*(Editor's Note: As the NFL Draft approaches on April 25-27, DallasCowboys.com's Draft Series will analyze every position, the Cowboys' needs at each, which players might be targeted for their six picks and some interesting draft nuggets. Part 6 features running backs.) *
DeMarco Murray started last season on a high note, racking up 131 yards and looking every bit the aggressive force in the backfield the Cowboys hoped he'd be. That performance turned out to be a bit of a red herring, as it was his last 100-yard performance of the year. Murray would go on to miss six games with a foot injury, and the running game slacked without him. The Cowboys finished with only eight rushing touchdowns, four of which came from Murray.
The other three came from Felix Jones, who may not be in a Cowboys uniform next season. Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar are the only players on the depth chart behind Murray, unless the Cowboys re-sign Jones or bring on another player in free agency or the draft. It would be shocking to see the Cowboys enter next season without any other additions in the backfield.
Obviously, Jones is available. But the Cowboys may have moved on from their former first-round pick. The Cowboys know former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw well, and he's available. They could also snag another former Arkansas running back in Peyton Hillis. If they desire a bruiser in the backfield behind Murray, they could bring in former Falcons running back Michael Turner. Between the draft and free agency, the Cowboys could go a lot of directions.
It's highly unlikely any team will find a back that can stay in the league anywhere near as long as a player like Emmitt Smith, who played for 15 seasons and rushed for at least 1,000 yards 11 straight years. Julius Jones and Marion Barber both put together productive seasons after Smith left, but the Cowboys have only had a rusher eclipse the 1,000-yard mark once since Smith left.
The biggest problem they've faced is longevity and durability. Barber and Jones both suited up for all 16 games just twice during their Cowboys tenure. Murray's missed nine games the last two seasons since getting drafted in 2011. Staying healthy for a whole season can be a daunting task for any NFL running back, as the Cowboys are well aware.
Draft Prospects: [embedded_ad]
The Cowboys should be able to find a capable backup to Murray at any point in this draft. It's possible no running back is selected in the first round, but potential starters are available from the second round all the way through the end of the draft. Bruisers in Alabama's Eddie Lacy and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell could be selected early on, along with Gio Bernard, who ran for at least 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons at North Carolina.
Other possibilities in the middle rounds are Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle and UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, while later rounds could offer value in Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. Bryan Broaddus has more on a few other running backs that should be available toward the middle of the draft.