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What to Expect From DeMarco Murray in 2012

I’ve talked a lot about DeMarco Murray recently, primarily because he has such a high ceiling in 2012. The farther along in the preseason we roll, the more I think Murray will receive a whole lot of touches this year. I’ve talked about if the Cowboys should make Murray a workhorse back and if he can really rush for much more than 1,000 yards. Today, I took a new look at Murray’s projections over at Dallas Morning News:

In his rookie season, Murray played 388 snaps. He rushed the ball 164 times and was targeted 34 times as a receiver, giving him a touch rate of 51.0 percent. Already this preseason, Murray has racked up a carry or target on 61.5 percent of his snaps. It’s a limited sample size, but interesting nonetheless.

Read the entire article here.

If the Cowboys can get the ball to Murray more often while he’s on the field without giving him significantly more than 65 percent of the running back snaps, they might be able to acquire the optimal amount of production from him–giving him a larger percentage of touches but not burning him out and losing efficiency.

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Predicting Career Outlook of Second-Year Running Backs

We all know DeMarco Murray has immense potential in Dallas, but it’s always nice to see some extra evidence that he is likely to fulfill that potential. I wrote about Murray awhile ago at DallasCowboys.com, and I recently did a piece on predicting the careers for all second-year running backs over at the New York Times.

I think the best way to predict the career success of second-year running backs is to assess both their rookie YPC and rushing yards. Even though YPC is probably superior to yards in terms of determining running backs’ talent, yards are still strongly correlated to future success. You always want talented players, but there’s no substitute for a heavy workload.

When drafting second-year running backs, here is what to consider (in order):

  • Rookie YPC
  • Rookie rushing yards
  • Draft spot

All other things being equal, I’m going to select second-year running backs who were extremely efficient in their rookie seasons. Rushing yards should also be a consideration, and you can really use a combination of the two stats. Finally, look at where each back was drafted. You can put up with a lower YPC a little bit more if a player was drafted highly because you know his team will stick by him longer. Trent Richardson could struggle wildly in 2012 and he’ll still be the Browns’ starting running back in 2013, while the same isn’t necessarily true for a guy like Ronnie Hillman in Denver.

Read the whole post here.

Cowboys fans might point to Felix Jones as someone whose career path hasn’t followed that which is outlined above, but I wouldn’t label Felix a bust just yet. His problem has been remaining healthy, but he’s been really, really efficient when he’s been on the field.

Meanwhile, Murray’s second year will be telling. I recently projected Murray at around 4.7 yards-per-carry in 2012, and people asked me if I’m crazy. Look, there’s almost no chance that Murray averages nearly 5.5 YPC again this season, and 4.7 is a really good number. If both he and Felix are in that range, the Cowboys coaches would be quite happy.

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Running the Numbers: Should DeMarco Murray Be a Workhorse?

Jonathan Bales

My latest article at DallasCowboys.com takes a look at the potential distribution of touches between DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones. From the post:

The questions the Cowboys face are 1) whether their rookie phenom has the ability to handle a heavy workload and 2) if he would thrive in that role. It’s very easy to live in the moment and declare that Murray should be the recipient of 20 carries per game, but central to the workhorse/running back by committee debate is the talent of Felix Jones.

Many people have written off Jones simply because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field, already missing 16 games in his young career. When healthy, however, Jones has actually been one of the most efficient runners in NFL history.

Of every running back that has played in the NFL since 1980, only two with as many carries as Jones – Bo Jackson and Jamaal Charles – have posted a superior yards-per-carry. Jones’ 8.87 yards-per-carry as a rookie is the most in NFL history of any back with more than 12 carries. If you really think about Jones’ time on the field, he’s been sensational. Unfortunately, injuries have clouded our judgment of his talent.

Breaking down Jones’ numbers more, the results are clear: Jones thrives as the second option in the running game. During his time at Arkansas, Jones rushed for 6.3, 7.6, and 8.7 yards-per-carry while playing behind Darren McFadden. Jones was actually more efficient than McFadden in each of their three years in college.

Read the full article here. Ultimately, I think the Cowboys will be best served giving 60 to 65 percent of the carries to Murray. Those who want to hand over 80 percent of the rushing duties to Murray are being a bit naive, I think. He isn’t that type of guy (who is?), and Felix Jones is still an efficient player.

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

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.

