(Editor's Note: As the NFL Draft approaches on May 8-10, DallasCowboys.com's Draft Series will analyze every position, including the Cowboys' needs at each and which players might be targeted with their 11 picks, while also providing some interesting draft nuggets. Part 6 features the running backs.)
DeMarco Murray's coming off the best season of his career entering the last year of his contract in 2014. He played in a career-high 14 games in 2013, compiling his first 1,000-yard season with a total of 1,121 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns, averaging a spectacular 5.2 yards per carry to go along with 350 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. Murray was extremely productive behind a more impactful offensive line.
The Cowboys have a big decision to make on whether or not to renew their starting running back after this year. His health could play a role in that, as he's missed at least two games each of his first three seasons in the league, but he's demonstrated when he's on the field he's among the better running backs in the league.
Behind Murray is a lot of unknown. Joseph Randle filled in as the primary back in the two games Murray missed. Randle averaged three yards per carry as a rookie, running for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Everyone's been waiting for the Lance Dunbar breakout game, and that occurred with an 82-yard performance against the Raiders last season, but he had just 150 rushing yards on the year with limited opportunities. The Cowboys may need to get both players more involved to see what each can bring.
What They Need
This is another position that could go unaddressed in this year's draft, but a bulky goal-line type back wouldn't hurt. The Cowboys could also choose to draft another dynamic running back capable of handling the full load, but that may not happen if they plan on giving Murray a second contract. Murray hasn't played a full 16-game season in his career, so if they don't draft a running back, they need to be comfortable that either Randle or Dunbar can step in to handle full-time duties at a moment's notice.
There's not a whole lot out there in free agency. The Cowboys' NFC East rivals already made those moves. The Giants grabbed former Raiders running back Rashad Jennings, while the Eagles traded for Darren Sproles. Former Cowboys Tashard Choice and Felix Jones are available, but it's unlikely they return. At 6-1, 245, free agent Michael Bush could fill the void of a hefty running back.
The days of early first-round running back selections are slowly dwindling, or at least they appear to be in recent years. There weren't any first-round running back selections last year, and it doesn't seem likely there will be many first-round running back picks in 2014.
Washington's Bishop Sankey could be a versatile, quick, shifty option for the Cowboys in the early rounds if they can get past his height at 5-9 and focus more on his dominant NFL Combine and college career. For a back with more size, the Cowboys could grab 6-1, 233-pound former LSU running back Jeremy Hill. [embedded_ad]
Sankey, Hill, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde, Auburn's Tre Mason, Boston College's Andre Williams, West Virginia's Charles Sims, Towson's Terrance West, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk could all be among the running back selections in the first few rounds of the draft.
**For a more in-depth look at all the draft prospects, check out the *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine* 2014 Draft Guide, which profiles more than 80 potential picks with rankings for over 300 players available in the upcoming draft. Digital subscriptions, which include 32 issues throughout the year, are available for just $14.99.**