Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 2:58pm
The Cowboys are going to split carries between Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar. None of them has done enough to separate themselves from the pack, and take on a workhorse-type role that DeMarco Murray had last season.
None of them, in other words, is likely going to carry it 20-plus times a game. Instead, Randle could fall in the 10-15 carry range with McFadden slightly below that.
“I’m just going to go in there and be as productive as a I can and take full advantage of the opportunity that I get,” Randle said. “And let the rest fall where it may.”
Added McFadden: “[A committee approach] is something I’ve done pretty much throughout my career, at school [in Arkansas] or being with the Raiders. It’s one of those deals, it’s the NFL, it’s a long season. You have to be able to have two backs that can go in there and be able to tote it the way you need them to tote it.”
We still believe that Randle is the back to own in the Dallas backfield, mainly because McFadden can't be trusted to stay healthy. But given Randle's 4th-round price, McFadden may be the better value since he's going in the 8th-10th round, depending on the draft. This is going to be a fantasy headache for most of the season, especially if everyone stays healthy.
Eagles HC Chip Kelly said that adding depth at the position was a priority in the offseason. When you add DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews – both have been staples on the injury list over their careers – you better have some depth. But assuming Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles stay healthy, the Eagles might have the deepest running-back group in the NFL. The guess here is that Murray gets 225-250 carries this season. He had 392 last season for the Cowboys. Mathews would be next with 100-125 carries. And Sproles would be sprinkled in for about 50. Sproles’ presence in the passing game is obviously going to be beefed up. The Eagles have made that clear. But Murray and Mathews aren’t slouches in catching passes, either and will get their share of screens and check downs.
We currently project Murray for 259 carries, Mathews for 153 and Sproles for 39, so our numbers are fairly close to McLane's "guesses." Owners counting on Murray to tote the ball 300-plus times will probably be disappointed. They're planning to use Mathews and Sproles extensively, and that will limit Murray's overall upside. We do expect Murray to be highly productive in the touches that he does get, but he's not going to approach his 2014 workload in Dallas.
Victor Cruz is still not cleared to return to practice as the days dwindle before the regular season opener.
"They haven't cleared me just yet. I'm just listening to the training staff," Cruz said. "I think we're just being careful and cautious with it. Calves are tricky. Once they feel healed and once they feel OK, you can come out here and mess it up again. So you want to make sure it's fully healed and fully recovered before you step back out on the field."
Cruz will again miss practice on Monday as he battles a sprained left calf. The calf injury is not related to his surgically-repaired right knee - Cruz suffered a season-ending patellar tear 11 months ago - but it has turned out to be more of an issue than originally thought, the story said.
After letting league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray go in free agency, and not making a move for any replacement, or trading for a guy like Adrian Peterson, the Cowboys seem determined to go with their running back by committee.
In Saturday’s game against the Vikings, Joseph Randle started and had six carries for 15 yards. Darren McFadden took the second quarter and added four carries for 37 yards. While it may not be Murray, getting 10 for 52 out of the pair of them is a solid start.
“I thought they both did a good job,” quarterback Tony Romo said, via Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com. “I thought the looks were a little tougher for Joe early on with the way they played it, then we got to some runs we could attack them with and it opened up some holes. Darren obviously did good on those and made some explosive runs.
“But sometimes the dirty ones are some of the best ones too.”
So as much as it made sense that they might pursue more of a bell-cow back, Jones seemed content going with the duo into the regular season.
“I see how we can line up certainly this coming week but I see how we can line up against the Giants, yes, I do,” Jones said. “You say, ‘Well, couldn’t you see it before?’ Now, I saw the same things before. I expect [Randle] to give us and has the talent to make some of the plays we saw him make tonight. I certainly know [McFadden] can make them and [Lance] Dunbar can do the same. If they’re healthy, I’ll take their skill and what they can bring and go to the game against the Giants and won’t ask for any more.”
Going with that approach is going to put more pressure on Romo and their offensive line this year, but they seem comfortable with that for the time being, the story pointed out. Maybe more importantly, it's going to be a headache for fantasy owners. Add Lance Dunbar in the mix, especially in the passing game, and there's potential for a three-headed backfield. Randle is still our pick to have the most fantasy value out of the three.
On the topic of the Cowboys' RBBC approach...
If you're seeking knowledge for your fantasy football draft, well, peace be with you.
Dallas isn't relenting on this. It's not a bluff. As it stands right now, this will be a committee in the purest NFL form. The Cowboys are adamant that their elite offensive line can be the glue that elevates a collection of parts into a greater whole.
Ultimately, what we saw Saturday night against the Vikings is likely a facsimile of what to expect this season. Joseph Randle came in and ended up playing the role of the guinea pig, with the Cowboys probing some inside runs for signs of weakness, then ending up sputtering with some third-and-long situations that weren't conducive to running. Lance Dunbar got one carry that went one yard. And then once Dallas identified some soft spots, Darren McFadden came in and cleaned up with 37 yards on four carries. Had this been a regular-season game, it's highly likely that Dallas would have ridden McFadden's hot hand as the lead, while mixing in Randle in both the run and pass, and then getting some situational opportunities to Dunbar. It wouldn't have played out that way because Randle is the No. 2 – it would have played out that way because he did the grunt work early and set the stage for McFadden.
That's how committees like this work.
Recent play has McFadden trending up with Randle trending downward. This has the makings of a full on committee, which means that the team is likely to ride the hot hand in any given week. This is not conducive to success in fantasy football, so we wouldn't recommend drafting Randle at his current ADP (#42). McFadden is the better value in the 9th or 10th round, but he may go early given the way things are trending. Keep in mind that his durability is a major question mark given his extensive injury history.