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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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Analyzing Felix Jones’ Usage, Efficiency on Turf vs. Grass

Jonathan Bales

About a year ago, I posted a study which showed that the efficiency of running backs does not change based on the field surface, even for runners of different styles, i.e. as a whole, small, quick running backs perform no better on turf as compared to grass.  I floated out the idea that a running back like Felix Jones (and now rookie DeMarco Murray) might be superior on turf because his quick-twitch, speed-based game seems to be suited for a fast track.  The evidence seemed to suggest otherwise.

Now that Jones has played three seasons in the NFL, his numbers on turf and grass are beginning to become statistically significant.  Of the 38 games in which Jones has participated (including two playoff games), 26 of them have been on turf.  On the chart to the left, you can see his efficiency on runs has remained steady regardless of the surface–he averages 5.3 yards-per-rush on both grass and turf.  He has been a bit superior as a receiver while on grass, but this is likely due to a small sample size (14 receptions on grass, 58 on turf).

While the numbers related to Jones’ efficiency are no surprise, his usage statistics are another story.  You can see that Jason Garrett has given Jones three more carries per game when the Cowboys have played on turf as compared to grass.  This may not seem like a lot, but a roughly 30 percent increase over a sample size of 38 games is pretty significant.  The probability that such a difference would be due to chance is small, meaning it looks as though Garrett provides the ball more to Jones when the ‘Boys play on what the coach considers a fast track.

That idea appears to be affirmed by Jones’ reception numbers as well, as he catches nearly twice as many balls on turf over grass.  While Jones is the recipient of dump-offs from time to time, the majority of his receptions have come on screens or other plays designed to get him the ball in space.  It really does appear as though Garrett assumes Jones is a more lethal player on turf.

Of course, the Cowboys play their home games on turf, and the team may be more likely to be winning late in home games over road games.  When leading late in the game, additional carries are likely.  However, in the 20 home games in which Jones has participated, the ‘Boys are just 11-9.  That mark is very similar to the Cowboys’ 10-8 mark on road games in which Jones has played, meaning the idea of Jones’ “extra” turf carries coming from leading late in home games is inconsistent.

Ultimately, Garrett just needs to continue to feed Jones the football, regardless of the playing surface.  The addition of DeMarco Murray via the draft provides the Cowboys with an insurance policy against a Jones injury.  Of course, Garrett may have no choice but to give Jones or Murray plenty of touches on grass, since Marion Barber will be out of Dallas in 2011 and the head coach loathes Tashard Choice.

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Cowboys News and Notes: 5/24/10 (Deon Anderson’s Future, Patrick Crayton to Dolphins?)

This tidbit shocked us.  Upon reading it, we looked into our database and it seems to be true.  Anyone want to bet this will change by the end of 2010?

There doesn’t seem to be much interest on Miami’s part.  We are rapidly becoming one of the few media outlets still predicting Crayton to be in Dallas in 2010.

Placing the Super Bowl teams at No. 1 and No. 2 seems to have become standard practice nowadays, but we don’t think it is a necessity.  Nonetheless, the No. 4 positions seems like a suitable one for Dallas.

We think Anderon’s future is in the hands of Roger Goodell.  If Anderson gets suspended for multiple games, he will likely be cut.  If not, however, we think he will stay in Dallas this season.  Remember, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett loves to use a fullback, and the Cowboys were incredibly successful with Anderson on the field in ’09.

Besides, Anderson was nice enough to take pictures with “The Blonde Side” author Amber Leigh.

Jerry Jones on Remaining Stadium Expenses

Jenkins is quickly becoming the Cowboys’ best cornerback.  We gave him an “A-” grade for his work last year, and if he can improve his tackling, Jenkins will become one of the NFL’s best CBs.

Of the forecasts, we agree with all except “9. Tony Romo will throw at least five more interceptions but 10 more touchdowns than last year.”  We will have detailed stat projections as the season nears, but we don’t see Romo throwing 10 more TDs this year.

Ball performed fairly well in coverage last season as a safety, allowing a completion rate of just 45.0% and only 6.35 yards-per-attempt.  However, his missed tackle percentage of 22.2% must improve dramatically.  Overall, we gave Ball a “C+” grade for the season.

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Felix Jones Already Cowboys’ Starting RB

Chris Mortensen is reporting that Felix Jones has already moved to #1 on the Cowboys’ depth chart for this weekend’s mini-camp.  The move isn’t as surprising as the timing.  We knew Jones would ultimately snatch the starting gig, but we didn’t think it would come this quickly.

