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2011 Draft Positional Series: Running Backs

Heading into last season one position deemed to be of great strength was running back. With the “three-headed monster” of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice, leading the charge, the Cowboys were expected to run the ball over their opposition. Well, the season didn’t pan out that way. After struggling the first half of the season the Cowboys running game was one of the areas receiving the criticism. While the Cowboys are unlikely to use their number 9 overall pick in this year’s draft on a running back, we are going to break down the position and see who is available regardless.

Marion Barber – The rumors out there are that Barber, likely, won’t be back with the Cowboys next season. It is expected, if/when the CBA is finalized the Cowboys will release their workhorse back. “The Barbarian” has been anything but in recent seasons. In the last two season it seems that Barber’s bruising style has caught up with him. He has seemed a step slower, and has fought injuries the last two years. The last half of the season there was a turnaround though. It seemed Barber was running with a renewed purpose, but with far less carries. If Barber is let go or dealt, that would open up a need for the Cowboys.

Felix Jones – Jones had a mediocre season last year. Much was expected of “the Cat”, but Jones faced the same demise as Barber. The team was unable to run the ball consistently no matter who was back there. While Jones took over the starting position, it was because of his “breakaway” ability that he rarely demonstrated last season. Jones did put up 800 yards while sharing the load in the backfield, but he suffered a career worst 4.3 yards/carry average. While he had his best games near the end of the season, he and the Cowboys know they will need more out of their “homerun threat” next year.

Tashard Choice – Choice had a season to forget last year. It started with the debacle in Washington in week 1 right before halftime when Choice fumbled and allowed DeAngelo Hall to score a touchdown as the half expired. It seemed he payed for that mistake for most of the season. Choice got splinters from all the pine that he rode last year. When Garrett took over, things changed for Choice and he reappeared when Barber went out with some injuries. He reminded the Cowboys about why he was there and may have made the option to let Barber go viable. Look for Choice to push for much more playing time next year.

Lonyae Miller – Miller is an enigma. The Cowboys saw some potential in the back last year, but he rarely showed anyone else. Miller didn’t wow during the preseason and made only special teams appearances during the season. While he was a standout at Fresno State, the undrafted rookie made an impression on someone to stay around. He will be back to compete, but is unlikely to stick around.

Chris Gronkowski – While Gronkowski made the obvious blunder that cost Romo his season, that was about the only obvious mistake the rookie made. Gronkowski stepped up and filled in for Deon Anderson perfectly. The Cowboys are excited about his future and versatility. He is a good blocker and receiver and will hold down the fullback position next year.

2011 Draft Prospects:

1. Mark Ingram – Alabama – 5’9, 215 lbs., 4.53 sec 40-yard Time
While the draft class isn’t deep, Ingram is the head of the class. Ingram possess all the tools to come in to the NFL and start. Good size, great leg strength make him quick and tough to bring down. Has NFL vision and awareness and is great out of the backfield. He is dangerous in space and has great movement and burst. Struggles a little with blitz pickup and while quick, he doesn’t possess elite speed. Projected Top 15

2. Mikel Leshoure – Illinois – 6’0, 232 lbs., 4.56 sec
Leshoure is a big, thick, power back. He has a great burst into the second level and while hits with power, also is very elusive. Has great hands and could possibly stay on the field all three downs. He is inexperienced in a NFL offense, and struggles on pass protection. Mikel has a tendency to run high and also has some character concerns that may scare some teams. Projected Late First and Second Round

3. Ryan Williams – Virginia Tech – 5’9, 211 lbs., 4.45 sec
Williams is a quick back that attacks the line of scrimmage. He has good acceleration and decent speed. He can cut on a dime and has good footwork. Williams has decent hands and is great in space. There are questions about his durability and struggles to read the blitz at times. It is very close between Williams and Leshoure. Projected Second Round

Other Prospects and Possible Cowboys Later Round Picks:
1. Daniel Thomas – Kansas St. – 6’0, 228 lbs., 4.60 sec. Projected 2-3
2. Shane Vereen – California – 5’10, 210 lbs., 4.47 sec. Projected 2-3
3. Jordan Todman – UConn – 5’9, 203 lbs., 4.44 sec. Projected 3-4
4. DeMarco Murray – Oklahoma – 6’0, 213 lbs., 4.38 sec. Projected 3-4
5. Kenall Hunter – Oklahoma St. – 5’7, 200 lbs., 4.47 sec. Projected 3-5

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2 Responses to “2011 Draft Positional Series: Running Backs”

  1. Naissa says:

    The entire roster had a crap seaosn last year. I don’t understand why people seem to only be singling out Barber. It was clear that when they played Arizona he still has a pep in his step, same with the Saints. A better O-Line will increase the performance of all three RB’s and I hope JG and JJ realize that their washed up O-Line needs to be fixed before they begin to make any RB roster cuts. If anything, I don’t think MBIII will continue to start as he’s always been more of a smash as a closer, anyway. Let Felix get the yards and Marion get the TD.

    In terms of the contract (let’s all be real, if his contract wasn’t so big, cutting him wouldn’t even be thought of), he really, REALLY needs to step up and prove that he’s worth the numbers he’s signing to. Same can be said with Austin and Williams who both has less than average numbers last season. So again I ask…why single out Barber?

  2. Alex Weston says:

    Thanks for the comment Naissa! You answered your own question in you comment. Barber gets singled out because his contract. I agree that the O-line was horrible. But, anyone that has watched Barber has noticed a distinct difference in the last little while. He is not running with the same purpose and determination. Sure, he shows spurts here and there, and maybe it is our fault for putting so many expectations on him to be the same back the Cowboys rewarded with that contract. I like Barber, I didn’t say he was worse than Jones. Jones had a terrible season as well, as I noted. Jones is just the guy that the Cowboys like to start next season because of his speed and elusiveness. But you are right, if the Cowboys don’t address the line, they won’t be running anywhere next season either.

    As for Austin, not too sure you can call 1,041 yards and 7 td’s average…especially when your tight end pulled in 94 catches and also over 1,000 and 9 td’s. There are only so many balls to go around. I’d say Austin has had 2 pretty successful seasons. Williams….well he gets a lot of heat, and will continue to do so until he starts doing something.

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