Dallas Cowboys: Even DeMarco Murray Can’t Replace DeMarco Murray


NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger treated viewers to a very cutely staged rant this week, taking the Dallas Cowboys to task for not selecting a running back in the 2015 NFL Draft. His analysis raised two important questions. The first was, “Who wrote this garbage?” The second, more salient question was, “Why the hell am I watching it?”

Such is the cross to bear for NFL geeks in the month of May. What’s a junkie to do, switch over to ESPN? Like a drunk switching from hand sanitizer to rubbing alcohol, it all burns going down and leaves a man feeling seedy and unfulfilled.

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Baldinger was giving it his off-season best, though, summing up his righteous ire with this thundering admonishment:

"“The Cowboys were 12-4 and a play away from getting to the NFC Championship game because of one player – DeMarco Murray. They failed to basically replace him.”"

It was a stunning about-face from his own mock draft, written scarcely a week before, in which Baldinger had Dallas taking Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman in the first round. In commenting on this prescient selection, Baldinger wrote, “The Cowboys have finally figured out that games are won in the trenches…”

Baldinger is a big, likeable guy with an endearing cowlick for a pinky finger, and it’s a long offseason with a ton of air time to fill, but does anyone else get the feeling these TV analysts talk so much that they eventually just say everything? Maybe by sheer volume they’ve counter-pointed every point they’ve ever made without even realizing it?

Surely Baldinger knows that no rookie running back is going to “replace” Murray’s 2014 totals of 449 touches, 2,200+ all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns. That production is gone. It would likely be gone even if Murray was still a Cowboy.

Murray played every game in 2014, but missed 11 games to injury his first three years in the league. What are the odds he will duplicate his 16-game durability a year after logging the sixth most touches in league history?

Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George had 453 touches in 2000. That number fell to 352 the next season (down 22 percent), along with his yards (down 38 percent), touchdowns (down 65 percent) and yards per carry (down almost 20 percent).

Edgerrin James had 450 touches in 2000 for the Indianapolis Colts. The next season he played just six games. Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson had 457 touches in 2006. It was his last 1,000-yard season in the NFL.

Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen were productive following similar work-horse years, but both were younger than Murray and neither had Murray’s troubling injury history. Besides, they were generational talents – what are the odds Murray will follow those two to Canton?

So even with Murray on the roster in 2015, it’s likely the Cowboys would have had to employ more of a committee approach to the running back position. Drafting a rookie wasn’t going to change that. Worse still, it’s beyond short-sighted to wag your finger at a team for sticking to its board on draft day. Reaching for need is how you end up with guys like Shante Carver on your roster.

It’s been argued the Cowboys trust their offensive line, and that’s certainly true. What’s often overlooked is the Cowboys also trust their coaching staff to develop personnel. Dez Bryant, Jermey Parnell, and even Murray – a 2011 third-round pick that became an All Pro – are testaments to this organization’s ability to identify, accumulate and develop talent.

Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams all have worked with this coaching staff for at least a year, and all have play-making skill sets. None have had many opportunities to flash in the regular season.

They’ll get their chances in 2015. If the coaches have done good work, the offensive line stays healthy, and the game planning remains committed to the run, Brian Baldinger is going to eat his words… Well, some of them anyway.

All stats courtesy Pro Football Reference.

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