Editor: The general consensus is that the Dallas Cowboys needs going into the 2015 NFL Draft are defensive, based on last year’s overall performance and outcome. The offseason loss of DeMarco Murray further complicates the matter by throwing an offensive void into the mix. Factoring in the age of storied veterans Tony Romo and Jason Witten brings more into the equation. Today’s feature is about filling the vacuum of losing last seasons leading rusher and NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Big hole. Big shoes. Big questions.
This years draft is deep at running back and there’s a very likely chance that Dallas will draft one of them. The fly on the wall (in the Dallas Cowboys draft war room) already knows if it’s a move-up for the brand new (but dinged up) Ferrari (Todd Gurley), or if there’s another back that fits the Linehan dream-scheme at a lower pick, or moot because Adrian Peterson is tweeting out his selfie on Jerry Jones’ big screen.
Fans want a pass-rushing defensive lineman, cornerback and safety defensively … and running back and future replacement for Tony Romo offensively.
IRVING, Texas – No position seemed to make more headlines this offseason than the running back spot. The departure of DeMarco Murray created quite a stir around the league. However, the Cowboys quickly filled the spot with Darren McFadden, although the jury is out on if he’ll be the only replacement.
Look for the Dallas Cowboys to keep a close eye on several running backs in the upcoming NFL Draft, but until then, let’s focus on the current tailbacks and fullbacks on the roster.
Darren McFadden | Without a doubt, McFadden is the most experienced running back on this roster with seven years in the NFL. The other three tailbacks have the same amount of years under their belt as McFadden combined.
Plus, we know he once had the home-run hitting speed this team has lacked at tailback, although he hasn’t put it on display for a while.
Still Need To Know If: The Cowboys still need to know if McFadden has some juice left in those legs that ran a 4.33 at the combine back in 2008. That was few years ago, of course, and with his injury history, McFadden hasn’t proven he can be a reliable No. 1 back. Obviously, he hasn’t had the luxury of running behind this star-studded offensive line.
Lance Dunbar | The Cowboys certainly like to get him involved and every year it seems Dunbar’s role will be increased even more. He’s got unique skills with his speed, quickness and his hands out of the backfield.
Still Need To Know If: Dunbar hasn’t been the most consistent player, both health-wise and as a solid contributor. There are games when he has made a difference, but others in which he has been a non-factor. Currently, he hasn’t signed his restricted free agent tender, but it’s likely he will and will return to the mix.
Joseph Randle | Last year, the Cowboys found out that Randle is certainly capable of shining in the backup role. He led the team with a 6.7-yard average and had the Cowboys’ longest run from scrimmage at 65 yards.
Still Need To Know If: Randle’s off-the-field issues have not been resolved, including an incident from February in Wichita, Kan., that potentially could have the running back facing both drug and domestic violence charges. On the field, we saw what he could do as the backup, but the jury is still out on whether he could be a consistent rusher with more touches.
Ryan Williams | We know the Cowboys wanted Williams around last year and it sounded like he had no intentions of going elsewhere, even turning down some offers to get on the 53-man roster for other teams. He showed some flashes in the preseason last year, but not enough to land him on the Cowboys roster.
Still Need To Know If: The Cowboys need to find out if Williams is indeed good enough to make the team. He did some good things late in preseason games, but never got the chance to run behind the Cowboys’ starting line, or against No. 1 defenses. Injuries have plagued him during his career, but at some point Williams needs a shot to prove he can live up the potential of a high-second-round pick.
Promising Prospects – Dallas Depth, Cowboy Competition | NFL Draft: RB
IRVING, Texas – There’s no shortage of needs on the Cowboys’ roster, and several places where they could immediately impact the depth chart with a draft pick.
None of those problem spots will be as high-profile as running back, given the movement around the position in the last month. The Cowboys lost an All-Pro running back in DeMarco Murray, and they replaced him with a former top-10 draft pick in Darren McFadden. There’s also the ever-present speculation that they could acquire a potential Hall of Famer in Adrian Peterson.
With all of that swirling around, there’s also the possibility of the draft, which features a deep class of ball carriers the Cowboys could select to bolster the position. From the first round to the third day of the draft, here are five possibilities for the future of the team’s running back position.
