With DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar both out next week, the Dallas Cowboys will turn to their fifth round rookie running back Joseph Randle to carry the load against the Philadelphia Eagles. And while Dallas has been somewhat successful in finding middle to late round steals at the running back position in the past few drafts, I have my reservations about Randle and how well he will perform in a starting role.
Joseph Randle was a 2013 5th round pick out of Oklahoma State who many at the time believed Dallas stole on draft day. He slipped in the draft in part because of a slow 40 yard dash time. While I don’t believe one single run at an NFL combine defines how good or bad a player is going to be, it does give us reason to hesitate. Below is a chart of the Dallas Cowboys running backs currently on the roster and how they measure out:
Of the four running backs on the Cowboys roster, Randle is the slowest running back AND lacks the most quickness. Randle doesn’t possess elite size to combat his sub-par explosiveness. If you aren’t fast and in this case a 4.63 4o yard dash indicates that he is a slow back, you better make up for it with size or quickness. As you can see, Randle isn’t either of those.
Joseph Randle isn’t a stretch runner and isn’t an explosive one-cut back. But where I think he does a good job is running downhill and setting up his blocks. Randle is a better spread/shotgun back that can do his best work on draws, screens and misdirection. When I watched Joseph Randle in college and in the preseason games, he reminded me of Saints running back Pierre Thomas. Thomas, like Randle, isn’t a special talent, but is a useful player in a defined role. Pierre Thomas can cut up defenses when the field is spread and he can use his blockers and vision to make plays. What I also found interesting is that they also have very similar measurables.
Joseph Randle’s best case scenario in his career is Pierre Thomas. And there isn’t anything wrong with that. Thomas is a solid NFL running back because he has carved out a niche as a spread, passing game back. Expect Randle to have a career similar to Thomas, instead of a feature back like DeMarco Murray.
But now onto the field. One thing I look for when I am scouting a running back is how they do when “disaster” strikes. How well can they persevere when things don’t go according to the play design? LeSean McCoy is one of the the best “disaster” backs in the NFL today and every game he turns negative yardage runs into positive gains. Here is a good example of this where the Giants have McCoy trapped and he escapes and turns it into a decent gain.
The Giants’ defensive line reads McCoy perfectly and then meets him in the hole. McCoy makes a quick jump cut to the line of scrimmage and then shakes the linebacker and runs to the right. This play could have been a negative run. It probably should have been at best a small gain if McCoy doesn’t make a second cut before he even reaches the line of scrimmage. Randle had a chance to make a similar play Sunday.
Here is a stretch play that is a staple of the zone read run game. Randle’s job is to read the center and right guard and to follow the lane. But what makes the stretch play hard to defend are the potential cutback lanes.
Randle can see that there is no way that this run is going to succeed as the play was designed. Right guard Brian Waters was beaten badly and Tyron Smith’s defender crashes down the line. But because the backside defender is so far up field and down the line, there is a massive cutback lane. Randle has two options: Follow the design of the play and live to see another down and accept the five yard loss. The second option is what separates good running backs from elite ones. Randle could stop, jump cut behind Tyron Smith where he has only one defender to beat for a score with Gavin Escobar and Jason Witten in front of him. As a rookie, Randle chooses the safe option and sits down for a five yard loss. An opportunity missed for Randle. On this play, Randle secedes to the “disaster” in front of him.
Joseph Randle is a safe runner and will run for as many yards as the play is blocked for and there is nothing wrong with that. Just don’t expect a big stat line from a safe runner. But if you are looking for some optimism when it comes to Joseph Randle, here it is; The Eagles have struggled against the opponent’s primary runner this year. This is how the lead back has fared against the Eagles run defense this season:
So what can you expect from Randle come Sunday afternoon? Expect a somewhat pedestrian stat line that mirrors Brandon Jacobs’ production with the potential upside of what Knowshon Moreno did against the Eagles in week four. Joseph Randle can be a solid backup running back in the NFL. Just don’t expect him to break on the scene like previous backs Julius Jones, Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray.