Blog Entry

Draft Breakdown by Position: Runningback

Posted on: February 9, 2010 7:18 pm
{ Reprint }

Next up in my position by position analysis of the Cowboys is the offensive backfield.  

The Dallas Cowboys finished 7th in the league in total yards rushing with 2103 yards despite being only 17th in attempts on the year with 436.  They were tied for 2nd in the league with Carolina at 4.8 yards per carry, only behind Tennessee at 5.2. 

The Cowboys boast what many feel are the best stable of backs in the NFL. And from the sound of the chatter from The Ranch, the team is not looking to make major changes to the Roster or Coaching Staff even if they do alter the exact balance of the rushing attack.  


Marion Barber  6'0 222  RB  Minnesota
    5 years 

In 2007, Marion Barber took 204 carries for 975 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 4.8 yards per carry and earned himself a Pro Bowl berth and a 6 year contract extension following the season - despite not starting a game during the regular season.  In 2008 with the departure of Julius Jones, Barber became the club's starting running back. He was closing in on his first 1,000-yard season before a dislocated toe on Thanksgiving Day slowed his progress thru the final 4 games. 2009 Barber gained 932 yards on 214 carries and 7 td's with a 4.4 yards per carry, and again was plagued by injuries for much of the season - good for 17th in the league.  

Barber is a fine player. His bruising style earned him the name 'The Barbarian' but at the beginning of the season, he looked quicker than he had since I've seen him in a Cowboy uniform. But once again, injuries caught up to him yet again; though he only held out of one game.  Barber is a  consistent +4 yards per carry back who maintains his avg thru every down and distance  

In 2008, 7 year 45 million dollar contract with a 12 million dollar signing bonus.   

Felix Jones 6'0 218 RB  Arkansas
   2 years 

Felix Jones was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with their first round pick (22nd overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. Felix added another versatile weapon to the club's offensive arsenal. Jones arrived in Dallas no stranger to sharing time in the backfield after sharing time with the overall 4th pick Darren McFadden in Arkansas. Jones, complemented Marion Barber in a two-running back system and showed flashes of his explosiveness and versatility gaining 266 yards on 30 carries for an 8.9 yards per carry before injuries landed him on Reserve/Injured. Jones became the first club rookie to score a touchdown in his first three professional games with an 11-yard touchdown run on his first career carry, a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the home opener followed by a 60-yard touchdown rush in Week 3.  

In 09 Jones gained 685 yards on 116 carries and 5.9 yards per carry.  He again showed the explosiveness but also, though he missed 2 games to injury, quieted critiques putting on a display of tough running between the tackles as well.  

Jones was also meant to be the teams return specialist. 2008 started with the Cowboy staff not wanting to risk him in the duty. But when they decided the team need that burst and allowed him to do it, he did not disappoint.  He gained 16 times for 434 yards and a touchdown with a 27 yard avg.  2009 would not be the same. Felix seemed very tentative in 2009. On 30 attempts he only gained 678 yards for a 22.6 yard avg. well below expectations and not worth the risk of injury to its most explosive back.   

Expect the Cowboys to seek out a return specialist for both kick-offs and punt returns in the 2010 draft. 

Felix signed a 5 year 10.525 million dollar contract that keeps him a Cowboy thru 2013 when he will be an Unrestricted Free Agent.   

Tashard Choice  5'10 212, RB  Georgia Tech
   2 years 

Tashard was the second running back drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2008 NFL Draft in the fourth round (122nd overall). With injuries to both Marion Barber and Felix Jones during the 2008 season, Choice seamlessly stepped into the spotlight at running back during the second half of the year. In 2009, Choice teamed with both Barber and Jones to form one of the most feared rushing trios in the NFL. TC was the lead back in the team 'Razerback' formation and also the primary back on 3rd downs.  In 2008 Tashard rushed 92 times for 472 ( 5.1 ) and only 64 times for 349 ( 5.5 ) in 09.  For his career he has 36 catches for 317 yards for an 8.8 avg. 

Choice adds another game-breaking talent to the Dallas backfield after leading the ACC in rushing through his final two collegiate seasons, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since Thomas Jones (Virginia, 1998-99). As he demonstrated last season, he not only will be called upon out of the backfield, but will also be featured as a valuable asset on special teams units. 

Tashard signed a 4 year 2.15 million dollar contract that keeps him a Cowboy thur 2012 when he will be a Restricted Free Agent.  


Deon Anderson 5'10 246, FB  Connecticut
  3 years 

Deon Anderson entrenched himself as the team's starting fullback for years to come after a much improved second season that saw him successfully block for Dallas' talented trio of running backs in 2008. On the year, he had his first career rush and his first career touchdown on a one-yard catch. He originally took over as the Cowboys starting fullback in only his third career game in 2007, making the most of an opportunity that was made possible when Oliver Hoyte went down with a neck injury. Anderson remained the starter until tearing his right rotator cuff during the eighth game of his rookie season. He will continue in his role as the lead blocker and on special teams 


The Cowboys have a problem, albeit a 'good' problem. They have a runningback who they paid a lot of money to who's been injured each of his last 2 years but have 2 excellent backs who he shares the backfield with whom it seemed often times the Coaching Staff refused to start ahead of him.  I say 'good problem' because there remedy for that is pretty simple.  If a back is hurt, DONT PLAY HIM!  