Nonetheless, it is a good sign.  The Cowboys have been known to let veteran players keep their jobs perhaps a little too long in recent years.  This move, along with the releases of Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, show that the Cowboys are committed to starting the player they deem the best at each position–regardless of his tenure.

Of course, running backs are rotated in such a way that whoever starts is almost irrelevant.  What matters is carry distribution.

In 2009, Marion Barber received 54.3 percent of the regular season carries among running backs.  Jones garnered 29.5 percent, while Choice checked in with the remaining 16.2 percent.

So how will offensive coordinator Jason Garrett distribute the carries in 2010?  In our “Grading the ‘Boys: Running Backs” segment (a good read, by the way), we proposed the Cowboys spread out the touches this season as follows:

  • Felix Jones: 50 percent
  • Tashard Choice: 30 percent
  • Marion Barber: 20 percent

In that article, we said:

“Some may argue that we have given up on Barber too quickly, but now is not the time to wait on players.  The Cowboys are built to win now, and the most productive players should play.

These percentages could be attained by starting Jones and letting him play two series for each of Tashard Choice’s one. We would also use Tashard Choice on short-yardage runs, including a bit more Wildcat.  Barber would come in to spell Jones and Choice, particularly on third down, and to finish out games. In baseball, closers are only successful because they haven’t pitched all game.  The same is true for Marion Barber.  By saving his energy, he could effectively return to the “closer” role, creating the most efficient Dallas Cowboys backfield possible.”

The numbers we gathered in that study support our proposed role for each Dallas’ running back.  It will be interesting to see how Garrett utilizes each player come September.

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Top Ten Dallas Cowboys Draft Classes of All-Time

As the 2010 draft approaches, we have been focused on bringing you Mock Drafts, various Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks, and articles on draft strategy. Sometimes, though, the most effective way to predict the future is to study the past. In determining which path the Cowboys may take come April, we have provided you with a “blast from the past”– the top ten Cowboys’ draft classes of all-time.

10. 2008

Best Pick: Mike Jenkins, CB, USF (First Round)

We admit that we are a bit “new school” (although we would argue more of a mix of old and new), and so we begin this list with one of the Cowboys’ most recent drafts. Five of the six selections have already made significant contributions to the team. We chose Jenkins as the best pick of the draft, but that title could also go to RB Felix Jones as well.

The importance of the 2008 draft was not due only to first-rounders Jenkins and Jones, but also to mid-rounders Tashard Choice (fourth) and Orlando Scandrick (fifth). Martellus Bennett rounds out the 2008 class, and collectively they have provided a talented young base upon which the Cowboys will be able to build for years to come.

9. 1961

Best Pick: Bob Lilly, DT, TCU (First Round)

The 1961 Cowboys’ draft class is the oldest on our list and one of only two draft classes in team history to contain two Hall of Famers (you will see the other class later). Bob Lilly was selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and was amazingly a part of both the 1960’s and 1970’s All-Decade teams. He was also an 11-time Pro Bowl selection.

Lilly was also joined by guard Billy Shaw, a player who was drafted in both the AFL and NFL drafts. Shaw was elected to the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately not as a member of the Cowboys. He is the only Hall of Famer to never play a snap in the NFL.

8. 1974

Top Pick: Ed “Too Tall” Jones, DE, Tennessee State (First Round)

The 1974 Cowboys’ draft class was headlined by first-rounder defensive end Ed Jones. The rookie out of Tennessee State eventually became a three-time All-Pro, leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XII championship.

Jones was joined by third round selection Danny White, an All-Pro player who threw for 155 touchdowns and over 21,000 yards.

7. 1991

Best Pick: Leon Lett, DT, Emporia State (Seventh Round)

The 1991 draft class was headlined by a player whose college would remain an unknown to most had the Cowboys not selected him in the seventh round. Despite his share of bonehead plays and off-field struggles, Leon Lett was a dominant tackle who played an integral role in the Cowboys’ run of 90’s Super Bowl championships (Don Beebe would agree).

The Cowboys also secured a multitude of future impact players in that ’91 draft, including Pro Bowl players Russell Maryland and Erik Williams. In addition, Alvin Harper and Dixon Edwards became starters, and CB Larry Brown, a 12th round selection, was the Super Bowl XXX MVP.

