If ever there was a time to test starting running back DeMarco Murray, now is absolutely it.
It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys have been long removed from their legacy of great running backs, a couple of which have helped haul in big trophies at Valley Ranch. Heading into last season, it had been since 2006 that Dallas had as much as a single 1,000-yard rusher.
Well, it’s time for Dallas to have a 1,000-yard rusher in consecutive seasons. The last time this franchise had a string of at least three straight was 1999 through 2001, or the twilight of Emmitt Smith’s Hall of Fame career. In fact, Smith would become the leading rusher in NFL history despite not breaking 1,000 yards in his final season in Dallas.
The Cowboys have had only Julius Jones in ’06 and Murray in 2013 crossing the thousand-yard barrier since Smith graced the Dallas backfield.
This was a player expected to bring long-term stability to the running back position.
Jones was supposed to be the heir to Smith.
Jones ended up only the heir to the brief reign of Troy Hambrick.
Looking back at the last decade of Dallas’ primary running backs, it’s remarkable how few crossed 1,000 yards. In some years, especially under former head coach Bill Parcells, the Cowboys often intentionally split carries between two running backs, a concept that wasn’t too familiar for Dallas fans at the time. In other years, like those under current head coach and former offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, the offense just hasn’t called enough running plays in general, this despite the presence of multiple ball carriers who can win games out of the backfield.
I believe that Murray bucks this trend of running back weakness on the part of the Cowboys. Injuries have been the only things to have kept Murray from multiple Pro Bowl appearances over his first three seasons. Those same injuries are the reason why we still mention names like Marion Barber and Felix Jones, ball-carriers that were committed to in recent seasons that rarely brought enough on their own to power the offense to victories.
For perspective, Murray gained 897 yards rushing on only 164 carries during his injury-shortened rookie season in 2011. There’s little doubt, especially given that average per carry of 5.5 yards, that Murray would have cleared the 1,000 yard mark and probably would have doubled his rushing touchdown number to four. All in all, Murray still accounted for 1080 yards while playing in just 13 games.
Playing in just 10 games in 2012, Murray broke out some in 2013 in chalking up 1,304 all purpose yards while adding nine rushing touchdowns. His career yards per carry of 4.9 is really all that needs to be said for Murray beyond his injury history.