped to knock off Seattle on the road last year, however he wasn't used much after that. The story also says his pass protection is suspect and the team doesn't appear to want to simply hand him the ball as a RB. He's capable of big plays, but probably not consistent fantasy points. Joseph Randle is ranked 24th on our RB list and is expected to at least split carries with Darren McFadden.
Cowboys RB Joseph Randle appears to be the lead dog heading into camp. If Darren McFadden is healthy, he could also fill the starting role. Lance Dunbar will likely see more carries, but his biggest impact should come during passing downs.
“We’re very confident in what we have,” Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown said. “We got some very good football players. With the addition of Darren it’s going to be a nice group. I can’t say who is going to be the lead dog right now, but those guys are going to compete and we’re going to do what’s necessary to win games.
“I just think that we have a complementary backfield,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “They’re going to spread out the carries. Some games are going to be different than others. Maybe one guy is going to have more in one game than the other or maybe sometimes two guys are going to split the carries, sometimes it’s going to be three. Again, it’s to be determined. It is a bit rare to have the one guy carry all the load. I tip my hat to DeMarco for being able to do it. But these other guys have different roles now that he’s gone. We’re going to have someone step up, and I know they’re excited about it.”
It may be the team's intention to split the work among the three backs, but a talent disparity between Randle and McFadden along with McFadden's history of fragility leads us to believe that Randle is the back to own in this backfield.
Monday, June 29, 2015, 8:42pm
Darren McFadden's career with the Dallas Cowboys didn't get off to a great start. The running back was sidelined for most of the team's OTA and mini-camp practices with a strained hamstring. After taking off several weeks, McFadden is feeling healthy again and ready to go when the Cowboys open up training camp in a little over a month from now.
"It's doing great," McFadden told Steve Rogers of his hamstring, per the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. "I feel like I had a decent mini-camp, so I'm just looking forward to putting in my work and getting ready for training camp."
McFadden will enter training camp behind Joseph Randle on the depth chart at running back, and he could also be behind Lance Dunbar. Since his breakout 2011 season, McFadden has struggled to remain productive on a per touch basis. Many believe that the Cowboys' offensive line can be a great catalyst for a runner like McFadden, because although he struggles to make defenders miss, he is lightning fast when running downhill.
Cowboys beat writer Brandon George thinks Dallas will run the same kind of offense even with the loss of RB DeMarco Murray to free agency.
George: The Cowboys, I believe, will go about their offense the same way as last year with emphasizing the run game behind a dominant offensive line. At least early in the season. If the run game starts to struggle, you could see them start to shy away from it and put the ball int he hands of QB Tony Romo more again. And that hasn't always been positive. They need a strong rushing game again to make this offense click.
In another question, George went on to say he believes Joseph Randle is the team's RB1, but Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden will also have roles in the running game.
George added that things could change but he'd "put [his] money on Randle at this point." We agree with George and have Randle ranked the highest among the Dallas backs - coming in 24th with an ADP of the sixth round in 10 team leagues. If he can manage to keep the RB1 role, he could provide owners with some nice value from that draft slot.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015, 12:59pm
During organized team activities and minicamp, Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar has been one of Tony Romo’s favorite targets in third down situations. One of Dunbar’s best traits is his ability to take advantage of open space. Romo targeted DeMarco Murray 130 times over the last two seasons. A large chunk of those passes could be headed in Dunbar’s direction.
Cowboys beat writer Bob Sturm broke down RB Darren McFadden:
Hundreds of Oakland carries to consider, yet, anybody-but-McFadden averaged over 5.5 yards per carry or 2.2 more than each and every single run from McFadden? Basically, he had 60% the productivity of each of his backup’s runs – over 3 straight years.
In answer to the question of whether “anyone would have problems in Oakland”, it appears that 5.5 yards per carry over 370 attempts might not fully agree with that assessment.
I believe the Cowboys think he is their 3rd down back. I don’t think they want him running on 1st and 2nd down in their offense. I think that will be Randle to start. (3rd down back can mean 30 snaps in a game.)