Deep in Vikings territory, McFadden took a stretch handoff to the left side and made two explosive cuts that extended the play, giving Dallas a first-and-goal situation inside the Minnesota 10. The carry spawned a thousand Vines wondering if McFadden is finally back. It beat his previous best on the night, a 13-yard carry with 13:59 to go in the second.
"I think that what you saw was vintage McFadden," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the game, per the Dallas Morning News. "You saw that acceleration. You saw his abilities."
The question with McFadden will always be health. There is no doubt that plays like these are still in his arsenal, but with a body that has betrayed him so many times, is it something that can be counted on?
While Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett won't go that far, he'll agree that it was a step in the right direction; a step away from uncertainty.
We're expecting Randle to be the lead back, but he didn't help his cause with just 15 yards on six carries. The Cowboys will use a committee to a certain extent, and McFadden's health is not to be trusted. but if he's healthy and active on game day, it may be difficult to trust Randle, either.
Cole Beasley caught a career-high four touchdown passes last year and emerged down the stretch as a Tony Romo favorite. So far in training camp, Beasley has not been defended. His quickness in the slot makes him a matchup nightmare. Cornerbacks just can’t stay with him and he has built-in options that whatever the defender guesses will be wrong. In an offense with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, it will be hard to get a huge amount of opportunities, but with how camp is shaking out, Beasley looks like he should have a 50-55 catch season.
We currently project Beasley for 41-485-3 after he posted 37-420-4 last season. He averaged 3.7 catches over the final seven games (including the playoffs) which extrapolates to 59 catches over a full season, so the 50-55 projection is certainly possible. If he posts 53 catches at last year's YPC (11.35), he would gain 602 yards. Throw in five touchdowns and you have the makings of a fantasy WR5 in PPR formats. He'll be a waiver wire stopgap option that can get owners 8-10 points in a given week.
Nobody has separated themselves yet and it remains a question of how good and effective this Cowboys running game by committee can be.
Joseph Randle has shown flashes early in his career that he can be a difference-making player in the league, and is eager to prove he can handle the load. The Cowboys have raved how mature and professionally Randle has handled himself so far in camp on the field.
“He’s been on point with not only his run stuff, but his pass-game stuff,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “I always try to tell him … ‘who are you without the ball? I know what you can do with it, what can you do without it?’
“We want to be complete football players. We don’t just want to be runners. Guys who are just runners don’t last in the league very long. We can get anybody to go out here and just run. We want guys who can catch the ball, pass protect, protect the football, do the things that are necessary to make an offense run.”
Darren McFadden, meanwhile, has shown the burst that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft. He said he feels he is past the hamstring issues that slowed him most of camp. McFadden showed last season he can get through an entire season healthy, albeit in a more limited role with the Oakland Raiders. He had 155 carries last season, fewer than 10 a game.
Based on Brown's comments, it sounds as if Randle is handling himself well in practice. We believe he's the team's best option as a primary runner, but as long as McFadden is healthy, he'll get some touches.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 5:51pm
The veteran running back played four snaps vs. the 49ers. He carried three times for four yards and caught one pass for three yards.
"I feel good. I came out yesterday and was just a little sore," McFadden said after Wednesday's morning walk-through. "But I definitely feel good and I'll be out there today."
McFadden played in all 16 games last season. It was the first time during his seven years in Oakland that he didn't miss a game because of injury. He said Wednesday that he's not looking to be cautious with his workload during the preseason or regular season. McFadden also said he "definitely" expects to play Saturday in Dallas' third preseason game.
Tony Romo is expected to get his first action, albeit briefly, but this game will mean more for the running backs: Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar. None played last week against the San Diego Chargers and all three will be available Sunday.
Nobody will run away with the job, but they can at least ease the fears some have about the position group with a positive showing, the story said. But, fantasy owners will hopefully be able to get a look into the future in terms of which one has the most value for their team. The odds-on favorite is Joseph Randle, of course, but all three are expected to have some role in the offense.
It’s the same injury that Randle suffered in practice last week, keeping him out of the preseason opening loss against the San Diego Chargers.
“It’s the same thing I had earlier,” Randle said. “It flared up on me again. We will will get it right. I always want to be out there with my teammates. I can only do what I can do. It’s just something we have to keep fighting through.”
We'd prefer he be at practice and getting reps as the team's lead back, but this injury on its own isn't too worrisome. He should be fine by Week 1, probably sooner.
Cowboys writer Bryan Broaddus: I like what I saw from Darren McFadden in his first extensive work during the various team periods in which he took snaps. He looked decisive and committed to what he was handed from this Rams defense in the running game. He was in position to execute the check downs when needed and when asked to step up for pass protection, he was up to the task.
McFadden is perfectly capable of producing behind the team's talented offensive line, but we believe Joseph Randle will be more effective and is more likely to stay healthy.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 6:00pm
Murray sat out the game as the Eagles continued to tread lightly with a player who had 497 touches by the time the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs by the Packers. In an interview with Peter King of MMQB.com, coach Chip Kelly admitted that his approach to Murray this offseason has been fueled by concerns raised by the history of backs returning from a heavy workload in the previous season.
“I think there is a lot of validity to it,” Kelly said. “But how do you manage him going into a season? Our plan all along was to get another running back with him. I wanted to have two running backs, and that’s why we got Ryan [Mathews]. I don’t think you can have a guy carry it 370 to 400 times per season and be successful. We’re going to run it a lot — we always do — but we’ll have more than one guy doing it.”
Kelly hasn't really come out and said to the media that this has been his plan, which is fueling speculation there is more to the story - but that could be just how Chip wants it, for everyone to think Murray is hurt. It's pretty obvious the team is going to give Mathews his share of carries but the Birds run enough plays that Murray should put up his projected RB2 fantasy numbers. Mathews is looking like a pretty decent add for those who also grab Murray.
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