Historically, the Cowboys have had some great running backs including: Calvin Hill, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, and Emmitt Smith. Emmitt Smith was our last star running back. Ever since his departure in 2003, the Cowboys have struggled to find a consistent running game. Troy Hambrick, Julius Jones, Marion Barber, and Felix Jones were sought to be the successor to Emmitt. Unfortunately, all of them faltered into obscurity.
If we examine the Post-Emmitt era, the running backs that succeeded him followed a trend. Let’s start off with Troy Hambrick. During the end of Emmit’s career, Hambrick was his backup. Hambrick in a backup role looked promising and was poised to be our future starter. In 2003, he inherited the starting running back position. Unfortunately, he did not live up to expectations and was quickly replaced by rookie, Julius Jones. The same fate would follow Jones, who initially looked promising, but was also ineffective and eventually replaced by his backup, Marion Barber. Barber was an exciting and powerful running back, but would also disappoint after a couple of seasons. He would be replaced by another promising backup, Felix Jones. If you haven’t caught on by now, Felix would also be unsuccessful and was replaced by his backup, DeMarco Murray. It has been over a year since Murray had taken over the starting role and going into his third season, Murray has the position locked down. Many believe that Murray will provide Dallas with a viable running attack. However, is it too early to assume such a thing? We said the same thing about Troy Hambrick, Julius Jones, Marion Barber, and Felix Jones as well. What makes us so sure that Murray will fare any differently?
So far, Murray has followed this trend in being an exciting backup behind Felix. While Murray hasn’t shown many signs of faltering, it is still very possible this early in his career. We’ve seen this cycle many times before, so perhaps we should ready for it to happen again. Let’s look at this logically and breakdown why this trend happen.
In a backup role, our running backs look promising. But when they become a starter, why have their production declined? Running back is a unique position where you can be one dimensional in terms of play style. Look at LeGarrette Blount as an example. He is the most pure power back in the league. He would be a perfectly viable option as a starter, even though he doesn’t have the speed that other running backs possess. On the other hand, Reggie Bush is the opposite of Blount; he has a ton of speed but not much strength or power in his play style. Both of these running backs can be effective starters despite having a one dimensional play style. A lot of our backups were one dimensional and were good at a certain role. Maybe they simply didn’t have the talent to be a good starter. As a starter, teams will pay more attention to them and game plan against them. This makes it a lot harder for them to succeed. As a backup, there isn’t as much attention on them and they can thrive. Now let’s look at Murray. Does he have the talent to become an adequate starter?
Murray’s biggest drawback is his injury problem. Injuries have hampered Murray for most of his young career; he has missed a number of games in his first two seasons. As a draft prospect, health was a major issue with Murray in college. It does not help that Murray runs very aggressively, and looks to punish defenders. With a running style like his, it is almost guaranteed that Murray will miss some games every season.
When examining Murray’s running style, nothing sticks out to me. He’s had some games where he was very productive, but when I watch careful nothing sticks out. Murray is an aggressive runner, but I don’t expect him to break tackles consistently. He’s quick and has the speed to take it to the house, but there are faster backs. He’s great at catching, but that can only take you so far. Murray is a jack of all trade, but a master of none.
The biggest question is whether he has the talent to succeed. He has a lot of tools, but are these tools good enough? Will he fall into obscurity like his predecessors? Can he overcome those injury problems? There are a lot of quirks to Murray, and it is far too early to deem him a great running back. Right now we can only speculate. While it doesn’t hurt to be optimistic, we should be cautious. Only time knows what’s in store for Murray’s career.