2015 NFL COMBINE: Pounding Ground–The ‘boys big on balance | The Boise State back | Loaded–10 running backs within Top-100 prospects | Bonus Audio

The Shoulders of DeMarco Murray

There are few running backs who could have done what DeMarco Murray did last season in Dallas, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones understands that. 

That does not mean there won’t be a very intricate dance when it comes to Murray’s next contract, though, especially when age, mileage and cost are all factored in.

In the meantime, Murray seems prepared to keep his hopes and intentions quiet.

“Obviously I think they want me here,” Murray said. “I want to be here. It’s just finding the … just what helps them, what helps me. Things like that. I think both sides want to be here, so I think we’ll see where it goes.”

On one hand, Murray doesn’t sound like he’s ruled out Dallas, even after balking at the framework of an initial deal. It still makes sense for him to test free agency, given the lack of quality running backs on the market.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about respect, and I think different people show their appreciation in different ways,” Murray said. “I don’t need a pat on the back. I don’t need someone telling me how good I am on a constant basis and whatnot like that. I understand my value, so to speak, and I understand what I bring to the table.”


THE STAGE IS SET: Loaded Draft & Murray’s contract feed speculation


INDIANAPOLIS – DeMarco Murray’s future in Dallas isn’t going to be decided during the course of the NFL Combine, but it certainly sets the stage for speculation.

The talking points about Murray’s contract negotiations have been beaten into the ground, and they don’t need to be re-examined here. The scene at Lucas Oil Stadium creates an interesting juxtaposition, though. Because as the Cowboys work on deciding whether to reward Murray with a second contract, they are surrounded by the very best of this year’s crop of younger, cheaper replacements.

“Every year you scout and evaluate, like every position, the runners that are out there, whether it’s free agency or the draft,” said Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who may also need to replace a Pro Bowl running back this spring. “I personally think this is a pretty good running back group this year.”

Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman and Jay Ajayi are just some of the headliners in what appears to be a loaded running back class. If the Cowboys do part ways with Murray, running back becomes a big position of need – a need they could decide to fill as early as No. 27 overall in the draft. “I think you’ll probably find if you really look at it, that running the football is an important part of all championship-type teams,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Wednesday. But that raises another question about the value of running backs in the NFL. If the Cowboys aren’t willing to reward Murray with a handsome contract, will they be willing to draft his replacement as early as the first round?

Since Trent Richardson was taken third overall in 2012, no running back has gone higher than No. 37 in the subsequent two drafts. Even other first-round backs in recent years, like Mark Ingram in 2011 and Doug Martin and David Wilson in 2012 have been late picks – Ingram went 28th, Martin went 31st and Wilson went 32nd.

“It’s a passing league, but it’s hard to say it’s a devalued position,” Gordon said. “I guess teams just go with the picks they actually need – I don’t know. I don’t know the thoughts going through their head. Maybe they didn’t feel the running backs the last couple years were first-round talent.”

Gordon, who racked up an absurd 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns in his final year with Wisconsin, is one of the poster boys for a potential first-round running back this year. He’s a guy that plenty have pegged as a possible Day 1 replacement should Murray leave town – a guy that can simply be plugged into the system.

Garrett took issue with the concept of “plugging” someone in, however – he said he disliked the term. For all the skill of the Cowboys’ vaunted offensive line, Garrett has gone out of his way to praise Murray’s durability and physicality on the way to his 1,845-yard season.

“The runner does matter,” he said. “I think we’ve all seen that running backs don’t seem to be drafted quite as high as they used to. I think that has a lot to do with the longevity of the player. But I do think the value of the running back is really, really critical to having a great running football team.” This past season helped prove Garrett’s point. Murray and the Dallas ground game carried the Cowboys to an unexpected division title, while Seattle rode Marshawn Lynch’s punishing running to a second-straight Super Bowl appearance. That isn’t lost on this newest batch of running backs. Nearly to a man, this year’s Combine invitees mentioned Murray and Lynch, and they spoke about being encouraged by the number of power run teams and workhorse backs around the league today.
“I think there’s a resurgence of running backs,” Ajayi said. “Just looking at this class of running backs that we have in this draft class, I think this is a very strong class and I think for the years to come that the NFL is going to see a rise in the new running back class.”

It could start this year. Gordon and Gurley are often spoken of as first-round picks. Coleman and Ajayi are widely considered second-to-third round selections, depending on the run-up to the draft at the end of April. It’s worth remembering that Murray, whose worth is being so hotly debated, was a third-round pick, going No. 71 overall to the Cowboys in 2011.

It’s an interesting thought, considering Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones’ comments about evaluating Murray just two days ago. On Tuesday, Jones said the Cowboys will leave no stone unturned in assessing what their offer will be for their All-Pro’s services.

“There are a lot of things we have to evaluate before we make the ultimate decision as to what our number is going to be with DeMarco versus what some other’s number may be,” he said.

If the value of retaining Murray is too high, it will be interesting to see what type of value the Cowboys assign to his replacement.


