Dallas Cowboys: Time Is Running Out For Lance Dunbar


Potential can only take you so far in the NFL. And it has carried Dallas Cowboys running back Lance Dunbar into his fourth season as a member of America’s Team. But in the midst of a heated positional competition, the time for the diminutive back to fulfill that potential is now.

After showing flashes of playmaking ability through three inconsistent years, Dunbar has come to a crossroads in his career. Before signing the lowest possible tender this offseason, a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, the restricted free agent received zero offers from other NFL teams.

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Part of the reason is Dunbar’s value is entirely wrapped up in his potential. His statics are that of a fringe player, at best. In a three-year career, the former undrafted back out of North Texas has amassed a lowly 324 rushing yards total. He’s never even scored a touchdown in a real NFL game.

In fact, Dunbar’s best performance was during the Cowboys final preseason game during his rookie season. In a contest known as the Roster-Bubble Bowl, the starters are normally benched while fringe players fight for a role on the active roster.

In such a game against the Miami Dolphins in 2012, Dunbar recorded 105 rushing yards and his lone professional touchdown. A majority of those yards were gained on a nifty 58-yard scamper into the endzone.

Due to his limited highlight reel in Dallas, one member of the local media believes Dunbar will struggle to make the Cowboys active roster this season.

"“I don’t think Dunbar is a given to make the team, Bob Strum of the Dallas Morning News responded last week when answering a reader’s question about the Cowboys current running back competition. “But, he does have experience and special teams ability as a coverage guy. I think that is why he got the nod over Ryan Williams last season. It will be interesting who gets that RB3 job this year. They want Dunbar to work, but his skill-set is too limited for me.”"

But for all the fan-hype behind the shifty back, there has been very little actual payout. Touted as an excellent recevier out of the backfield, Dunbar recorded just 13 total receptions his first two seasons in Dallas. Last year, he recorded 18 catches for 217 yards.

In 2014, third-string running back Joseph Randle outrushed Dunbar by 244 yards despite playing 46 less snaps. Randle also scored three times. Dunbar recorded just 99 yards on the ground last season.

But it certainly could be argued that Dunbar simply hasn’t been given ample opportunities to shine in Dallas. Last year, his first full 16-game season of his three-year career, the 25-year old was only given 29 total rushing attempts. In comparison, starting running back DeMarco Murray ran the ball 392 times in 2014.

What could be Dunbar’s saving grace in 2015 is the fact he also plays special teams. It’s the one edge he has over Ryan Williams, the player who is seen as his direct competition for an active roster spot this upcoming season.

The Cowboys also seem to trust Dunbar more than any other current running back when it comes to pass blocking, even though the diminutive back is only 5’8 and 195 pounds. Proving that point, 87 of his total 140 snaps last season were during passing plays.

Yet, the fact remains the Cowboys are likely only to carry three running backs on their active roster this upcoming season. With Darren McFadden, Randle and Williams in the mix, plus the ever present threat of another veteran running back being brought into the fold in Dallas at any moment, it appears it’s now or never for Dunbar to prove his worth.

And so far, it appears Lance is making the most of his opportunity. ESPN’s Todd Archer said Dunbar ‘stole the show’ during OTAs last week.

"“If they handed out MVP of the day trophies, then it would have gone to running back Lance Dunbar. He caught four passes from Tony Romo in the two-minute drill work to close the first-team’s work in practice and had the linebackers on skates in seven-on-seven drills. Perhaps this really is the year the Cowboys use Dunbar more.”"

But like Allen Iverson infamously said many years ago…

"“We talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talking about practice.”"

Bottom line: The time for Dunbar to fulfill his potential is now.

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