6. 1977

Best Pick: Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh (First Round)

Tony Dorsett, a Heisman trophy winner at Pitt, was the 2nd overall pick in the 1977 draft. He tallied 92 total touchdowns and over 12,000 yards in his career. Dorsett became the first player to win a Super Bowl just one year after winning a college national championship.

Dorsett was joined by Pro Bowl WR Tony Hill and 10th round San Jose State quarterback Steve DeBerg in the ’77 class.

5. 2005

Best Pick: Demarcus Ware, OLB, Troy (First Round)

Selecting the best pick from the 2005 draft class was also a difficult task, as the Cowboys were able to obtain incredible value in the seventh round with the selection of DT Jay Ratliff. Ware, though, has been so dominant that he became the choice. Although it is too early to tell (and we don’t want to jinx him), there is an excellent shot that we are watching a future Hall of Famer in Ware.

The Cowboys had two first round selections in 2005, and the second was used on Marcus Spears. In addition, the team was able to acquire Pro Bowler Marion Barber and now ex-Cowboy Chris Canty in the fourth round.

4. 1988

Best Pick: Michael Irvin, WR, “The U” (First Round)

The Cowboys probably could not have hit any better with their first two selections in the 1988 draft, selecting Michael Irvin and LB Ken Norton, Jr. The duo went 1-15 in their rookie season, but Irvin was the first component of “the trio” to be selected, and undoubtedly the heart and soul of the 90’s Cowboys dynasty.

Ken Norton, Jr. was a Pro Bowl linebacker, and Dallas also added impact player DT Chad Hennings in the 11th round.

3. 1975

Best Pick: Randy White, DT, Maryland (First Round)

The 1975 “Dirty Dozen” is frequently thought of as the top Cowboys draft class ever, so perhaps we are short-changing them a bit. In addition to selecting Hall of Famer Randy White in the first round, Dallas obtained eleven other rookies to make the team out of camp, including eight who were regular starters for at least one season.

The class was also headlined by LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, DE Pat Donovan, and G Herbert Scott, all of whom made the Pro Bowl.

2. 1989

Best Pick: Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA (First Overall)

The Cowboys’ 1989 draft will be remembered for the selection of Troy Aikman as the first overall pick. The importance of hitting on this pick cannot be overstated as, had Dallas missed, it is not crazy to believe the team would currently own only two Super Bowl victories. Instead, Aikman was a HOF player sandwiched between two others in the preceding and following drafts, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. With Smith getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall, the trio will be immortalized together in Canton forever.

The selection of Aikman alone may have been enough for this ’89 class to make our top ten list, but the Cowboys also obtained four other Pro Bowl players who were a vital part of their ’92, ’93, and ’95 championship seasons: guard Steve Wisniewski, fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston, center Mark Stepnoski, and defensive end Tony Tolbert.

1. 1964

Best Pick: Roger Staubach, QB, Navy (10th Round)

The #1 ranked Cowboys draft class of all-time is also the second-oldest on this list. Back in 1964, the draft was a ridiculously long 20 rounds. During that season, the Cowboys obtained three Pro Bowl players in round seven or later (Staubach, guard Jake Kupp, and WR “Bullet” Bob Hayes). Of course Staubach became a Hall of Famer, throwing for 153 touchdowns and over 22,000 yards.

Incredibly, Staubach was not the only HOF player from the 1964 draft. In the second round, the Cowboys selected a cornerback out of Oregon named Mel Renfro, perhaps the most underrated player in Cowboys’ history. After 52 career interceptions, Renfro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.

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Grading the ‘Boys, Part III: Running Backs

In Parts I and II of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we analyzed the efficiency of six Cowboys’ offensive linemen in both run blocking and pass protection. In doing so, we attempted to isolate one component of the offense as effectively as possible to determine the worth of individual players.

In reality, of course, offenses are holistic systems. The productivity of each position indirectly affects the ability of players at each other position to properly perform. In the running game, the success of linemen is affected greatly by the talent level of the running backs, and vice versa.

In Part III of our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, we will study the productivity of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. These three players all contributed in different ways and in distinct situations, so we will keep this in mind when analyzing the statistics we gathered from our film study.

Marion Barber was surprisingly ineffective on runs up the middle in 2009.