COWBOYS CONNECTION: Boise State running back Jay Ajayi


INDIANAPOLIS – The storylines are already written up in the event Jay Ajayi winds up a Dallas Cowboy, and they are almost too good to be believed.

In the event the Cowboys need a running back this spring – either as a replacement for DeMarco Murray or perhaps as an insurance policy for Joseph Randle – Ajayi is right in their wheelhouse as a potential second or third-round pick.

Ajayi isn’t a name with the same national recognition as, say, Todd Gurley. But it should sound familiar to football fans in the Dallas area. Ajayi attended high school in Frisco, Texas, at Frisco Liberty High School, where he racked up 2,240 yards as a senior.

“Growing up, watching the Cowboys and watching the way Emmitt Smith ran, how great of a running back he was, it really motivated me to just try to do great things just like him,” he said.

It wasn’t destined to be a storybook Texas career, though. Ajayi said he was recruited by the likes of Baylor, North Texas and TCU coming out of high school, but he didn’t receive in-state scholarship offers. He subsequently wound up at Boise State, where he compiled 3,796 yards and 50 rushing touchdowns in three seasons.

“Just being from Texas, you kind of want to stay in state and have your parents and family be able to watch you play every weekend,” Ajayi said. “But I’m not disappointed with the outcome of my decision of going to Boise State, because we were able to accomplish a lot at Boise State and I’m here today because of that decision.”

The mention of Boise State shouldn’t be lost on any Cowboys fans who follow the draft. Much like Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have shown quite a tendency for drafting Boise State Broncos in recent years. It began in 2008 when they drafted Orlando Scandrick in the fifth round, and they followed that up by selecting Tyrone Crawford No. 81 overall in 2012.

Last spring, the Cowboys traded up to draft Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence – who Ajayi said is a close friend – at the 34th spot. Ajayi said the Cowboys’ draft preferences haven’t gone unnoticed in Boise.

“It feels good to know that teams like the Cowboys really enjoy drafting Boise State guys,” he said. “They know that they’re well coached guys, guys who go into work every day that will grind for your team and will do their job. It’s cool. We talk about how so many of our Boise State guys are on the Cowboys. We talk about it.”

If the Cowboys need a replacement for Murray, Ajayi certainly fits the bill. His Combine weigh-in puts him at 6-0, 221 pounds, and he’s proven he can carry the load. Much like Murray, Ajayi was Boise State’s bell cow, as he carried the ball 398 times in 2014. “To be able to be on the field three downs you have to be good enough running the ball on first and second down and being capable of picking up blitzes on third down, catching the ball out of the backfield on third down. That’s where a lot of these games are won — converting on those third downs and getting more first downs. You have to find running backs who are able to do that.”


NFL DRAFT 2015: Top Ranked Running Backs


RANK

PLAYER

POS.

POS. RANK

SCHOOL

CLASS

HT.

WT.

PROJECTED

21

*Melvin Gordon

RB

1

Wisconsin

rJr

6-1

215

1

22

*Todd Gurleyclip_image001

RB

2

Georgia

Jr

6-1

222

1

47

Ameer Abdullah

RB

3

Nebraska

Sr

5-9

205

2

52

*Jay Ajayi

RB

4

Boise State

rJr

6-0

221

2

56

*Duke Johnson

RB

5

Miami (Fla.)

Jr

5-9

207

2

60

*Tevin Colemanclip_image001[1]

RB

6

Indiana

Jr

5-11

206

2

77

*T.J. Yeldon

RB

7

Alabama

Jr

6-1

226

2-3

80

*Mike Davis

RB

8

South Carolina

Jr

5-9

217

2-3

88

David Cobb

RB

9

Minnesota

Sr

5-11

229

3

93

David Johnson

RB

10

Northern Iowa

rSr

6-1

224

3


Hey! Don’t forget these guys!


RANK

PLAYER

POS.

POS. RANK

SCHOOL

CLASS

HT.

WT.

PROJECTED

153

Jalston Fowler

FB

1

Alabama

rSr

5-11

254

4-5

169

Tyler Varga

FB

2

Yale

Sr

5-11

222

5

221

Conner Neighbors

FB

3

LSU

rSr

5-10

242

6-7

247

Zach Zenner

FB

4

South Dakota State

rSr

5-11

223

7

279

Hunter Joyer

FB

5

Florida

Sr

5-11

232

7-FA

289

Zach Zwinak

FB

6

Penn State

rSr

6-1

233

7-FA

304

Joey Iosefa

FB

7

Hawaii

rSr

6-0

247

7-FA

329

Aaron Ripkowski

FB

8

Oklahoma

Sr

6-1

255

7-FA

339

Mark Weisman

FB

9

Iowa

Sr

6-0

240

7-FA


HEAR FOR YOURSELF: Bonus MP3 Audio Download


Dallas Cowboys Today: Running Backs Impressive At The Podium (Download/Listen) Bryan and David discuss some of the standouts on the podium at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

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