(Editor's Note: This is the 10th of an 11-part series analyzing every position on the Cowboys roster, providing a quick look back before addressing the needs of each spot on the field and how it can be improved heading into the 2016 season. Today we examine the running backs.)
Pressing Matters:Almost everything about this position currently qualifies as a pressing matter. The Cowboys ran the ball well in their first year without DeMarco Murray, but there's not much certainty about the long-term future of the position. Darren McFadden proved he can be a reliable feature back, as he rushed for 1,089 yards on the year. The problem is that he'll turn 29 before the season starts, and he also only has one season left on his initial deal. The only other running back under contract for 2016 is Rod Smith, who has a whopping two career carries. Lance Dunbar is not only about to enter free agency, but he's recovering from season-ending knee injuries last October. Robert Turbin and Tyler Clutts round out the group, and they're both also set to enter free agency. Whether via free agency or the draft – or both – the Cowboys have a lot of work to do to fill out their depth chart.
2015 Evaluation: McFadden's stats for the 2015 season become even more impressive when you consider that he didn't become the starter until Week 7 against the Patriots. If you adjust his stats for 16 starts, rather than 11, he was on pace for a 1,400-yard season. Not bad for a guy who's been constantly criticized as being unable to stay healthy and productive. Of course, then you have to examine the reason why McFadden started his season as the backup in the first place. It feels like ancient history at this point, but the Cowboys put their trust in Joseph Randle to be the heir apparent to DeMarco Murray, and that failed miserably. In six games he scored four touchdowns and showed flashes of ability, but the ultimate outcome of the story is that he was off the team by midseason. Luckily, the Cowboys insured themselves against Randle's unreliability by signing McFadden, but it was still a discouraging development. Speaking of discouraging, Lance Dunbar was on pace for 84 catches for 860 yards and another 300 rushing yards when he tore both his ACL and MCL in October. The Cowboys finished the season with a solid output from their running backs, but it could have been so much more.
Need More From: The first person that comes to mind is probably Dunbar. He has shown so much potential during his time in Dallas, but that potential has usually followed him to the injury report. He was on pace for a breakout year this past season – right before he was sidelined for the final 12 games of the year. All of that said, it's not a guarantee right now that Dunbar is even on the roster next season. The only real applicable answer is to expect more from the rest of the depth chart. McFadden turned into a one-man show almost out of necessity last year. Whether the Cowboys add to the position in free agency or they draft a promising young rookie, they can't afford to lean so heavily on McFadden again.
By The Numbers:
- DeMarco Murray hit the 1,000-yard mark as the Cowboys' feature back in 2014, and Darren McFadden accomplished that feat a year later. That marks the first time in franchise history that two different running backs managed 1,000 yards in consecutive years.
- Five different running backs – McFadden, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael carried the ball for the Cowboys in 2015. All of them but Michael managed to average four yards or more per carry on the season.
- McFadden's 239 carries were easily a career high, surpassing his previous best of 223. He also tied his career best for appearances with 16.
- Turbin signed just before the Cowboys' Nov. 22 trip to Miami. He carried the ball seven times for 35 yards in the win – though he averaged just five attempts per game down the homestretch of the season.