Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Dallas shouldn't keep Demarco Murray

I want to start by briefly mentioning that the arguments to keep him are actually bordering on reasonable.  Murray was the heart of this offense last year and played tough, disciplined ball all year.   He is a good receiver and pass blocker.  He is a strong and somewhat dynamic runner. He played though injury and showed a ton of leadership.

I am thrilled that he took the record for the most yards in a single season from Emmitt and that he has earned a huge payday.

It just shouldn't come from Dallas.

Even if you assume that improvements on our OL ensure Murray will take a lot fewer hits at or behind the line of scrimmage and therefore he will stay a little healthier, his body of work suggests he is good for about 7-9 games a year.   The OL's play may push that to 10-12 games, but that still isn't great.

More to the point, he clearly wore down last year.   He is good for about 17 -20 carries a game for a little over half the season.   He took on a much larger role last year, and he was not the same guy by the time the playoffs rolled around.  And that is it in a nutshell.  You don't need a feature back who will either be injured or exhausted come the playoffs if you want to win a superbowl.

And that doesn't begin to look at the way RBs have historically collapsed after this kind of heavy workload season.

It makes a lot more sense to replace him by committee.   Dallas has already signed Ryan Williams.  If he has finally made it back from his rookie season injury he may be good enough to make the roster and contribute.

Dallas was probably hoping that Joseph Randle had grown up and was ready to take the job, but to me, his game is lacking.  You cannot have that guy protecting Tony Romo's injured back.  Plus he is a knucklehead who can't stay out of trouble.  It seems about time to move on.  For Dallas, it makes sense to hold on to him only until you find a capable replacement.

Lance Dunbar is a guy I followed at UNT.  To me, he is a keeper. He lacks the power to break tackles in the NFL but would be quite useful with  more touches via delayed shovel passes and as a receiver out of the backfield.  He's a guy who will break one out of every 15 touches for a really big gain if not a TD.  He just doesn't get those touches. He's underutilized with the bigger Murray around.

I know a lot of fans are talking about burning and early pick on a RB.  This draft has two legit feature RBs in Gurley and Gordon and maybe a 3rd guy in Minnesotas's Cobb who I would think could take over as the starter in Dallas, but the rest look like part time players and guys who will get Romo killed.   To get any one of that trio looks like a lot to give on a team with a lot of holes.

I think a combination of a late round draft addition and free agent maneuvering paired with Dunbar is the solution.

I would say sign Mark Ingram and draft Zack Zenner of South Dakota State.

Why these two?  Well a number of reasons the chief among which may be the fact they are both flawed ---meaning a cheap acquisition price.

Walter Football has Ingram rated as a 2.5 star prospect on their free agent list.  Last year 3 star running backs were getting $2.5 to $4 Million per year on 1-3 year deals.  Ingram by anyone's judgement is a decent NFL starter.  He has been pretty much a disappointment in New Orleans.  Most would say he is a little below average as a runner, but does everything you need a feature back to do.

No one is going to break the bank on Ingram.  Dallas could offer him a 5 year at $18 million or so and that would likely blow away all other bidders.  Other teams would look at him and think there is no way he deserves a 5 year deal.

I look at it quite another way.  He is 25.  In 5 years he will be 30.  25 isn't too old at all for a 5 year deal, especially if you consider he is a back who didn't eat a ton of usage and played behind an elite line in college and has had a light load in the pros.

To get someone who even a pessimist would admit is a legit 900-1100 yard starter who can also protect Romo on passing downs for $3.6 Million a year is not a bad deal at all. 

Plus think about it like this.  You give him a $3 Million signing bonus.  His annual salary runs $2M, $2.5M, $3M, $3.5M, $4M.  If he is lousy at any point you drop him and draft someone.   If he sucks and you cut him at 29, the deal will have been a 4 year deal at $14 M.  That's not bad.

If he is solid, he knows the team will be motivated to keep him.  He gets more money than anyone else is going to pay him before he turns 30 and he starts behind one of the better run blocking lines in the league.

The line is the key with both of these backs.  A lot of Ingram's skills are wasted in New Orleans and a lot of his weaknesses are exposed.

That is not a good run blocking line.   Ingram is often hit at or behind the line.  His holes often collapse on him.  He gets tangled up at the line. He has lost confidence hitting the holes.

All of that goes away in Dallas.  No backs are getting hit behind the LOS consistently in Dallas.  It might happen vs. the Seahawks and Detroit, but that's about it.

Ingram is very skilled at setting up his blockers and following them.  If he hits the LOS with a good head of steam, he finishes his runs strongly.  He will put his body through a hole in short yardage. That is a fantastic skillset behind a great run blocking team.  He would compliment this line and them him.

Ingram with this line will bring back a lot of memories of Emmitt behind the early 90's line --- at a fraction of the cost.  Plus Ingram is a much, much better leader.  You won't ever hear him say he is  "A diamond surrounded by trash" as a washed up Emmitt once famously said.

Ingram is a value pickup and definitely is the "right kind of guy".

Which brings me to Zenner.  Zenner has had some big games against fairly decent competition.  He lit up Nebraska for 200 yards for example.  He broke a 99 yard run vs. Kansas

Now not the best defenses admittedly, but S. Dakota State is merely a good FCS school and those are power 5 schools that he lit up.

You can see him have a nice game vs. a pretty decent defense vs. FCS NAU.  NAU had a fast defense and took away the SDSU passing game early. That defense took it to him early.  He earned it and eventually took them apart.   The video is a nice sample that shows you all of his flaws and strengths.

Zenner is not a highly regarded prospect.  If you look at him play, he isn't especially elusive.  He isn't a big cutback runner.  He doesn't have nifty feet--- in fact his cutbacks involve about a 4 step breaking process.  He doesn't have plus vision as a runner at the line.  If the hole is a little over from where it should be, he may not be able to hit it.

He benefitted from a lot of good holes in college.

He's a kind of a straight line guy, albeit one with an extra gear. 

This isn't a guy most NFL teams look at as a possible starter or even an optimal backup. 

But most teams do not have Dallas's offensive line.  In Dallas, Zenner would know where the hole would be.  And when he hits that hole Zenner's positive attributes would be maximized.

He doesn't look fancy doing it, but Zenner is one of those runners who has a knack for bending most runs the right way once he hits the second level.  He gains 8 yards where most would get 5. 

Then he has a very, very underrated gear in the open field.  He is a lot like Dunbar in that --- you just see him running away from people on video.  I think that unlike Dunbar, Zenner will have a good time in the 40.   I suspect he will time in the upper 4.5s but he runs faster when he sees the endzone.

Someone probably see's a kick returner in him.  A team might fall in love with him in the 4th round, but I think 5th or 6th round is more likely.  That would be great value for Dallas.

Both guys are in the 217 to 220 range that you need to be in at minimum to not get taken down regularly by one arm tackles in the NFL, complimenting Dunbar nicely.

That would free up a lot of money for a free agent or two and would reduce the pressure on Dallas to burn a top 100 pick on a RB.  In other words, this would allow Dallas to add two or three more contributors (potentially starters)  this off-season.

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