Todd Gurley | Georgia – Gurley is the first and most obvious name listed at the position, as he’s widely regarded as the top running back in the draft. It’s very likely he won’t even be there when the Cowboys pick in the first round, but he would certainly be a factor as a rookie. One interesting twist is that he’s just five months removed from an ACL tear, so it’s hard to say how that will affect his rookie season.
Tevin Coleman | Indiana – Behind Gurley and Melvin Gordon, Coleman is widely regarded as one of several running backs the Cowboys could snag at pick No. 60. He ran for 2,036 yards in 2014, but he is recovering from a foot injury teams will have a close eye on.
Jay Ajayi | Boise State – At this point in the draft process, Ajayi and Coleman might as well be synonyms. Both are capable of playing a major role as rookies, both might be gone by the 60th overall pick. Ajayi rushed for 28 touchdowns for the Broncos last fall.
T.J. Yeldon | Alabama – Given that he played for the Crimson Tide, Yeldon is one of the more well-known running backs coming out of college football, but he looks likely to fall to the third round of the draft – if not further. He’s proven his abilities as a runner, a receiver and a blocker, and he could be a valuable mid-round addition.
Javorius Allen | USC – Allen gets lost in the shuffle in such a talented draft class, but he was a 1,489-yard rusher for the Trojans last year – while adding another 451 receiving yards. He averaged 21 carries per game last season and could be taken as late as the fourth round.
OPTIONS: Brand new fender-bender Ferrari | Todd Gurley still leads the pack
Todd Gurley | Running Back | Georgia | 6-0 / 222 | Age: 20
Honors: After earning All-SEC honors each of his first two seasons, along with a freshman All-American honor, Gurley’s junior season was cut short to just six games. However, with 911 rushing yards, he was still named Georgia’s Offensive MVP by his coaches and teammates.
Key stat: Gurley finished school as the second-leading rusher in Georgia history with 3,285 yards, trailing only Herschel Walker (5,749). His 6.44 average per rush is a Georgia school record and he’s second in school history in 100-yard games with 18.
Projected: Gurley’s draft slot is hard to gauge for a pair of reasons, mainly because of his health concerns after suffering a torn ACL last season after just six games. Don’t forget, running backs haven’t gone in the first round either of the last two years and the last tailback to go high in the first round was Trent Richardson, who has been traded and then released in his first three seasons. Gurley is currently being projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round and probably won’t be around when the Cowboys pick at No. 27.
Cowboys fit: If somehow Gurley were to fall to the Dallas Cowboys, or if they were to trade up a few spots, the former Georgia star would help the offense immediately. Even though the Cowboys signed Darren McFadden and have Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar, a talented player like Gurley would give the offense a boost it lost when DeMarco Murray signed with the Eagles. Gurley has not only breakaway speed but toughness to pick up yards in the trenches. He’s a complete back with game-breaking ability.
Scouting Report: Gurley has a rare combination of power and athletic ability. He’ll see the hole then explode through. Physical runner. Lines up deep in the “I” and takes the ball downhill. Can make the first man miss. Can run thru tackles. Don’t see much extended speed. There are snaps where you see him run down from behind. In the open field he can set defenders up to miss. Defenders feel like they have a shot at him, then he makes a cut and is gone. Has lower body power. Not afraid to cut the ball back. Always going forward. Productive between the tackles. Shows balance through traffic. Will use a stiff arm to keep tacklers off him. Can start into the hole then back up to get out of trouble. Aware player — late in the Clemson game, he got the first down, than stayed in bounds to keep the clock running. Will catch the ball on the check down. Does a nice job of setting up the screen. Will turn the ball up the field. Threw a pass out of “Wild-Cat” to the tight end with his left hand. Will finish runs. Catches plenty of swing passes and screens. Will work man out wide in pass protection. Really nice effort to stay with man. Aware to help on the outside. Will step up and take on. Had a couple of snaps where they asked him to block defensive linemen and he went low. Overall not afraid to stick his nose in the action. Protects the ball. Did not have a fumble during the 2014 season and only three in his entire Georgia career. Had surgery on his left knee in November and is expecting a full recovery. NFL teams will have the opportunity to test the knee in Indianapolis on April 18th for a medical recheck.
