What to make of DeMarco Murray?

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
8:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- With the way the NFL has morphed into a passing league, finding the so-called "franchise" running back is less important.

Murray
Unless it is Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy, are there any other "franchise" running backs? There are solid runners. There are teams that win with OK runners.

Cleveland traded its 2012 first-round pick, No. 3 selection Trent Richardson, to Indianapolis during the regular season. The Colts gave up a lot to get Richardson, but he did not put up big numbers -- 458 yards, three touchdowns. A runner wasn't taken in the first round of the 2013 draft.

The Cowboys don't have to worry about DeMarco Murray's future until 2015. A third-round pick in 2011, Murray is coming off his best season. He finished 10th in the NFL with 1,124 yards. Of the backs with 200 carries in 2013, Murray had the highest yard-per-carry average (5.2).

After getting over a knee injury that cost him two games, Murray became a difference maker for the Cowboys down the stretch. He upset the coaches some by not gaining the extra yards, but they did not use him enough at times.

The Cowboys are 5-6 when he does not play in his first three years. They are 11-0 when he gets at least 20 carries in a game.

"We've always felt good about DeMarco," coach Jason Garrett said. "If you think about his rookie year, when he had opportunities to play, he played well right from the start. He made a big impact on our team. He, like some of the other guys on our team, has dealt with injuries. When he's been out of the lineup over the course of his career, we haven't played as well. When he's been in the lineup and going and playing well and feeling healthy and playing like himself, he has been a really, really effective player for us and helped our team create some of that balance we haven talking about."

Murray's play late in the season started to alter what I thought he could be. I viewed him as just another back, one whom you could find every year in the draft. But he developed a feel for the zone scheme as the year went on, is solid as a pass catcher and can block.

Is he the heir apparent to Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith? No. But he looks as if he could be what Julius Jones never developed into after a strong start to his career.

I'm not sure you commit big bucks to him after next season, but he might have more value to the Cowboys than to another team.

How do you view Murray? Is he an elite back, just below the Peterson/McCoy level? Is in an average back with one good season? Is he someone the Cowboys should lock up long term?

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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