(Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a 12-part series examining and analyzing the main position groups for the Cowboys as they prepare for training camp. Today's piece focuses on the the running backs.)
What's the Deal?That's the question DeMarco Murray is probably asking right now - as in where's my deal? Before last year's Pro Bowl season, Murray likely figured 2014 would indeed be a contract season, and it still very well could
be. But after having a career season of 1,121 yards, becoming the first Cowboys' back since 2006 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, Murray is certainly eyeing a big payday, whether it comes from the Cowboys or another team after this season. So it's a game of risk for both sides. Do the Cowboys take a chance on Murray and try to sign him to a modest deal of about three or four years, or let him play it out as a free agent? Does Murray bet on himself and use this contract year to his advantage or will he want the stability and sign a deal before the season? Tough questions on both side of the ball but it's something that could be settled long before this season is over – maybe before it starts.
Still Need to Find Out:While Murray had his best season of his career and capped it off with a trip to Hawaii, where he actually scored the game-winning touchdown, the fourth-year back still needs to prove he can get through a season without injury issues. Maybe that's a tough task for any running back in today's game but Murray has already missed 11 games in his career, including two last year. To get the big bucks that he's most certainly seeking, staying healthy and showing his durability is a must. Murray is the most complete running back on the team and arguably one of the Top 10 in the game right now, but when it comes to staying healthy, that's something Murray has yet to do consistently.
Of the 22 running backs that received at least 200 carries last season, no player had a better yards-per-carry average than Murray at 5.2 yards per attempt. Considering Murray was the team's starting back and short-yardage runner as well, which usually knocks down the average per attempt, Murray's mark should be even more impressive. Overall, Murray ranked fourth in the NFL, but he had 99 carries more than Arizona's Andre Ellington, who had led the league with a 5.5 average. [embedded_ad]
Ready to Breakout?There is more than just the one obvious candidate here. But we'll start with Lance Dunbar because the Cowboys saw a glimpse of what he might be able to do in the Thanksgiving Day game against Oakland. Dunbar's career-day of 82 rushing yards ended on a sour note when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Healthy again, Dunbar appears to have an increased role in the offense, especially with Scott Linehan calling the plays. Linehan has said Dunbar reminds him of Lions' tailback Reggie Bush. But don't forget about second-year back Joseph Randle. If the Cowboys are expecting bigger things from second-year tight end Gavin Escobar and second-year receiver Terrance Williams, then why not Randle as well? Let's see what a year in the weight room and offseason conditioning program did for his game.
Battle to Watch:There is no question in my mind that DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar are locks to make the final 53, but this is where it gets tricky because Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams and Ben Malena are all talented players and bring a different set of traits to the game.*
Click here for the full report*
Last Time Out:For a look back at how all the running backs on the roster performed in 2013, click here.