Fantasy: What to Make of Dallas’ 2011 Running Backs
Fantasy: What to Make of Dallas’ 2011 Running Backs
The Dallas Cowboys’ third round draft choice of DeMarco Murray (RB – Oklahoma) adds to an already cluttered backfield in Dallas. The Cowboys backfield has consisted of Marion Barber III, Tashard Choice, and Felix Jones for the past three seasons. Dallas hasn’t been able to rely on just feature back in numerous years. Since 2008, they haven’t had a running back in on over 75% of the offensive snaps. The volatile snap distribution in Dallas makes it hard to pick who will have a good fantasy game week in and week out.
Does the addition of Murray keep things confusing in Dallas? Of course. Does it make it impossible to find trends? Of course not. Over the past three seasons, Dallas has passed the ball 59% of the time and run 41% of the time. Marion Barber III, Tashard Choice, and Felix Jones have been Dallas’ three running backs since 2008. In 2008, Barber was the clear workhorse with 387 more snaps than Choice and Jones combined.
Despite handling clear RB1 responsibilities in 2008, Barber was not very effective. His 3.7 YPC average was T-53rd worst in the league that season and his -1.7 PFF rating was 37th. Choice and Jones both had significantly more success running the ball despite seeing much fewer opportunities.
In 2009, Felix Jones saw his role in the offense expand, and he stole 200 of Barber’s snaps. Jones’ YPC was still very high at 5.91, especially considering he had 116 carries on the year. 2009 was the trio’s best year of the three. Their 13 combined touchdowns that season were five more than they scored in 2008 and 2010, and their 1,966 yards on the ground was very respectable.
2010 was similar to 2009, except Jones and Barber basically traded spots. In a larger role, Jones saw his YPC drop to 4.32. Adding to the frustration of fantasy owners was the fact that Jones only found the endzone once in 185 carries. For a guy with as much talent as Jones, one touchdown in such a big role isn’t going to cut it for many more years. However, 2010 was an off season for Dallas overall. Injuries, coaching issues, and playing beneath their potential individually and collectively led to the poor season. That is my general excuse for all Dallas players for 2010, Felix Jones among them.
In 2010, Dallas had a pass/run ratio of 60/40, which brings us to another point – the passing game. In each of the past three seasons Jones has seen his targets go from 2, to 21, to 51. This is what makes Felix Jones a valuable fantasy player. His 800 yards on the ground isn’t eye-popping, but when you factor in his 48 catches and 450 receiving yards, his totals (except for the touchdowns) are pretty good. Take a look at how Barber, Choice, and Jones fared receiving the ball each of the past three seasons.
The one constant has been Tashard Choice. His snaps from 08-10: 266, 281, 220. His runs: 94, 66, 64. Targets: 29, 21, 21. Receptions: 21, 15, 17. It’s very interesting to see how Choice’s role has remained the same while Jones and Barber have slowly swapped roles the last three seasons.
Jones was the 22nd highest fantasy scoring RB in 2010. Going forward, he really has a chance to prove why he was a first round pick in 2008. However, DeMarco Murray throws a wrench into the whole equation. It’s clear that Barber’s role in Dallas is all but done; but what does that mean for Murray? Barber’s hard, downhill running style earned him the nickname “The Barbarian.” Murray’s career at Oklahoma consisted of hard, downhill running. Murray has the tools to be an every-down back in the NFL, and perhaps Dallas is hoping he can be a more effective version of Barber. His long-term role in Dallas remains to be seen, but his rookie season shouldn’t be too hard to predict.
The learning curve in the NFL for running backs is steep, and rookies rarely explode onto the scene. Dallas already has a few veteran running backs and doesn’t need to force Murray into a big role. Plus, Dallas has yet to give up on Jones. Murray’s role in 2011 figures to be smaller, so he doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the value of Felix Jones.
Mike Clay’s depth chart and projections has Felix Jones handling 48% of Dallas’ carries in 2011. Choice is projected to handle 27% and Murray gets 18%. Since 2008, Dallas has averaged over 420 runs a season. If they continue to run their offense in manner similar to the past three seasons, as predicted in Clay’s running back projections, then Jones will see 206 carries, Choice will see 116, and Murray will see 77. Here is a chart using Clay’s projections for 2011, with my own projections for number of snaps.
The 2011 projections produce similar totals to the 2009 season, although they do fall a little short. With over 200 carries, a projected 900+ yards, and five touchdowns, Jones will have his best season yet. Throw in around 50 catches for 500 yards and a few touchdowns, and Jones becomes a solid RB2 option.
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Tyler Loechner is a lead writer at PFF Fantasy. He has played fantasy football since 1999 and has been a part of the PFF Fantasy staff since 2010. Tyler was also previously a fantasy football featured columnist at Bleacher Report.