Joseph Randle to Cowboys: How Does Running Back Fit in Dallas?

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Joseph Randle to Cowboys: How Does Running Back Fit in Dallas?
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Prior to the draft, I guaranteed that the Dallas Cowboys would draft a running back. They did, and it was a player whom those around Valley Ranch figured might be their guy in Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle.

 

College Production

Randle was a productive player in college, averaging 5.5 yards-per-carry over the course of his three-year career. Randle’s best season came in 2011 when he rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also added 43 receptions that year and over 100 during his career. That pass-catching ability—and Randle’s willingness to protect the quarterback—surely propelled the Cowboys’ interest in him.

 

Scouting Report

I sort of had a hunch the Cowboys would be looking long and hard at Randle, so I did a scouting report on him back in March. From that report:

I can’t emphasize enough how much Randle resembles DeMarco Murray. At 6-0, 204 pounds, he has the same type of build, albeit a bit leaner. Like Murray, Randle has an upright running style that could potentially lead to an unnecessarily high injury risk.

Randle’s biggest positive is that he’s a decisive, one-cut runner. He gets up the field in a hurry, making the most of his speed. Randle would be a natural fit in a zone-blocking scheme that emphasizes decisiveness over long speed—much like that for Arian Foster in Houston.

Randle is a natural pass-catcher. When combined with his willingness to protect the quarterback, you have the makings of a potentially successful third-down back.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

There’s a lot of good tape out there on Randle, but there are reasons to be concerned as well.

 

Speed

We can talk about the importance of the 40-yard dash all day. Every time I bring up the test, I hear about Arian Foster or Frank Gore or some other back who timed poorly, but has succeeded. Those players are outliers.

The truth is that running backs with long speed have been far, far more successful than those with even moderate speed. I’ve done a lot of research on speed at the running back position, and those who clocked in under 4.50 have recorded six times the production of those about 4.50. That’s meaningful.

When we talk about using a certain measurable to grade a player, we don’t need it to be perfect. Just because Emmitt Smith didn’t run fast and was clearly a great back doesn’t mean the 40 is useless. All we’re looking for with any metric is that it’s predictive of future success for a position as a whole. And for running backs, the 40-yard dash is predictive.

So we can talk about how comparable Randle is to Murray, but there’s a major, major difference between the two players: 4.41 versus 4.63.

 

Is He Explosive?

Randle isn’t explosive from a straight-line speed standpoint, but oddly, he measured pretty well in the vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10-3)—two measurables that are strongly correlated with the 40. He also recorded a 4.25 short shuttle, which has to make you at least wonder if his 40 time was an aberration.

 

Late-Round Backs

Even though I would have drafted a different running back at this point, I love the idea of waiting to secure a runner. Since 2000, first- and second-round backs have totaled 4.23 YPC. Compare that to 4.25 YPC for backs drafted in the third, fourth or fifth round. There’s actually no correlation between draft spot and NFL efficiency for running backs, meaning there’s also little reason to draft one early.

 

2013 Projection

Like I said, Randle will step in as Murray’s backup. The way things have gone with Murray, there’s a good chance that Randle could take over as the starter at some point in 2013 if Murray gets hurt. Assuming Murray stays healthy, though, I’d expect Randle to eat up about 30 percent of the carries and take over the majority of third-down work. That works out to 107 carries, and, say, 30 receptions.

Believe it or not, running backs play at near peak efficiency from the moment they enter the NFL, and it’s a steady decline from there. Thus, I don’t think 4.7 YPC is out of the question for Randle in 2013. With 107 carries, that would put him at 503 yards on the season. Throw in a handful of scores and you’ve got a pretty good projection for Randle this year.

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