This week's question: Unscrambling the Dallas Cowboys backfield. Which Cowboys RB will present the most value at fantasy drafts this Fall?
This is a little bit of a trick question. I'm expecting Felix Jones to be drafted higher than Marion Barber III, who will be selected higher than Tashard Choice. Clearly I am expecting Felix Jones to be the most productive of the Cowboys' RBs. That isn't the question though.
The question is which one will present the most value. I actually think that honor belongs to Tashard Choice. Marion Barber will likely be the short yardage back. Choice will likely be the one to spell Jones when he needs a breather. I also think if Felix Jones were to get hurt, Choice would be the one to replace him as lead back.
Barber still has some name value, and the potential to score double-digit TDs, so I expect him to be the second Cowboy off the board. Since his role seems to most in question, I think he's the worst value of the three.
Felix Jones will be the first one off the board, but given the committee he's in, I don't see him standing out from the crowd of similar picks.
Choice, however, will be a late flier that could end up producing like an RB2. While I would rather have Felix Jones on my roster, I think Tashard Choice presents the best fantasy value of the three Cowboy RBs.
Dave of RotoPicks.Com says:
I’m confident that Marion Barber will not only be the best draft value in the Dallas backfield, but I think he’ll also be the most productive RB for the Cowboys at the end of the 2010 season.
Felix Jones’ stock has skyrocketed as a result of his post-season play and fantasy owners will pay a premium for him in 2010 drafts. Looking at the Cowboys postseason totals, Jones was clearly the better back, turning in over 200 yards rushing and 1 rushing TD on 30 carries and over 50 yards receiving on only 4 receptions. These numbers are pretty substantial compared to Barber’s 11 rushing attempts and zero receptions for a measly 18 total yards. Unfortunately, what you can’t see from these numbers is the context in which these figures were produced.
During their playoff run, Dallas faced the Eagles in the Wild Card round and the Vikings in the Divisional Series. These defenses were ranked 9th and 2nd, respectively, in rushing yards allowed during the regular season and made a living beating up on RBs that ran primarily between the tackles. In these situations, a shiftier Jones might have been the better play, but once the regular season rolls around I’m sure he will see a transition back to the change of pace role and situational return duty. Let’s not forget that Barber was the one who led all Cowboys RBs in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs, receptions, and receiving yards during the 2009 regular season.
Sure Jones might get a few more touches in 2010, but I’m not willing to pay a premium for the second best back in a committee system.
Derek of FantasyFootballManiaxs.Com says:
While the Cowboys’ quarterback situation is very stable, the Cowboys have three running backs that contributed at various points of the season. Marion Barber saw the most action with 214 carries for 932 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, while adding 26 receptions for 221 yards. Felix Jones had 116 carries for 685 yards rushing and three touchdowns and also compiled 19 receptions for 119 yards. Finally, Tashard Choice added 64 carries for 349 yards and three touchdowns, along with 15 receptions for 132 yards.
That leaves fantasy owners in a bind this year. All three running backs showed potential last year. When healthy and on the field, each is worthy of being in a Fantasy Owner’s starting lineup. Which of the three has the best chance to put up the numbers that Owners look for in a Fantasy Football starting running back?
I think it is clear that Choice is not going to be the No. 1 option. He failed to earn more than five carries after Week Six in any game.
The bigger question is who should owners be drafting first, Barber or Jones?
Gerry Fraley and Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News, as well as Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com Dallas, have reported this offseason that Jones will be the starter in the Dallas backfield and that injury concerns will lead to fewer carries for Barber. Furthermore, Jerry Jones has said that he would like to see Choice used more in the short passing game in 2010.
While Jerry Jones told the Dallas Morning News in January that money would not be a factor in Barber returning for the 2010 season, it does not take a fantasy football scientist to see that Barber’s carries are going to be even more limited in 2010. He is going to be the short yardage and change of pace back, with Jones receiving the bulk of the carries on first and second down and Choice being the wildcat and third down back, unless he is traded this offseason. Choice being out of the mix would help Barber’s value.
We currently have Felix Jones as the 16th-ranked fantasy running back. If he can stay healthy, we think it is reasonable to expect 1,100 yards to 1,200 yards and seven to nine touchdowns to go along with 30 to 40 receptions and 300 to 400 receiving yards, which could vault him into the vicinity of the top 10. He has good third round pick value; unfortunately, the fact that he plays for the Cowboys is going to make it hard to select him past the third round, and I can foresee drafts where he will be a second round pick. You hate to pick a player that high with an injury history that plays in a crowded backfield.
I think Barber is probably going to return to his 2006 numbers, when he had 135 carries for 694 yards. That year he had 16 touchdowns. I don’t expect those numbers to be as high in 2009; I think seven to nine touchdowns is more realistic. Barber is an excellent handcuff for Jones in case he is injured.
Please note the above was an excerpt from Derek's full article at FFManiax.
