40 time: 4.64, Bench Press: Did Not Lift at Combine
December 29, 1991 (Age 21)
There was a time when the NFL was a league where each team had a starting RB and everyone else watched. But, professional evolution has changed that considerably, and now every team plans on needing 2 guys that they feel good about at this position that requires durability and performance on a rather high level to be successful.
The Cowboys have been able to fill this spot some years, but there have been others where they just didn't have the spot filled properly. Such was the case in 2012, where their #1 RB, DeMarco Murray was lost from Week 5 in Baltimore (October 14) to Week 12 versus Philadelphia (December 2), and they were left without their "workhorse". In his rookie season in 2011, he missed most of the first month as they were getting him ready to play and most all of the last month as he broke his ankle in the 13th game.
So, basically, they love Murray and his upside, but so far, the downside means he will miss about 6 of the 16 games each season until he can prove the durability that many questioned when he slid in the 2011 draft in the first place.
Next man up was Felix Jones - a guy drafted with the quotes from the Jones family about how "they already had a starter" with Marion Barber. Basically, in the 2008 draft which is noted for being loaded with Running Backs, the Cowboys passed on Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice, Matt Forte, and Jamaal Charles for a guy who had never been a starting running back in college (his career high for carries at Arkansas was 154 in 14 games in 2006 - 11 carries a game). It seemed crazy then and now that Felix proved in 2012 that he is not capable of replacing Murray for a month due to injury and therefore will attempt to make Philadelphia's roster, it seems crazier now.
Phillip Tanner had the next opportunity, with Murray out and Felix being Felix. Tanner played quite a bit against Carolina and then less against the Giants at Cowboys Stadium. By his 3rd game, he had been passed by Lance Dunbar and never played again after Week 10 - being placed on injured reserve in early December. Tanner had issues in pass protection and special teams that eventually had him fall out of favor. This led them to Dunbar, the 4th string option and a guy on the practice squad out of camp to give it all he had in November. But, as you may recall, the comical running game of last season had pretty much all but conceded by then, and the chicken and egg quandary of what is troubling the Cowboys the most (the running back or the running plays) raged on.
Which led us to one of the priorities of the Cowboys draft in 2013. They needed to walk away with a guy who could be the #2 behind Murray, which is a very important job - especially until Murray demonstrates the durability so he does not miss 1-2 months when you need him most.
So, they waited until Round 5 to find this player, and selected at pick #151, Joseph Randle from Oklahoma State. Randle was the 11th RB selected in this draft and appears to offer some potential that could upgrade this spot from the debacle of 2012.
After breaking down quite a bit of his coaches' film over the last few weeks, I feel that I am able to properly categorize his strengths and weaknesses.
First, his 4.6 plus 40-time is a major red flag, but his film says that he is able to play significantly faster than he is timed (ask anyone who watched his Texas performance). He also has a reasonable wiggle in his ability to make a defensive back miss in the open field.
He is what they call a "straight-line runner" who gets what is blocked generally. He seems to understand the zone blocking concept of finding your cutback lane, sticking your foot in the ground with conviction and heading north. That will serve him well with the Cowboys as I expect that will be his number one attribute, and surely something that frustrated them to no end with Felix Jones, a guy who never seemed to get the idea of running between the tackles.
Randle has a fine amount of toughness and battle to his game. He stays up after contact and appears to be able to get a tough yard down near the goal-line although you would never call him a power runner. He seems sturdy and ready to initiate contact which is a nice change-up from what the team has had behind Murray the last 2 years.
Over 3 years in Stillwater, he played 39 games without missing and carried the ball 564 times to average 14.5 carries a game for his career. He also caught over 100 balls showing that he has hands and the ability to give Romo a safety valve option after pass protection is completed. In 2012, he stepped up his productivity to 21 carries and almost 24 touches a game in that wide open OSU attack. Playing primarily in shotgun, he got plenty of work in pass protection which will not get any easier at this level.
And that is where his real work will be required. He is willing to give it all he has in blitz pickup, but as we are finding out more each year, this is the true test of the NFL running back. He must be able to handle his job in picking up blitzes and working with the offensive line to get the proper guy - often by himself. Projecting the mental capacity and trust that a player will be able to gain by the time September gets here from both his Quarterback and his Offensive Coordinator is pure guesswork, but this is also the only true indicator of opportunity for most young runners.
His extensive play in a spread offense seems to fit the description of what Jason Garrett and Tony Romo want, and he also seems to be versatile enough to give them quite a few options - especially if he has to be the #1 for a month in 2013.
Here is some video to look at, if you haven't already seen it:
Randle #1 vs Texas
Summary: Personally, I saw the availability of Johnathan Franklin and Stepfan Taylor in Round 4 as a reason to pounce there at what most people felt were superior running backs than Randle. But, the Cowboys were not willing to concede that difference in rating and they, instead, took B.W. Webb in Round 4 and were happy to accept whoever was left when they selected again in Round 5.
Randle looks the part and should supply the Cowboys with an upgrade from Felix, Tanner, and Dunbar. If there is one thing that I like about his game, it would be that he seems to fill that "jack of all trades" description pretty well. People want to compare him to DeMarco Murray a bit, and I can see the similarities (Murray had 170 college receptions), but they must be forgetting that Murray ran 4.41 while weighing 10 pounds more than Randle, so let's not get carried away here.
The bottom line should be that they have a reasonable idea now about who is going to be their Murray insurance policy, leaving the undrafted free agents like Dunbar and Tanner to prove their ability as the #3 and earn their paycheck by being present and accounted for on special teams. Randle may have some special teams duty, but I imagine his #1 priority is going to be to give them a proper solution to limit the Murray workload and perhaps even a 3rd Down back option that he can make his own. The only thing that will govern his workload will be his ability to master the jobs in pass protection with great precision and execution. If he can handle that in Oxnard, we will see quite a bit of this 5th Round pick.