The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray, Tashard Choice: Projecting 2011 Touches

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Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys’ running game is sure to improve in 2011 simply from the release of Marion Barber.  Barber received far too many touches last season, particularly in short-yardage situations.  Last season, I suggested the Cowboys use a 50/30/20 split between Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and Marion Barber, respectively.  They used almost that identical ratio, except Barber received more touches than Choice.

Before I try to project the 2011 touches, let’s analyze each back’s skill set.  In my 2010 Running Back Grades, I noted that, although a generally underrated player, Jones needs to drastically improve his pass protection.  Despite the 86.3% overall grade, I gave Jones a C- in pass protection.  Tashard Choice received a B in pass protection.  Rookie DeMarco Murray is likely to struggle in pass protection as well, particularly having completed no offseason team work.  Speaking of Murray, let’s take a look at my scouting report on him:

Scouting Report

Murray has solid agility and start-and-stop ability.  His quickness and long speed are both really, really good.  He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the Combine and he really does possess home run ability.  While I don’t like the timing of the pick, I think there are only a few runners in this draft who are better for Dallas than Murray.  He’s an insurance policy against a Felix Jones injury, which was really an underrated “hole” for the ‘Boys.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out Murray’s career numbers.  I don’t look at stats when I look at film because 1) they could potentially cloud my judgment and 2) I don’t particularly care.  At the running back position, though, you always want to see a guy produce no matter the circumstances.  Murray had a ridiculous 63 total touchdowns in his career and, more important to me, 157 career receptions (including 71 alone in 2010).  Running backs must be able to catch the ball nowadays, and Murray is a natural receiver.

Murray is a continuation of what appears to be a revised draft plan for the Cowboys.  He’s a versatile player who will be especially helpful in the passing game.  Tyron Smith is a versatile player who will be especially helpful in the passing game.  Bruce Carter is a versatile player who will be especially useful in the passing game.  See a trend?

Murray’s vision is solid and he makes very quick decisions with the football.  You won’t see Murray dancing in the backfield.  He isn’t great after contact, however, and his legs sometimes die after he gets hit.  He isn’t particularly effective in short-yardage situations either.  Due to his upright running style and carelessness with the football, I think he could be prone to fumbles at the next level.

A major reason I think the ‘Boys had Murray rated so highly is that he has value as a returner.  The Cowboys don’t want Dez Bryant on returns again and it’s unclear what Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Bryan McCann can do, so Murray’s return ability could be useful as soon as 2011.

In a nutshell, Murray is Felix Jones with less experience, better natural pass-catching ability, a little less size, and superior return ability.  I love his skill set, and I think he will contribute immediately as a rookie.  Having said that, the Cowboys already have some uncertainty on their offensive line, and their ability to keep Tony Romo upright could be complicated with a small rookie running back taking on defensive ends and linebackers.

Thus, despite his receiving skills, I think Murray should play primarily on first and second down.  The Cowboys can still get him the ball in space, particularly since they should throw more first down passes anyway.  Here is a breakdown of Dallas’ third down running back usage in 2010.

With Murray able to give Jones a breather, I think both Jones and Choice should handle the majority of third downs.  And despite popular opinion, Jones should receive short-yardage touches.  Look at the numbers below.

Ultimately, I propose the Cowboys use the following breakdown of snaps (and touches):

1st Down: 65 percent Jones/25 percent Murray/10 percent Choice

2nd Down: 50 percent Jones/35 percent Murray/15 percent Choice

3rd Down: 55 percent Choice/40 percent Jones/5 percent Murray

Using the same percentage of 1st, 2nd and 3rd down plays as in 2010, this equates to Jones receiving a whopping 56 percent of the touches.  Murray would receive 26 percent, and Choice just 18 percent.

Disagree with my assessment?  Think that is too much work for Jones?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

————————————————————-

As an aside, the Cowboys signed left guard Kyle Kosier to a three-year deal.  I really like the move.  Despite his age, I graded Kosier as the top offensive lineman on the team last season, giving him an 86.2% (B).  That grade, which was the seventh-highest in my Overall Player Rankings, included a C- in run blocking and an A in pass protection.  In a recent article on why the Cowboys should re-sign Kosier, I wrote:

Kosier’s ability to protect the quarterback and the lack of a starting-quality guards behind him on the roster makes me think the Cowboys will be re-signing Kosier whenever that is made possible.  And that is the right move.  Kosier shouldn’t get a huge contract, but signing him to a two-year deal makes a lot of sense to me.