Jeff of DynastyKings.Com says:
The dreaded three-headed committee reappears in yet another franchise. The Dallas Cowboys were all set with Marion Barber III last season as their workhorse and they had planned on using Felix Jones as their complimentary back. Both guys have great skill sets but it is pretty clear as to which one is better on short yardage and between the tackles (Barber). Jones is a fierce player once he gets to the second level, making him a perfect candidate for plays designed to go wide or even on some screen passes. Both have significant downside – Barber is showing some signs of slowing down and Jones is not built to take a feature back workload.
Right now, Felix Jones is a very sexy pick. In four Winter Survivor Leagues that have been going since the end of January, Jones is going in the RB21-24 range, projecting him to be a fourth or fifth round selection in 2010 redrafts. Barber isn’t much lower, going in the RB27-33 range, which means this is viewed both as a RBBC and a toss-up. For me, Barber could be recouping from an undisclosed injury and Jones has not proven himself to be capable of holding up for a full season. Both backs represent decent value and it depends on Jones’ upside versus Barber’s return to previous performance levels.
The big wildcard? Tashard Choice. Personally I think he’s the best “value” pick in terms of what he will cost you as opposed to what his performance level could be in 2010. If Barber is hurt, I still believe that Jones will not be the workhorse for Dallas. Choice, not Jones, fits the style of Barber and is the closest thing to a drop-in replacement in that offense. Choice has also run the Cowboys’ version of the Wildcat and is a solid pass protection back (often used on third downs and passing plays out of the shotgun formation). While other fantasy owners will be rolling dice on Jones or Barber and hoping that they hit with their selection – I prefer a different value Choice. Choice will be dirt cheap in 2010 as the third man on the depth chart but his upside is huge, and neither back ahead of him has proven to be very durable.
Matt of RapidDraft.Com says:
This is a wide open question with answers that can vary depending on interpretation, but I’ll try to answer as straightforwardly as possible:
Marion Barber will lead the group in touchdowns and drive you crazy with the injury reports. Felix Jones will improve significantly on his first two seasons, produce the most yardage and probably miss a couple of games. Tashard Choice will continue to make fantasy owners wish he played for a different team, unless one of the other two suffers a significant injury.
Barber has been at his most consistently productive when spelled by another back. His breakout 16-touchdown 2006 came with just 135 carries (and 158 total touches) to Julius Jones’ 267. Barber’s next most productive year came in 2007, with just a 55 percent share of the carries that went to him and Jones.
In 2008, a Thanksgiving Day toe injury made it tough to know how Barber would have held up down the stretch, but there’s no denying that he wore down late in 2009. After averaging 4.6 yards a carry through the first 10 contests (missing one), he went for just 3.5 per rush in the final five games – including pedestrian outings against lackluster run defenses such as San Diego and New Orleans. That precipitated a mere 11 carries and 18 yards in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, a new Jones was finally getting a larger share of the load and looking good while doing it. The 5.9 yards per carry is no illusion, as even when Jones picks up 5 or 6 yards, he looks like he’s a step or two from breaking a long one. He’ll probably top out in the 12-15 carry a game range to keep from burning out, but Jones’ 30 rushes in the two playoff games were twice as many as either of his backfield mates.
Should he average just 12 attempts per game, Jones would need just 5.2 yards a rush to reach 1,000 for the season. He doesn’t look like he’ll become a prime receiving option soon, but Jones should be able to reach six or seven touchdowns along the way. I’d take him ahead of Barber at this point.
Finally, there’s Choice, who could well be the most consistent producer of the group if he got the chance. You could make an argument for him as the top value, considering Choice will go much later than the other two (seven rounds later, in Round 13, according to very early Fantasy Football Calculator numbers). He’ll be a very risky fantasy play, however, unless injury befalls Jones or Barber.
Russ of FantasyFootballStarters.Com says:
Few backfields in the NFL pose the type of problem for fantasy football owners in 2010 than the one in Dallas. All of us could spend a lot of time dissecting this situation as it really isn't nearly as cut and dried as some want to think. There's Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice. All the current signs point to the Cowboys getting Jones more involved in the offense in 2010. There's no doubting that his speed and playmaking abilities make him the most dynamic threat in their backfield, but questions still surround how well he'll fare if called on to regularly carry the ball 15+ times per game. While everyone is down on Barber at the present time because of his struggles in the post-season and the way Jones ran in their 2 playoff games, it needs to be remembered that Barber suffered a knee injury before the playoffs and in the last 3 games of the regular season Barber rushed 48 times for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns compared to Jones's 39 rushes for 207 yards and 1 touchdown. Jones had the better yards per carry average (5.3), but Barber's (4.5) wasn't bad either. Both RB's have had their struggled the last 2 seasons with injuries and it looks like a committee between them is forthcoming in 2010 again. I would expect that Jones would be the primary getting 13-15 carries per game with Barber the secondary getting 10-15, but it's still too early to tell. Choice is the interesting odd man out, as he has demonstrated excellent rushing skills when called upon and there is speculation that he could supplant Barber as the secondary RB to Jones in 2010. But I tend to think that is more of a motivational tactic to get Barber fired up than anything else. Not saying Choice can't do it, but I just think it unlikely.
