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Running Back Isn’t a Big Need

Staff Blog - Staff Wars: Cowboys Must Stay With Darren McFadden

Dallas Cowboys

Running Back Isn’t a Big Need

I seem to be in the minority when it comes to my analysis of the Cowboys’ running back position. All around me are people clamoring for a big free agent signing or a high draft pick, even the fourth overall, to add more ball-carrying talent. I’m not on the same page with most of you.

Let’s set the table with some facts, shall we?

  • Darren McFadden was the 4th-leading in the NFL last year, only 27 yards behind Todd Gurley at #3.
  • McFadden was a backup for one-third of the season, getting just about seven carries per game until taking over in Week 6.
  • As a team, the Cowboys had the 9th-best total rushing yardage and 5th-best yards-per-carry.
  • This strong rushing production came despite the absence of a passing threat in our offense.

Somehow, McFadden’s value is getting summarily dismissed.  Fans are overly focused on the shiny new cars on the lot and have, in my opinion, lost perspective on just much actual need there is at the position. Given Dallas’ issues throughout the roster, people need to take a step back and consider just where resources will be best spent.

Now I can buy some arguments against trusting McFadden. As a Raider his career was marked with strong years followed by injury-plagued ones. McFadden got more touches in 2015 than in any other season and turns 29 in August. There is legitimate cause for concern.

But where I see a need for some added insurance, others are wanting a total overhaul of a position. They perceive necessity where I’m seeing luxury.

Free Agency

Cowboys Headlines - Running Back Isn't a Big NeedI can understand the attractiveness of signing a guy like Miami’s Lamar Miller. He turns just 25 in April and has a skill set that seems to suit our offense well. But Miller will be one of the top two free agent running backs in next week’s market along with Doug Martin, driving his price way up. Is that money well spent?

Another name you hear a lot is Matt Forte from Chicago. He’s a year-and-a-half older than McFadden and wasn’t nearly as productive last year. Why is he an upgrade?

This isn’t to say Dallas doesn’t need free agents. I’d be all for adding someone like Alfred Morris or Bobby Rainey, guys who will come at a discount for the production they could offer if needed. I’d even be okay if Dallas wanted to bring back Robert Turbin for that role.

Where I can get on board is the notion that we have to upgrade from McFadden. He put up top-five production in two-thirds of the time. Cowboys game broadcasts are some of the highest-rated in the whole NFL, so how come nobody else saw it?

The Draft

The other big push for an upgrade is draft-focused, with some even suggesting Dallas should use their fourth-overall pick on a running back. No matter how much you like some of this year’s prospects, the history of highly-drafted running backs should concern you.

In the last ten years only Trent Richardson, Reggie Bush, and our own McFadden were taken in the top five. None of them ever lived up to that status.

If we expand to the Top 10 then the list includes Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, and Todd Gurley. Peterson has certainly lived up and Gurley had a fantastic rookie year. But overall that’s just 33% success rate on running backs taken in the Top 10, and that’s only if we assume Gurley is going to remain a star player.

Cowboys Headlines - Running Back Isn't a Big Need 1You’re not wrong if you like what Ezekiel Elliott or some other top prospect offers. However, you have to look back at that list of disappointments and remember that they were all “future stars” at one point. The odds that one of these guys will be the next Adrian Peterson are far slimmer than draft hype and excitement lead you to believe.

To be fair, one reason for the low success rate is that the teams drafting guys in the Top 10 are usually not very good. They may not have the best offensive lines or passing games to allow these young runners to thrive. Dallas is in a unique position because Tony Romo‘s injury forced them down the standings despite having a solid infrastructure.

If top defensive prospects like Jalen Ramsey or Joey Bosa are taken in the top three then I can live with Dallas trading down to snag a running back in the first round. It would be the ultimate insurance policy against a down year for McFadden and set you up nicely for the future. But it certainly shouldn’t be “Plan A” for their draft approach given other roster needs.

Buyer Beware

Bottom line; McFadden isn’t getting the respect his 2015 performance deserves. Given our issues and needs on defense, we need to be careful how we spend cap space and use draft picks elsewhere. Luxuries are great when you can afford them, but Dallas isn’t all that luxurious right now.

“Buyer beware” is often said when it comes to the quality of the intended purchase but can also be said about the responsibility of the buyer. Desperation after a down year can lead to mistakes. New found financial flexibility can cause reversion to old habits, spending too much in the present without an eye on the future.

The Cowboys can’t go back to their old ways. Otherwise, you can plan on the same old results.

Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

5 Comments
  • http://www.pigskinhub.com/forum/index.php?forums/dallas-cowboys/ Jess Haynie

    I know this won't be the most popular opinion out there, especially with you in the #MillertoDallas club. So let's talk it out!

    Come at me, bros! 😉

  • http://PigskinHub.com Zac Fields

    I think with Lamar Miller, you're banking on potential and in fact you're actually going to end up paying for potential. He's durable, has a very solid career YPC. You'd be hoping that he could come to Dallas behind this offensive line and start cranking out 1,500-yard seasons (which is something he hasn't done yet).

    I can get on board with the idea that he could be good, but I think somebody is going to pay him $5+ million per season and I'm not sure I can get on board with that.

    I think McFadden teamed up with a drafted rookie would be perfect.

  • Corey

    Booker from University of Utah would be an excellent fit for the Cowboys.

  • http://PigskinHub.com Zac Fields

    Can we also just take a moment to appreciate the Darren McFadden signing from last year?

    When he was signed, there was an eye-roll all across Cowboys Nation because everyone thought "Oh, there goes that silly Jerry Jones again reaching for his Arkansas boys."

    Personally, I think it has turned out to be a brilliant signing. McFadden makes peanuts compared to what they'd have had to pay DeMarco Murray (DMC counted $1 million against the cap last year, $2 million this year) and if they had started him from Day One, he'd have easily had 1,400-1,500 yards last year. Even now, I don't think people appreciate enough how great of a signing that was.

    Like Jess says in his article, I think the Cowboys have a very RB-friendly offense right now with this offensive line. We just need a guy who can excel in a zone scheme, which really just means he has to be patient and be able to see the holes. I've brought up this comparison MANY times in the past, but look at the 90's (and early 2000's) Denver Broncos. Same zone scheme the Cowboys run today, and they just plugged guys in and ran their wheels off. I think they had 5-6 different 1,000 yard rushers.

    The Cowboys could be looking to emulate that. It certainly frees up your cap space for other positions.

  • Randy Martin

    You are spot on Jess. Thanks for the good read.

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