Notes:

  • In this particular analysis, we will grade each running back on four components: short-yardage running, overall running, receiving, and pass protection.
  • The four components of the overall grade are not all equal. They will be weighted 15/45/20/20, respectively.
  • All totals include the playoffs.
  • As always, the best stats are circled in blue, the worst in red.

Grades

  • Marion Barber

Short-Yardage Running: D-

Barber had by far the lowest average on the team on runs up the middle and in short-yardage situations, averaging just 2.8 yards-per-carry and converting a ridiculously low 56.0 (14 for 25) percent of the time with just one yard to go (for either a first down or a touchdown). His yards after contact and number of broken tackles were both down significantly from prior seasons.

Would you have guessed Felix Jones led the team in broken tackles?

Overall Running: C

Barber was more effective on draws and counters than in short-yardage situations. His 4.2 average was mediocre, but he did carry the ball a lot more in these short-yardage and goal-to-go scenarios. He still scored seven touchdowns, but only about once every 29 carries.

Receiving: B

Barber was again solid in the passing game, although his receptions decreased due to the presence of both Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Barber does an excellent job of disguising his intentions on screen passes.

Pass Protection: B

Marion gave up the most sacks of any running back (three), but he was also on the field during pass plays about twice as much as the other backs. He does a great job of taking on defenders much larger than him, usually coming out on top.

Overall Grade: 77.2 (C+)

  • Felix Jones

Short-Yardage Running: B+

Despite not receiving a lot of short-yardage carries (five), Felix Jones converted on them 100.0 percent of the time. His runs up the middle, which may be more indicative of his short-yardage abilities than such a small sample size, is still solid at 4.1 yards-per-carry. It is hard to relate this number to Barber’s, though, because Barber had more short-yardage runs up the middle which would have decreased his average.

Overall Running: A

Jones really displayed his value to the Cowboys in 2009. He averaged a ridiculous 6.2 yards-per-carry, including 220 yards on 22 counters. He also surprisingly led the team in yards after contact and broken tackles.

Receiving: B

Jones’ receiving numbers were solid, but with his explosiveness, we would expect them to be a bit higher. They should increase next season, particularly with teams focusing in on the run when he is in the game.

Pass Protection: B

We think Jones is underrated in pass protection. He gave up one sack on the season, but he is rather good at an aspect of his game which most believe is his biggest weakness.

Overall Grade: 89.8 (A-)

  • Tashard Choice

Short-Yardage Running: B+

It is difficult to grade this aspect of Choice’s game. He was a respectable 5 for 7 in short-yardage situations and also led the team (by a lot) with a 5.8 yards-per-carry average on runs up the middle. However, he averaged only 1.9 yards after contact and broke just three tackles all season.

Felix Jones was incredible on counter runs, averaging 10.0 yards per attempt.

Overall Running: B

Choice averaged 5.0 yards-per-rush on the season, with a large chunk of his rushing yards coming from the Wildcat formation. It seemed like he was more comfortable taking the direct snap than on other runs, as he was worst on the team in both counter and draw average. His 5.1 percent touchdown rate led the squad.

Receiving: B+

Choice led the team in reception average, which you would expect out of your third-down back. He isn’t incredibly fast or strong, but just solid in all aspects of the game.

Pass Protection: A-

Choice really has done an excellent job in pass protection since his rookie season. According to our film study, he didn’t allow a sack all season.

Overall Grade: 87.3 (B+)

Final Running Back Rankings

1. Felix Jones: 89.8 (A-)

2. Tashard Choice: 87.3 (B+)

3. Marion Barber: 77.2 (C+)

A lot of fans are calling for the Cowboys to trade Marion Barber. Other than the fact that his contract makes this basically impossible, we don’t think it would be a smart move. Barber still has his place on the team. If the ‘Boys would trade any of their backs, they would turn a positional strength into a possible weakness. The team would be just one injury shy of having only one experienced running back on the roster. Three good running backs is certainly a luxury, but it also is an important component in the success of the Dallas offense.

So how should Jason Garrett alter how he utilizes each of these players in 2010? First, Barber needs to get fewer carries. He received 54.3 percent of the regular-season rushes in ’09, with Jones garnering 29.5 percent and Choice 16.2 percent. In 2010, we would advise the following breakdown:

  • Felix Jones: 50 percent
  • Tashard Choice: 30 percent
  • Marion Barber: 20 percent

Some may argue that we would be giving up on Barber too quickly, but now is not the time to wait on players. The Cowboys are built to win now, and the most productive players should play.

