DeMarco Murray, when healthy and running behind an effective offensive line, is a well-rounded and talented running back. Is he elite at his respective position? Not quite yet, but the only thing standing in Murray's way is Murray himself.
Murray's arrival in Dallas as a third-round pick in 2011 has been marked with great play, but it also has come with questions surrounding his ability to stay on the field. A broken ankle, sprained foot and a sprained knee have eaten away at his appearances on the field during his three-year career.
Inclusive of his three-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving, Murray has 467 rushing attempts, 2,257 yards and 13 touchdowns so far in his career despite never rushing for 1,000 yards in a single season. He has four more games to finally accomplish that feat while he currently sits at 697 yards.
There is a lot to like about Murray's game, and it's most notable in his balance, vision and deceptive explosiveness. At times you see the runner who showed total domination of the St. Louis Rams, and at other times you see a player who misses a hole or fails to punish the defender at the end of his run.
Head coach Jason Garrett even critiqued Murray's ability to finish runs, but this should be viewed as someone seeing the bigger picture in a player and a coach who simply wants his running back to reach a higher level of play. And for that, I see nothing wrong with the criticism.
But let's not turn this into a spotlight accenting Murray's weaknesses or areas he needs to improve; let's talk about his ability to get the tough inside yards and key runs he made against the Giants or his ability near the goal line and his talents as a receiver in the flats. Murray was also the lone bright spot in the loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The Cowboys have been on a roller coaster as far as having a balanced offense this season, and that is not all Murray's fault. At times, and throughout the Garrett era, the running game has been scrapped in favor of heavy passing, and that has factored into some of Murray's and the team's success.
Now in his third year, we are starting to see the type of running back Murray will be in the future. The Cowboys are simply a different team when Murray is running the football effectively. This team has won more than 10 games in which Murray has over 15 carries, and he has a career average of 4.8 yards per carry.
And since Murray has been in Dallas you can easily say he's done this behind some very questionable offensive line play, especially in 2012. The bigger question now becomes if Murray is the running back for next season as well as the future.
The answer to that question is an emphatic yes. The Cowboys can continue to develop Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Phillip Tanner, but right now Murray is the man in Dallas. Again, health and the ability to help this team on the field overrides all factors, but between running effectively inside and outside while becoming a major weapon in the passing game, Murray is too valuable to this team.
Also, let's not forget about Murray's abilities in protection, picking up blitzes and effectively taking on defenders. He does an outstanding job in this department and uses his size at 6'0" and 215 pounds to handle the task. Dunbar is a nice complement to Murray, but his size is a factor and so is Randle's.
DeMarco Murray is a talented player, and he is also becoming one of the leaders on this team. His game is still developing, but what he brings to this franchise is the opportunity to have a complete running back, and those types of running backs are hard to find.
The Cowboys may just have a runner on the verge of becoming elite.