- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is the second-part of a 12-part series on the Cowboys roster. Today we look at the running backs.
Players: Felix Jones (signed through 2012), Tony Fiammetta (free agent), Shaun Chapas (signed through 2014), Sammy Morris (free agent), Chauncey Washington (free agent), DeMarco Murray (signed through 2014), Phillip Tanner (signed through 2013).
Top draft prospects: Trent Richardson, Alabama; Lamar Miller, Miami (FL); David Wilson, Virginia Tech; LaMichael James, Oregon; Doug Martin, Boise State.
2011 review: The season started off with uncertainty as Jones took over the starting role after Marion Barber was released. An injury to Jones opened the door for Murray, a rookie, who set a franchise record with a 253-yard rushing performance against St. Louis. Murray's season ended with a fractured ankle, but he rushed for 897 yards. He will become the starter in 2012 and Jones will go back to coming off the bench. Murray is the future and has the skills and mindset to have a bigger season. Fiammetta burst onto the scene as a strong fullback that cleared the way for Murray and Jones to pick up big yards. Tanner has a future as Murray's backup but must have a strong training camp to make the roster again.
Offseason preview: Should the Cowboys consider trading Jones this offseason? It's hard to accomplish a trade with Jones entering the final year of his contract. The Cowboys should explore whether a fourth-or fifth-round pick is available for the former first-round pick. The team doesn't trust Jones to become a 20-down back in the NFL. He's a solid backup, which leads us to Tanner. He should compete with Jones for more playing time. If he makes the roster, he should get more game-day carries and special teams snaps. The Cowboys need to re-sign Fiammetta to maintain the chemistry he developed with Murray. Fiammetta was the glue to a solid running attack in the middle of the season. If Fiammetta's health issues (inner ear infection) are solved, then his return should be considered a positive.
Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Eye: Running back will be a position of strength for the Cowboys going into the 2012 season. Murray was outstanding when given the opportunity to start for the club, which allowed Jones to return to the role for which he is better suited -- backup off the bench. Tanner was a nice fit as a third back who contributes on special teams -- a role that Jerry Jones likes.
The learning curve for Murray was not that steep and he was able to do things as a pass protector that allowed him to stay on the field for more than two downs. The Cowboys were a different offense with Murray in the lineup, and Garrett was a better playcaller. If the Cowboys try to upgrade the position, it will most likely be for Tanner, but he will be tough to replace. I don't see the club using a draft pick on this spot unless it's late and it's a height, weight and speed player with high-quality traits.
Need meter (0-5): 2.