Bottom line is that any of them could end up being the top fantasy Cowboys RB in 2010 making each of them risky propositions in fantasy football drafts. In our own expert's fantasy football mock draft Jones went 53rd overall as the 21st RB taken while Barber went 80th overall as the 34th RB off the board. Choice went in the 16th and final round. Barber went a little later than where I expect he'll go come around August but currently he's getting the least favorable press of the group. We'll see if that continues once we get into OTA's and training camp.
My 2010 fantasy football projection here is that barring an injury, I expect Jones will have around 224 carries for 1,030 yards with about 36 receptions for another 234 yards and a combined 6-8 touchdowns. Barber will have around 208 carries for 853 yards with about 32 receptions for 208 yards and scored 7-9 touchdowns. Jones has the higher ceiling for big statistical numbers, but it's probable that both RB's are going to cut into each other enough to the point where neither is a reliable every week play. Sounds like a lot of today's NFL backfields.
Jim of FanaticFantasyFootball.Com says:
Felix Jones saw his numbers go up but after his 2008 year that would be expected. Jones only had four games during the 09 season in which he received double digit carries and all four games came in the last eight weeks of the season giving rise to the hope he might put his injuries behind him and produce like a #1 or #2 back...For the rest of Jim's breakdown of the 'Boys backfield, please see his article posted at Fantasy Fantasy Football.
Personally this is a running back situation I prefer not to get involved in if at all possible. If I draft any of them it’s for running back depth and I don’t jump on any of them too early.
Marion Barber has received the most work over the last two years. His numbers have remained pretty constant since 2007, averaging 213 carries for around 900 yards and 8 touchdowns rushing per year. The part of Barbers game that has been affected the most is his targets and receptions. In 2007 he had 44 receptions for 282 yards and 2 TDs. He followed that up with 52 receptions, 417 yards and 2 TDs in 2008. During the 2009 season he was only targeted 32 times. Of those targets he caught 25 for 207 yards and zero TDs. Did the presence of Felix Jones and/or Tashard Choice cut into Barbers numbers out of the backfield?
I don’t think so. Choice saw his numbers drop in all phases of his game except one. His rushing opportunities dropped from 92 to 64 (-28), rush yards down from 472 to 349 (-123), receptions 21 to 15 (-6), receiving yards 185 down to 132 (-53), and zero receiving TDs in both 08 and 09.
Jake of JunkYardJake.Com says:
The Cowboys certainly have one of the more enviable running back situations in the NFL. Not many teams can boast three talented options at the position, and it's fairly clear that Marion Barber, Felix Jones or Tashard Choice can all be productive in a starting role. Barring a coaching change, or a trade, Dallas's RB rotation might very well stay consistent with the trend we have observed over the past two years. In this scenario, Marion Barber would assume early down carries, with Felix Jones providing an added speed dimension on 3rd downs. Tashard Choice's role would once again expand in the absence of either Barber or Jones due to injury.
In the event of a trade, the situation of course changes completely. There has been speculation that one of the three running backs could be traded this offseason. The most likely candidate is said to be Marion Barber. This makes sense from the perspective that he has the most mileage on him and commands the highest salary among Dallas's current RB trio. Choice, only one year younger than Barber, has also been mentioned in possible trades. Felix Jones, the youngest of the three players and turning 24 this season, probably has the best chance of staying in Dallas.
If Barber changes his address due to a trade, this will probably elevate Tashard Choice to 1st and 2nd down action. Choice is quite similar to Barber in terms of inside running ability and power. Choice is slightly smaller, but also has a nominal speed advantage over Barber. Moreover, despite the fact that Choice wasn't known as much of a receiver when he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 draft, he has proven himself to be competent in this regard. In 2009, Choice caught 15 passes for 132 yards and his 8.8 yards per catch was almost identical to the yards per catch produced by Barber, who had 26 catches for 221 yards (8.5 yards per catch).
Rick of FantasyFootballTrader.com says:
As usual, once we get down to me, you're already well versed in all of the numbers. I again tip the hat to the saavy crowd of analysts assembled above, as Tashard Choice (the forgotten man) was a popular selection. Remember - "value" was the key word in this discussion and Choice simply doesn't have to do much at all to offer awesome value among the late reaches of your 16 round draft.
But I'm going to take a chance and bet on the fact that Felix Jones has arrived for good. F.F.T. readers all know Felix has been a pet project of mine since entering the NFL. I've always been one of the few who said he'd have a better pro career than Arkansas running mate Darren McFadden and I'm sticking by it. Every time I watch a healthy Felix run he seems to outshine Barber and Choice (both of whom, I agree, have their place in this offense).
But Felix is a "breath holder". Whenever he touches the ball the opposing fan base forgets to breath until he goes down. Those guys always get featured sooner or later, height, weight and any other measurable be damned.
You want Felix at almost any point in the mid-third round. He and Shonn Greene are this year's Ray Rice.
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