Top 10 Cowboys in '13: #7
The Cowboys' season is over, but our coverage is still going strong. We're running down the team's top 10 2013 assets -- and this entry brings us to #7, Running Back DeMarco Murray.
Average is a tough thing to be. Average means you're not competing for a championship, depriving your fans of the hope of immediate contention. Average also means you're working with average draft assets, depriving fans of the ability to bank everything on the bright hope of future contention. The Cowboys were average this year, and they've been average for quite a while. Building a strong team despite that status quo isn't easy.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, they do have a nice core of players assembled. They have drafted well over the past three years (a rarety for this franchise) and those young cornerstones, as well as a few holdovers from the Bill Parcells era, give the team a decent base. What we'll do here over is go through the team's roster and rank the ten players most indispensable to the Cowboys' success. Keep in mind that this isn't about the players who stand out most relative to their peers at their position -- LP Ladouceur may be the best long snapper in the league, but he's still a longsnapper, so he won't be here.
This also isn't strictly about the future. Anthony Spencer is a free agent, and there is no guarantee the Cowboys bring him back. Jason Witten and Tony Romo have reached the age where they're far more likely to decline than improve. But those three players will be featured prominently on the list. Think of this as a list for 2013. Over the coming year, these should be the best of the Cowboys' best; their most important pieces in the hunt for contention.
#7: Running back DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray ran for 663 yards this year. That ranked 29th in the NFL.
He scored 4 rushing touchdowns, tied for 30th. He averaged 4.1 yards an attempt, 22nd among qualified runners.
The long and short of it: Murray's 2012 numbers don't suggest he's a star. They don't suggest he's the most promising Cowboys running back since Emmit Smith. But make no mistake -- he absolutely is.
Murray is still the same guy who ran for 601 yards in four games against the Rams, Eagles Seahawks and Bills -- his first four games with significant carries. He's the same guy who posted combine numbers similar to those of fellow Sooner Adrian Peterson. The same guy who led all rookie running backs in yards by a margin of 257. He's a good blocker and a useful pass-catcher out of the backfield -- or in a nutshell, a complete running back.
What's holding Murray back from becoming a top 10 NFL runner? Health is a big factor. The big Las Vegan (I don't care if that's the wrong way to say that, it makes me giggle) has always been injury-prone, even during a collegiate career where he shattered an OU record by scoring 65 career touchdowns. Fragility reared its ugly head during both of Murray's Cowboys campaigns. He was sidelined for three games by a 2011 high ankle sprain, and a sprained left foot kept him out of six games this year while hampering him for the final five, in which he never looked right. The injuries have happened frequently enough that they might just be part of the DeMarco picture, not an anomaly one would bank on him spurning the next year.
Another is the Cowboys' offensive line. Tyron Smith is a solid left tackle and Nate Livings had an above-average season at left guard. But Doug Free was horrid, Mackenzy Bernadeau unspeakably bad and the center position featured a rotating cast of characters who, for the most part, failed to impress. The Cowboys' offensive line is easily one fo the NFL's ten worst, a major factor in Murray averaging only 4.1 yards per carry in 2012. If the team addresses what has been a need for half a decade now in upgrading the O-line, Murray will be the primary benefactor.
One last factor to keep in mind: Murray is a strong runner, but his greatest skill is his speed and acceleration. As documented by Jonathan Bales on the Dallas Morning News website, He excels on the edge, where he has space to work with. The Cowboys rarely called for Murray to run 'stretch' or 'toss' plays, however. Hopefully Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan are aware of the disparity (3.66 YPC inside, 5.3 YPC outside) and will make some adjustments in 2013.
Murray carries a lot of risk and could wind up on the long list of running backs whose careers are derailed by bad blocking, injuries or misuse. But the upside is sizable, as he could also very easily wind up one of the league's ten best runners. It's that kind of talent which lands him at the #7 spot on our list.
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