The Dallas Cowboys have a long history of hanging their proverbial ten gallon hats on the wrong workhorse running back. From Troy Hambrick to Julius Jones to Marion Barber to Felix Jones, the Cowboys have struggled to find a consistent running game for over a decade. They seem to always hold out hope for a player who has shown glimpses of talent, but for some reason doesn’t pan out. And that hope is held out just a bit too long and the team, and us fans, suffer for it. Now, the Cowboys are making the same mistake with DeMarco Murray.
Since Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith left Dallas in 2003, the Cowboys have had just one 1,000 yard rusher in a season. (1,084 yards by Julius Jones, 2002) This lack of success is due to many different factors. Poor offensive line play, various injuries, different coaching schemes and bad draft choices have all contributed to these deficiencies in the backfield.
But the Cowboys’ front office may have the biggest negative impact of all. Take this off-season for example. Because of the team’s continued faith in third-year running back Murray, Dallas delayed in selecting a half-back until the fifth round. Although Joseph Randle was a steal, there were other higher-ranked players (on their own draft board) at that position that fell within the second and third rounds. Big names like Montee Ball and Eddie Lacy could have been had late in the second round. Instead, the Cowboys selected tight end Gavin Escobar. That’s how screwed up the front office is when it comes to overvaluing their existing running backs. They would rather build a position that already has Jason Witten entrenched, then to find a possible replacement for Murray.
Murray is a stereotypical under-performing Cowboys’ running back. His rookie year showed promise as he gained 897 yards in what was basically seven games. That included a Dallas single game rushing record of 253 yards against the St. Louis Rams. He had just seven games with more than 10 touches in 2011. In December, Murray suffered an ankle injury which ended his season. Last season, DeMarco missed six games due to injury and struggled when he was on the field. He had just one performance over 100 rushing yards in 2012, and that was in the first game of the year. One other knock on Murray is his inability to hit pay dirt. Known for being the all-time leader in touchdowns at Oklahoma (65), Murray has only scored six times in his first two seasons in Dallas.
Murray’s overall low numbers put him in a unique class last season. The Oakland Raiders‘ Darren McFadden and San Diego Chargers‘ Ryan Mathews, infamous running backs with reoccurring injury problems, both had more yards than Murray did last year. On the other-hand, two rookie rushers were in the top five rushing leaders last season. By that definition, Dallas would have been better served going with a rookie last year than Murray. And that also goes for this year when they decided to select a tight end in the second round and a wide receiver in the third round. The only positions more vital to the team then finding a consistent running back right now are at safety and on the offensive line.
Cowboys’ vice president of operations, Stephen Jones, has stated that he likes where the team is currently at the running back position. So don’t expect Dallas to bring in a free agent half-back. Although there are big names out there like Ahmad Bradshaw, Cedric Benson, and Peyton Hillis who have all had success in the NFL, the Cowboys recent motto of “coach em’ up and promote from within” seems to be superseding their obvious hole in the backfield.(I made my case for Jackie Battle earlier this year. Check it out.) I guess Dallas is hoping the injury fairy doesn’t re-visit the locker-room this year. No doubt those DeMarco Murray blinders are at full strength in Big D.
I really think this is the final season Murray has to prove he can be dependable. One more season of injury and inconsistency means Murray is simply the Cowboys’ new Julius Jones. And the faster the Cowboys realize this and move on, the quicker the team can find their next great half-back.