The soon-to-be 28-year-old McFadden hasn't cracked 3.5 YPC since the 2011 season, when he ran for 614 yards on 113 carries (5.4 YPC) in seven games. That's the rub with McFadden -- fantasy owners haven't been able to count on his durability. He has missed roughly a quarter of his team's games since entering the league. We also believe he’ll serve as a change-of-pace/3rd-down back behind Joseph Randle, but he'll have to beat out Lance Dunbar for that role.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 2:42pm
The Cowboys' intrigue with Lance Dunbar has been long-running. He might not be an every-down back, but he can be part of a committee. They like what he can do in space. They believe he can be a mismatch player for defenses. Before arriving from the Detroit Lions, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had two running backs catch more than 50 passes in a season. Linehan sees Dunbar being able to do some of what Reggie Bush and Joique Bell did in 2013 in Detroit.
"Sometimes he doesn't play as many plays as some of the other guys, but when you look at his production within the plays that he has, it's usually pretty good," coach Jason Garrett said. "He's usually a difference maker. He's a really smart football player. He's talented. He's quick. He's fast and explosive, has great intuition and instincts for the game. We try to use him a lot of different ways, and when we have used him he's been effective for us. You're always trying to give those guys more opportunities."
My biggest concern with McFadden these days is that it looks like he has lost his decisiveness. He seems to not go anywhere particularly fast at the moment he gets the ball. This offense needs a RB shot out of a cannon and I fear that he has been ruined by his difficulties in Oakland.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old McFadden hasn't cracked 3.5 YPC since the 2011 season, when he ran for 614 yards on 113 carries (5.4 YPC) in seven games. That's the rub with McFadden -- fantasy owners haven't been able to count on his durability. He has missed roughly a quarter of his team's games since entering the league. We believe he’ll serve as a change-of-pace/3rd-down back behind Joseph Randle.
Cowboys RB Joseph Randle averaged 6.7 yards a carry off the bench in 2014. He can average well over 5.0 getting 20-plus carries a game as a starter as long as he plays with the discipline that DeMarco Murray sometimes lacked.
Randle’s only obstacle to 1,500-plus yards is Darren McFadden, a fascinating wild card in this backfield equation. In between hamstring pulls and ankles sprains, McFadden has proven to be an excellent straight-line runner. But if Murray is “plywood” on the stiffness scale, McFadden is “oak.” My good friend Greg Cosell of NFL Films once said it best: it’s like McFadden’s lower body and upper body are fused together. An inability to make people miss was something previous Raider coaching staffs didn’t like about the former first-round running back.
The article goes on to say that McFadden might end up being the better fit since Randle's elusiveness may lead to him making poor decisions in the running game. Randle was highly effective (6.7 YPC) in 2014 and is reportedly showing more maturity after several off-the-field issues. He's not going to see a DeMarco Murray-type workload, but 225-250 carries is feasible if he wins the lead back job, and it appears he will.
Bob Sturm on the Cowboys' backfield roles: I think [Darren McFadden] is going to be your 3rd Down guy when it all shakes out. That focuses on what he does well and it also limits what he doesn’t do well. So, I have McFadden as a 3rd down guy and [Joseph Randle] on 1st and 2nd as a very reasonable zone runner who can get some nice things done.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old McFadden hasn't cracked 3.5 YPC since the 2011 season, when he ran for 614 yards on 113 carries (5.4 YPC) in seven games. That's the rub with McFadden -- fantasy owners haven't been able to count on his durability. He has missed roughly a quarter of his team's games since entering the league. He's a solid receiver (69.6% catch rate), so a third-down role makes sense given his skill set and injury history. If Randle plays on first and second down, he should be a productive fantasy RB2 behind the Cowboys' stout offensive line.
Hamstring injuries at this time of year are not alarming, but this isn't going to generate any confidence in McFadden's ability to hold up as the team's starter given his injury history. Randle is looking like a good bet to finish the season with the most touches.
Randle has an outstanding opportunity in front of him if he’s able to take advantage. He gets the nod over Darren McFadden because he’s been in the system, has more tread on his tires and had success last season when called upon. If Randle stays out of trouble off the field, he could be Dallas’ next 1,000-yard back.
On average, Darren McFadden is still going ahead of Randle in early drafts, but we believe that Randle is the better bet. He was highly effective (6.7 YPC) in 2014 and is reportedly showing more maturity after several off-the-field issues. He's not going to see a DeMarco Murray-type workload, but 225-250 carries is feasible if he wins the lead back job.
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