OPTIONS: Galloping Gordon is a Game-Breaker | Fits the Linehan dream-scheme
Melvin Gordon | Running Back | Wisconsin | 6-0 / 222 | Age: 22
Honors: The 2014 Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy runner-up, Gordon became the Big Ten all-time leading rusher in a single season with 2,587 yards (second in FBS history) and became the fastest player ever to reach 2,000 yards in a season, hitting the milestone in just 241 carries.
Key stat: For just one week, Gordon held the NCAA’s single-game rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska. Gordon racked up most of his yards that day in just three quarters. Gordon broke TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson’s record of 406 yards, set in 1999. But just a week after thrashing Nebraska, Gordon saw his record fall when Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine went for 427 yards against Kansas.
Projected: Gordon is projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick. The last two years, running backs have escaped the first round but Georgia’s Todd Gurley is expected to go in the top half of the first round. Gordon could also hear his name called on the first night but it’s possible he’s around when the Dallas Cowboys get on the clock at No. 27.
Cowboys fit: He’s a game-breaking back that can take advantage of a dominant offensive line. The Cowboys signed Darren McFadden in free agency to (at least) partially replace DeMarco Murray but still need a front-line back to handle the bulk of the load. Gordon can be that guy but he’s had to wait his turn at Wisconsin, so splitting carries wouldn’t be new. Gordon still needs to develop more as a blocker and pass-catcher, which is why he likely wouldn’t be ready to be an every-down back. But from an explosive standpoint, he’s as good as any back, and any player in this draft.
Scouting Report: One back runner that when he does run behind a blocker it is an “H-Back”. Has the vision to see holes. Can get out of tight spots. Not sure he really has home-run speed. Will usually take a slide step-then start to the ball. Minnesota put ten players in the box and he was still able to make positive runs. Will bounce off tacklers and keep his legs moving. Shows the ability to plant and change direction. Can run thru tacklers. Has a feel for how to follow blocks. Has some start-stop quickness and lateral agility. Plays with balance. Nice lateral agility and body control. Will lower his shoulder and try to finish the run. Shows patience to allow the block to develop then attack the hole. Plays with vision. Can be a creative player with the ball in his hands. Showed good hands to catch swings and screens. Shows moves in the open field. Was used as a chip blocker on the edge. Aware of whom his man is. Not very stout to take on. Technique is poor. Will throw shoulder in there more than hit square. Will cut block off the edge at times. Much better in the Purdue game where he picked up a blitzer square. If he has a big time fault it is that he will put the ball on the ground. Had some fumbles in some key spots during the season. Had seven of them during the season. Could tell that defenders were always trying to rip it away from him. Offensive line at Wisconsin did a nice job of taking care of him with blocking. Didn’t have many games where he really struggled. Could be the first back off the board for teams if they don’t like the medical information on Todd Gurley.
OPTIONS: Complete Coleman Could Compare | Fits the Linehan dream-scheme
Tevin Coleman | Running Back | Indiana | 5-11 / 206 | Age: 22
Honors: A finalist for the Doak Walker and Maxwell Award, Coleman finished seventh in the 2014 Heisman Trophy voting. His 2,036 rushing yards in 2014 is the 15th-highest nationally, and the third-most in Big Ten history behind only Larry Johnson and Melvin Gordon.
Key stat: Coleman became the 18th player in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. His average of 169.7 yards per game ranked higher than 70 of the 125 teams in FBS.
Projected: While most draft analysts have Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon (in that order) as the top two running backs in the draft and both figured to be in the first round, Coleman is being slotted in the next tier of backs. He’s arguably the best of the bunch and could be a high second-round pick, if not a late first. The Cowboys probably couldn’t get Coleman at No. 60 in the second round. He seems more realistic at No. 27, although that could be a bit high. If the Cowboys wanted Coleman, the best option would likely be to trade down in the first round and get into the second, to add picks and still get a back that could fill their needs.
Cowboys fit: Some draft experts will say Coleman is the closest thing to DeMarco Murray in this entire draft. He’s a complete back who will get the tough yards but will also break off the long runs. While Murray finished 12 of 16 regular-season games with 100 rushing yards, of his 28 career touchdowns, 14 of them have come from 43 yards or more. Eight of this touchdowns are longer than 60 yards. Coleman is also a good blocker, meaning he will stay on the field in passing situations and that only opens up plays such as the lead draw. He’s a complete back who could turn into a three-down back in this offense.