All of the back bring a little something different to the table.  Barber, while not 'slow' has a punishing running style that sets a tone for our rushing attack.   

Felix is a home run hitter - explosive; but shows he can "hit for avg" as well.  Jones is equally effective between the tackles as out side but the Cowboys feel they should limit his touches to around 15 a game. 

Choice has many of the skills that Emmitt Smith did.  He's quick, strong, tough to tackle, but most importantly he has a high football IQ and knows how to run the ball - situational football. 

In 2010, I expect some alteration in the division of carries.  I expect to see a bit more of Choice, and a bit less of Marion while Felix carries to remain about the same.    


It's clear that runningback is not a pressing need in 2010, but that having been said, there is one player I think the Cowboys should target, pursue, and bag. C.J. Spiller.  I did a full thread and poll on C.J. and it seems about 50/50 for those that agree with me.  For those that don't I'll give a brief overview as to why I think he would be excellent fit. 

The biggest concern for most on the Thread was the cost it would require... 'too much'.... to move up to get him, and (2) the Cowboys don't "need" a running back.  

Here's why I feel he would be well worth the price and the position:  

My Pick

C.J. Spiller 5'11 195  "Rb / Rs / Slot"

- 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year
- #1 player in Florida
- #1 all-purpose running back
- 4.28 ~ 40 yards  6.58 ~ 60   10.29 ~ 100 

Spiller numbers size up like this: 

216 Rushes for 1212 yards 12 TD's for a 5.6 avg in a tough ACC
36 Catches for 503 yards and 4 TD's with a 14.0 yard avg;
14 Punt Returns for 210 and a TD for a 15.0 avg w/ a long of 77;
23 Kick Returns for 755, 4 TD's for a 33 avg w/ a long of 96; 
21 TD's over 50 yards  

This is what Jerry refers to as the "WOW" factor I think he will be looking for in the draft with the Cowboys hosting the Super Bowl in 2010. Spiller most certainly provides that.

How we move up the estimated 15 picks it will take to get C.J. I go in depth on in other threads.  The cost would be well worth it. Now I don't see the need to cut or trade a back to get this done.  Between kickoff returns, about 40 to 50 per season, and punts returns, about 40, that's 80 to 90 touches on special teams for Spiller.  

The Cowboys Rushed 436 times in 09 - about 27 a game.  If I were in charge, this would increase to about 450 to 465 or 30 to 31 a game.
My run chart break down: 

Barber/Choice 20  Who ever is hotter and healthier.
Jones 8
Spiller 2 

The majority of Spillers touches would come in the passing game with short to intermediate routes.  

The same routes that would have kept the Viking pass rush off Romo but which in the hands players like both Spiller and Jones can be home runs.  

( See the play to AP against the Vikings that beat the Cowboys when they needed a stop  ) 

My NFL Projections for Spiller

40 kick returns 28.0 avg. -->  1120 yards 
40 punt returns 14.0 avg. --> 560 yards 
32 rushes  8.0 avg. -->  480 yards 
40 receptions  14.0 --> 560 yards  

I see C.J. taking over much of Patrick Crayton's production in the slot with more home run potential. He presents huge match-up problems much like Felix does.   If you are a coordinator and both these guys are on the field along with Witten, Bennett ( another huge match-up problem if Garrett would use him ) and Miles, what do you do? For a creative coordinator, the possibilities are endless.  


CJ Spiller  RB  Clemson


 Round 1


CJ is a quick, fast RB who has worked hard to improve his athletic talent and leadership skills the last few years.  He is a smart player who understands situation football.  CJ has the strength to run through the tackles but his biggest strength is out in space where he can use his quickness and world-class speed.  He does a good job catching the ball and runs with good balance and lean when running between the tackles.  CJ does a good job blocking and picking up the blitz and looks to be an excellent team player. 

In addition, he is a weapon on special teams.  He has improved his play on the field every year and I believe he will continue to improve his level of play in the NFL.  CJ has the potential to be an impact player because of his work ethic and natural explosive abilities and speed. 


CJ is at a crossroads as far as impacting at the next level as a possible every down player or simply a specialty player.  If he can improve catching the ball down the field like a WR consistently he will be a huge asset.  He holds the ball out when he is running in the open. He must take better care of the ball.   If CJ can stay on the field every down and be moved around the offense from the backfield, to the slot, to the WR position, he becomes a very dangerous weapon that that will be a matchup nightmare. 


CJ could have the same impact in his first year as Chris Johnson had his first year for the Tennessee Titans or Percy Harvin had in Minnesota. CJ must improve on catching the ball down the field or his impact will dissipate in the following years because every time CJ comes into the game, his opponents will know that he is getting the ball and be able to key on him. 

All that being said, CJ is a 1st round talent because he can impact right away on special teams.   I like this kid a lot because I think he will work on his hands down the field and make himself into an every down player instead of just a specialty player.  He has the talent, work ethic and football intelligence to be something special.  Therefore, if your offense needs a kick in the hindquarters from an impact player who will impact special teams right away and, in the years to come, become a impact every down player, I suggest you draft CJ because he will be just that.  

Drew Boylhart 12/09

for those who have questions about the catching ablity see 5+

Category: NFL Draft
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