Oct 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle (21) runs the ball against the Detroit Lions during 1st quarter of a game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys’ Battle for Backup RB: Randle Vs. Williams

Entering the 2014 season, the Cowboys have multiple roster spots up for grabs. Both starting positions and key backup spots will all need to be sorted out these last weeks of Training Camp. One of those important backup spots is running back.

Obviously starter DeMarco Murray has his spot all locked up. After all, he led the league in yards per carry (amongst starters) and went to his first Pro-Bowl in 2013. On top of that, he’s in a contract year this season. That means he’s running for his next contract this year – which is an excellent motivator.

Behind Murray is an interesting situation. Lance Dunbar has his spot secure (barring major injury), but he’s more of a 3rd down/change-of-pace RB. If Murray is lost to injury, Dunbar is not expected to assume his starting role, but rather stay in his current 3rd down/change-of-pace role.

The Cowboys need to find a 3rd RB capable of carrying the load should DeMarco Murray fall. THAT will be the battle to watch.

The top two contenders for the spot are Ryan Williams and Joseph Randle

Aug 29, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams (34) reaches for the end zone during the second quarter of a preseason game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Williams

Age: 24

Height/Weight: 5’9”/212 lbs

40 Time: 4.61

After completing what many referred to as, an impressive workout, the former Hokie and Cardinal RB found a home in Dallas. Williams was drafted in the second round (38th overall) by the Arizona Cardinals. Despite injury concerns in college, expectations were high for the well-rounded RB. Sadly injuries continued to plague him in AZ, and he only played 5 games in his 3 years in Arizona.

Most recently, major knee and shoulder injuries hampered Williams his 3 years in Arizona causing him to miss the entire 2013 season. Shortly after the 2014 Draft, the Cardinals released the former star RB, preferring cheaper and more reliable options.

Ryan Williams now claims to be 100% for the first time and is ready to prove something.

Says Williams,

Every ounce of blood in my body, man, every inch of skin. I want to come into this game and leave it with a legacy. Not a legacy of being hurt, a legacy of being a guy you can talk about for years to come

If healthy (big “if”), Williams is a complete back. At 5’9” 212lbs, Williams can effectively pound it between the tackles, pass catch, & break tackles. Not known as a burner, Williams also has a surprising knack for the big play.


Oct 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle (21) looks to avoid the tackle of Philadelphia Eagles safety Earl Wolff (28) during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 17-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Joseph Randle

Age: 22

Height/Weight: 6’0”/210 lbs

40yrd Dash: 4.63

Drafted last year in the fifth round by the Cowboys, Joseph Randle enters training camp fighting for a job. DeMarco Murray is the unquestioned starter but the backup spot is wide-open with Randle right in the mix.

The Cowboys are expected to keep 4 RBs in 2014 (assuming they make one a FB, that only leaves 3 for the HBs). Murray has the starting spot and it appears Dunbar has the 3rd down spot. That leaves Murray’s primary backup up for grabs.

Randle slipped in the draft largely because he’s not “great” at any one thing. The RB lacks top-end speed traditionally needed to make long game-breaking plays. He’s also not big enough to be a short-yardage specialist.

The Cowboys saw a player who is fast on film and runs smart and runs strong. Randle always found a way for positive yardage and was effective in both long and short yardage situations in college.

Randle has a shifty nature to his running. He’s patient and best suited for a zone blocking scheme (which the Cowboys run under Bill Callahan). Randle is an excellent receiver out of the backfield or used in motion and stretched outside.

Randle had a very disappointing rookie season with the Cowboys. His patience turned to hesitancy resulting in many lost opportunities and a 3 yards per carry average. He was an effective receiver and pass blocker which should allow him to get more playing time.

Much like lead back DeMarco Murray, Randle has a tall and upright running style although he lacks the burst when making his cut up-field. Randle will never be as explosive as Murray but he needs to fully commit on his cut up-field, to be effective in this offense.

The Battle

Randle and Williams both had fairly illustrious college careers. Both players are capable strong pass-catchers. Both can run between the tackles and break a run to the outside. Both players are stronger than their stature implies and capable of picking up tough yards. Both players have a legitimate shot.

Being the Cowboys’ personal draft pick and only entering his second season, Joseph Randle has the inside track on the backup spot. Williams still probably has the bigger upside, but with such an injury plagued career, the Cowboys will have a tough time relying on him as the backup. Williams also lacks the pass-blocking ability that Randle can boast.

A strong injury-free camp will be needed by both players.

As always, the roster spots will force some very tough decisions and the loser of this battle will likely be cut. The Cowboys are expected to keep 3 RBs and 1 FB in 2014 and will have to steal spots from the TEs or WRs if they go deeper at RB.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys Joseph Randle Lance Dunbar Ryan Williams

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