Leonard Davis, on the other hand, may not be so lucky.

Looks like I win again.

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10 Responses to Felix Jones, DeMarco Murray, Tashard Choice: Projecting 2011 Touches

  1. Rick says:

    I don’t understand why Murray is getting so snaps on 3rd down? His best skills are his pass catching and his pass protection.

  2. Rick says:

    Sorry, that would be SO FEW SNAPS. Love and appreciate the site, Jonathan, but an “edit” button for messed up posts would be very nice.

  3. Vince_Grey says:

    I think any of these guys could handle 60% or more of the touches. They’re all young and I think this stuff about how you HAVE to rotate 2-3 RB’s is complete horsesh*t.

    If one guy is obviously more productive than the others, why not use him (almost) all the time? So what if he burns out in 2-3 years? NFL RB’s tend to last 4-5 years max anyway.

    And if a skinny little guy like Chris Johnson can carry the ball 358 times, as well as have 50 receptions, then any of our guys sure can. Might not have the production, but they could handle the touches.

  4. Rick–As I mention, I think Murray will struggle with pass pro as a rookie. He has yet to learn the intricacies of the Cowboys’ offense, and coupled with his size, that could spell trouble on 3rd down. Eventually, you want him in there for sure.

    Vince–I agree. Felix is the best RB on the team at this point, hands down. Can’t wait to see Murray, but feed Felix.

  5. geo says:

    you almost made me fall in love with Murray, then i entered the variable that Murray is out 2 weeks with a hammy injury that happened a couple weeks ago. A huge setback to everything you might want Murray to be or to become. The fact is, the Cowboys need a 3rd back, because if Murray struggles to come back in a rapid fashion, or tweeks it, or struggles in pass pro, or puts it on the ground, you need a RB and a KR. Missing 2 weeks here is devestating to Murray. Risky to give him any responsibility early in the season. You didnt address Murrays injury history. Is he injury prone? Is that an additional concern?
    Cowboys really needed Murray and Carter healthy here….

  6. john coleman says:

    I will simply say that the breakdown should depend on production. Also some games may end up being grind it out games. In that case Choice is the bell cow. I could see Jones and Murray being used more early in games and Choice salting things away in the 2nd half, ala Emmitt and Jimmy.

    I need to comment again on how giddy I am with the cuts we have made. Only Newman is left with a ridiculous contract.

    The 3rd WR- It might just prove to be an unexpected surprise. With all of the attention that Miles and Dez will draw a #3 could be highly productive with a small amount of catches. Harris or Ogletree or both should do just fine. I just can’t say I will miss Hurd or Williams.

  7. moses says:

    Murray is fast but he runs with very little power and is easily stopped if there isn’t a decent hole.

    I took a look at the Tx A&M game and though he had opportunities, he ran with little power, like the power of a small WR. Once he was touched, he was pretty much stopped. Even though Gray for Tx A&M is an avg back, he ran with more power and broke tackles

    Murray looked ok against Nebraska but nothing special. He took the yds and ran out of bounds. He did not try and break it inside at all.

    He doesn’t look like anything special.

  8. Mark Watkins says:

    Great to have you back after the hiatus Jonathan…I agree that the breakdown will most likely be close to what you suggest. But it should of course be based upon production (unlike last year), as others have mentioned. I think it would still be nice to have a power back who can pound it at certain times. What do you think?

  9. Agree with everyone that the eventual breakdown of touches is totally based on production. . .ride the hot hand. I would start the season with this sort of split as the overarching goal though.

    @Mark–Agree and disagree. Most people will not concur, but I think the Cowboys have a good short-yardage runner on the team in Felix Jones. He has quick-twitch ability and enough power to be fine near the goal line and in 3rd and 1. I think the idea that a short-yardage back MUST be big is mistaken. I do agree, however, that Dallas will be in trouble if Jones gets injured. Choice has been mediocre in short-yardage situations and I don’t think we can expect much from Murray.

  10. Pingback: Dallas Cowboys 2011 Preseason Schedule: Previewing August | Dallas Cowboys Times

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