These percentages could be attained by starting Jones and letting him play two series for each of Tashard Choice’s one. We would also use Tashard Choice on short-yardage runs, including a bit more Wildcat. Barber would come in to spell Jones and Choice, particularly on third down, and to finish games out. In baseball, closers are only successful because they haven’t pitched all game. The same is true for Marion Barber. By saving his energy, he could effectively return to the “closer” role, creating the most efficient Dallas Cowboys backfield possible.

In our next “Grading the ‘Boys” segment, we will analyze the productivity of the cornerbacks.

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Why Dallas Should Push for Reggie Bush

Bush's versatility means he would not take the place of Barber, Jones, or Choice, but simply add versatility and overall playmaking ability to the team as a "slash" player.

In our original Draft Needs article we profiled the top five Cowboys’ offseason positional needs. Heading that list was a playmaking return man. While the Cowboys could benefit from getting younger at a few spots (LT, ILB), there are no major weaknesses among the 22 offensive and defensive starting positions.

The same cannot be said for both the punt and kick returner spots, whose impact on a football game can be overwhelming. The Cowboys ranked sixth in punt return average (10.9 yards per return) with Patrick Crayton receiving the bulk of the work, but that average was largely skewed by two return touchdowns. It is tough to say whether or not the Cowboys still would have scored had another returner been back deep, but either way it is quite easy to notice that Crayton lacks the quickness and burst an elite punt returner generally possesses.

The kick return combination was comprised of two young players whose impact on offense has been greater than that in the return game: Felix Jones and Kevin Ogletree. Felix in particular has obviously shown uncanny acceleration and quickness on offense, but his mindset on kick returns has not been comparable. He appeared hesitant and unwilling to stick his nose into traffic, and it resulted in the Cowboys ranking just 20th in the league in kick return average at 22.0 yards per return.

Dallas obviously felt uneasy about both return positions after week five, when they signed return specialist Allen Rossum. Rossum got hurt on his first return against Atlanta and subsequently released, but the point was made. Perhaps this turn of events gave Crayton the motivation he needed to pick up his game, but we still maintain Dallas’ two return touchdowns were more a result of excellent blocking than Crayton’s ability to create plays.

There are definitely capable return guys in the draft, making that an option for the ‘Boys, but why take the chance you do not get who you want? This team is a few game-breaking plays away from becoming a Super Bowl team, and current Saints’ slash player Reggie Bush has a proven track record in the role of “game-breaker.” Who remembers this Monday-nighter two seasons ago when Bush’s return abilities completely changed the landscape of the contest?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrcwZReA-X4]

Can anyone honestly say that those are plays that Patrick Crayton is capable of making? Crayton has above-average vision and is a safe option, but safe does not win championships.

The most common criticism we have been receiving when discussing the possibility of obtaining Bush is that the team is already stacked at running back and does not need, or have room, to sign another. Those concerns are absolutely justified, but not necessarily a problem because Reggie is more than just a running back (perhaps not even a running back at all). In fact, the Cowboys, in our opinion, would still receive a proper return on their investment if they used Bush solely as a returner.

Kim Kardashian comes as a package deal, and could possibly take over for Flozell at left tackle.

The former USC star’s ability extends far beyond returning, however, so his impact would not be limited to just special teams. He has shown the ability to line up out wide and make plays in the passing game, maybe even more so than when he lines up in the traditional running back spot. Perhaps the Saints used Reggie incorrectly. He is not a running back. He is an athlete, a playmaker.

Thus, we propose that the Cowboys do everything possible to acquire Reggie Bush. He would basically take the spot of the aging Crayton, but with more versatility. Imagine it now: #25, Cowboys punt returner, kick returner, slot receiver, running back, water boy, mascot, PLAYMAKER, REGGIE BUSH! He can do it all.

Of course, all of this is contingent on the Saints releasing Bush. Impossible? There were talks about Bush’s release months ago already, so it remains to be seen whether his improved playoff play will result in his stay in New Orleans. The Saints will likely ask Bush to take a pay cut, as he is due $8 million next season. If he does not accept and hits the open market, there should be no player higher on the Cowboys’ wish list.

And for those who are not yet on board, remember, the Kardashian sisters come as a package deal.