The Cowboys' passing game was led by QB Tony Romo, who had 4,483 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns with just nine interceptions.
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. From Week Three to Week Five, Choice had 40 carries for 207 yards and two touchdowns. He failed to earn more than five carries after Week Six in any game.
Barber signed a seven-year, $45 million deal in May of 2008. Jones was drafted in 2008 with the 22nd pick and signed a five-year deal worth $10.5 million. Choice has not shown enough that the Cowboys are going to bench those guys for a fourth round pick that is making $500,000 per year. As long as Barber or Jones is healthy, Choice is going to see limited touches and have very little fantasy value.
The bigger question is who should Owners be drafting first, Barber or Jones?
Neither has been particularly good at staying healthy. Jones played only six games in his rookie season due to a hamstring injury. This year he was limited by a left knee injury, played in only 14 games and was limited in several others. Barber was slowed by a quadriceps injury last year that lingered the entire season and was limited by a toe injury at the end of 2008. The reason owners know about Choice is that neither of these two have been able to stay healthy, which has opened the door for Choice the past two seasons.
Conventional wisdom would say that Dallas goes with Barber because of his big contract, but owner Jerry Jones calls the shots in Dallas, and the fact is that he likes Felix Jones. Both are Arkansas graduates, and Jerry Jones was fascinated by Felix's speed in college, which is the reason he drafted him in the first place.
Felix saw 49 carries for 258 yards and one rushing touchdown the last four games of the season. In the playoffs, he had 16 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, followed by 14 carries for 69 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in their playoff loss. Barber had 62 carries for 263 yards and three touchdowns in his last four regular season games but had only 11 carries for 18 yards in the playoffs. When the postseason ended, Jones was clearly the No. 1 back in terms of both carries and production.
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.
Realistically, Barber is an average third running back that should be taken in the fifth to seventh round but will probably go sooner due to his name recognition. We currently have him ranked 25th in our running back rankings.
Finally, Choice has little to no fantasy value unless one of the other two players is hurt. He might be worth a flyer in the very late rounds but is probably a better player to keep an eye out for on the waiver wire. Felix Jones is the value play in 2010 and should be the Dallas running back you have on your radar.
By Derek Lofland, senior writer at Fantasy Football Maniaxs