Scouting Report: One of the most complete backs in the draft when it comes to all three phases of the position. Some of Coleman’s best games in his career have been against schools with outstanding defenses. He’s impressive in the way he attacks the hole or bounces the ball to the outside. Looks to cut the ball to find room. Can plant his outside foot and turn up the field. Has the vision to see the backside cuts. Is more of a one-cut runner than he is a darter. Would not call him an explosive runner initially, but he does have good speed when he gets to the second level. Plays with extended speed. Lead the nation in runs that covered 60 yards or more during the 2014 season. Is a physical runner than will lower his pads to finish the run. His offensive line makes it difficult to have many clean runs. Appears to get stronger as the game wears on. Stamina is outstanding. Soft hands when asked to play as a receiver. Able to catch the ball in the flat on the swing or coming out of the backfield on the screen. Has a feel for where he needs to be on the screen. Really nice job of setting it up and executing. Strong as a pass blocker. Will stay square and in position to block. Nice job of sorting out twists and games up front. Will step up and take on defensive tackles or ends. Aware of his blocking assignments. High character player that has managed to play through injury and not miss anytime. In my opinion is the closest running back in the draft to what the club had with DeMarco Murray and what he was able to accomplish – they have very similar styles.
OPTIONS: Going Deep; Running Backs Bountiful | Fits the Linehan dream-scheme
Scouting Report: RB Jay Ajayi | Boise State RB
Has some slide in the hole. Can bounce to outside with quickness. Catch the ball in flat. Cut on the edge as a blocker. Aware to help on miss pass block. Physical runner with ball after catch. Fumble vs. Ole Miss inside the five. Adjust to catch ball going away. Plays with balance. Will spin and keep going. Will finish runs. Will bounce the ball outside. Will try and bounce the ball too much on the goal line. Will make just cuts in the line. Quick feet. Catch blocker as pass pro. Will run out of trouble when blocking is poor. Not a finisher as a pass protector. Passive. Will catch the check downs. Home run shot vs. Arizona on off tackle play. Can make a decision in the hole and cut. Stiff arm on touchdown run vs. Arizona. Balance on the cuts. Great effort to get the corner and reach for TD vs. Arizona. Doesn’t get many opportunities to catch balls down the field. 7 fumbles in 2014. Torn ACL 2011.
Scouting Report: RB Duke Johnson | Miami RB
Plays as a one back runner. Doesn’t have many opportunities where there is just a clear hole. Has the quickness and burst to cut back if hole not there. Can make men miss in the hole. Rare foot work with the ball in his hands. Start-Stop quickness is outstanding. Can make a cut and not lose speed. If nothing is there not afraid to run up the back of his blockers. Nice zone runner to make the cuts. Protects the ball in traffic. Can weave through the tacklers. Explodes off his plant foot. Can turn a negative play into a positive one. Just needs a little crack. Will sneak out of the backfield on the check down. Can turn the corner on the toss. Will bounce off tacklers. Balance. Wheel routes and screens. Catches the ball on the swing. Can adjust. Is a weapon in the open space. Didn’t make low adjust in flat. Cut block on the edge. Will come across the pocket to help. Size limits what he can do on pass blocking.
Scouting Report: RB T.J. Yeldon | Alabama RB
Stays square in pass pro. Will hunt for space. Not sure made right pick up on blitz. Nice effort to try and score, extends the ball. Productive red zone player. Quick feet. Didn’t lower shoulder to finish run. Can work through small cracks. Will lean on man for blitz pickup. Can make a cut to make a man miss. Balance to bounce the ball outside. Will bounce the ball outside. Tried to cut block Flowers of Arkansas gave up sack. Did his best versus Arkansas to find space. Not likely to break many tackles. Will play with choppy steps on the way to the hole. Has some shake moves. Nose for the goal line. Lined up wide and ran the slant for a catch vs. A&M. Can get out of tight spots. Balance and spin moves in the open field. Will catch the swing pass. Has the vision to see the hole and get through it. Is more of a complete back than people are willing to give him credit for.
FAMOUS FROM FRISCO: Boise Boy Brings-out Bronco Believers | Jay Ajayi
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 – 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 and I’m here today because of that decision.”
The mention of Boise State shouldn’t be lost on any Dallas 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.”
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