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Don't rush to judge DeMarco Murray

11/10/2011 - NFL DeMarco Murray Dallas Cowboys + more

ARLINGTON -- Can we please let DeMarco Murray be DeMarco Murray?

We've done this before. Lots of times. Apparently, we've learned nothing.

We're so desperate in Dallas-Fort Worth to anoint the next star of America's Team, which is what happens when you have one playoff win since 1997, that we don't give guys time to fully develop and find their niche on the team and in the NFL.

Think about it. Julius Jones was going to be the next Emmitt Smith. Tony Romo the next Troy Aikman. DeMarcus Ware the next Charles Haley. And Dez Bryant the next Michael Irvin.

Thus far, we're 1-for-4.

So let's wait -- oh, I don't know, a couple seasons -- before we proclaim Murray the real deal. Or a budding star. Or even put his name in the same sentence as Smith and Tony Dorsett.

I've done it myself in the past. I've experienced the urge. Resist it.

Don't get it twisted, Murray has been nothing short of phenomenal in his first three starts.

• He broke Smith's single-game franchise rushing record with 253 yards in his first NFL start against the St. Louis Rams last month.
• He has six runs of 20 yards or more, including a 91-yard scoring run, the second longest in Dallas Cowboys history. Only five players have more.
• He's averaging 6.7 yards per carry and 3.14 yards after contact, which is insane.
• His three-game total of 466 yards is the best in franchise history.

But let's not forget Jones once had a three-game total of 436 yards. And, remember, Jones owns two of the six highest rushing totals in franchise history.

Jones rushed for 149 yards or more in three of his first eight starts. If nothing else, that should put things in perspective for you.

Some folks figured Marion Barber was the long-term answer at running back after he rushed for 975 yards in 2007 and averaged 4.8 yards every time he carried the ball.

Each faded. Badly.

Jones surpassed the 100-yard mark once in his last 27 games with the Cowboys, and he was exposed as just a guy once the Cowboys discovered he was primarily productive running the ball out of formations with three receivers.

Barber didn't do much after signing his seven-year, $45 million deal in 2008 that included $16 million in guaranteed money. Barber was too slow to be a marquee runner and a combination of injuries and an inferior offensive line stole his effectiveness.

He gained 100 yards once in his last 32 games with the Cowboys.

As for Murray, we still need to see more.

Running the ball successfully is about more than speed, quickness and vision.

It's about intangibles.

You don't find out about a runner when he's sprinting through holes wide enough to drive an Escalade through, gaining chunks of yards.

You find out about a runner when he carries 18 times for 29 yards. Will he still hit the hole just as hard in the fourth quarter of that game, or will he get discouraged?

When his ribs ache and his shoulder is partially dislocated can he, and will he, tote the ball with the same conviction?

Of the 18,355 yards Smith gained and 175 touchdowns he scored, the signature moment of his career was his performance against the Giants in 1994 -- not because he rushed for 168 yards or caught 10 passes for 61 yards, but because he led the team to victory while playing much of the game with a dislocated shoulder.

We're still learning about Murray, who has three starts and 80 carries on his professional résumé.

His teammates say the right things about him. So do his current and former coaches.

Unfortunately, none of that means a thing.

His performance over the next few seasons will tell us more than any flattering words ever could.

How does he perform when defensive coordinators get five or six games tapes, analyze his favorite plays and game plan specifically for those plays? How does he perform when he's the epicenter of every defensive coordinator's game plan?

We can't possibly know the answer to those questions until he goes through a full season or two.

Dorsett and Smith are the standard around here. No one can dispute that.

Murray's performance over time will tell us whether he deserves to ever be linked with the greats in franchise history.

Until then, let him play freely without the burden of your expectations.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.