One of the most baffling stories of the NFL preseason has been the perception that there’s a competition for the Cowboys’ starting running back position.
In the aftermath of DeMarco Murray’s departure to Philadelphia, many assumed that backup Joseph Randle would take over starter duties. But then the team went out and signed veteran Darren McFadden, and they’ve also made a point of keeping Lance Dunbar in the mix.
In fact, if you look at ESPN’s depth chart for the team, Randle is listed as the third option behind McFadden and Dunbar. This is ludicrous.
Forget about the ESPN depth chart, because the best explanation is probably just that it hasn’t been updated. There are countless football- and team-related reasons to consider Randle the best option in the backfield, and if you’re a Dallas fan, you’d best hope Jerry Jones and Co. take them into account when the season starts up.
Here are four reasons in particular that stand out.
His 2014 Efficiency Is Meaningful
In discussing just how great the Cowboys’ offensive line and DeMarco Murray were in 2014, it’s frequently mentioned that Joseph Randle had per carry on the year. But then the conversation seems to move on dismissively, as if such numbers for a backup are insignificant.
Pump the brakes for a moment.
Randle had 51 carries last season, which certainly isn’t a heavy workload, but isn’t insignificant. Furthermore, he had 54 carries in 2013 behind a good (but not as good) offensive line, and averaged per carry. That kind of improvement from his rookie year through his second is meaningful, and if anything makes the per carry statistic more impressive. No, he won’t do it for a full year, but let’s not pretend he can’t run.
Lance Dunbar Is Worse By Every Meaningful Measure
With no disrespect to Lance Dunbar, there’s simply no comparing the two backs. Randle is bigger, stronger, harder to tackle, and shiftier on his feet. He comes from a more competitive college atmosphere, and he’s two years younger. And finally, Dunbar managed only per carry (in 29 attempts) last year behind the same offensive line that both Murray and Randle used to become dominant. He’s a serviceable running back, but there’s absolutely no chance he can or should supplant Randle.
McFadden Is A Shell Of Himself
At this point, signing Darren McFadden is openly hoping for lightning in a bottle. As spectacular as McFadden was in college (and rest assured that reputation still carries him to some extent), his NFL career has been more or less ruined by injuries and inconsistencies. Here’s something a lot of people might not realize: McFadden has only one season with over 1,000 rushing yards (2010, in Oakland).
And here’s something even more alarming: that 1,000-yard season is also his only season with over 800 yards on the ground. That’s not just ineffective starting quality, it’s definitive backup quality. 2014 was McFadden’s only season playing a full 16-game slate, and only his third time in seven seasons topping 150 carries. Other than his college highlights, there are just no reasons to consider McFadden a legitimate starting RB option in 2015.
Randle Is Cheap
This might seem counter-intuitive at a glance. After all, if you have two runners and you’re paying one more (McFadden will make close to double Randle’s salary in 2015), you may as well get what you can out of the pricier option. But both of these guys are free agents after the 2016 season.
At that point, McFadden will be on the tail end of his career, if not totally finished. Joseph Randle, on the other hand, will be looking for a contract to take him through his prime, and if the Cowboys keep him in a backup role for now, he’ll be cheaper and easier for someone else to snag in 2016.
With that in mind, Randle is not only the better option now, but the better play for the future. This guy has a chance to become the franchise running back, and the Cowboys have to make him a tough target for other organizations.