If the Cowboys can’t find a way to keep both Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray on their roster in 2015, then they obviously have a very difficult choice to make. Both players were instrumental in the Cowboys’ best season since winning the Super Bowl almost 20 years ago. But while this decision might be a tough one for Dallas, the choice to us is clear.
DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing yards and attempts, and tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns. His performance in 2014 was so impressive that he had almost 500 more rushing yards than the next closest running back. The Cowboys’ jump in consistency and effectiveness from 2013 to 2014 was due in large part to their commitment to the running game. But how much of that was Murray and how much was the offensive line?
Murray is a good runner, but he isn’t exceptional. He has good speed, but his lateral quickness and agility aren’t exactly top notch. Often times, he’ll make a cut that forces a defender to miss, but then he’ll lose his balance and go to the ground. His vision is questionable as well. Too often, we’ve seen him run into his blockers’ backs when he had 5-10 more yards to either side.
Whereas someone like Adrian Peterson can deliver a blow and stay on his feet to gain more yards, Murray runs to get tackled. He contacts defenders on his way down to the ground instead of delivering a blow and running through them for more yards.
Furthermore, Murray was running behind the best offensive line in the league in 2014. The big boys up front on Dallas’ line are physical, athletic, and aggressive. They move the line of scrimmage and create space. We’re not saying any running back could have had the same season that Murray had behind this line, but for reference, the Cowboys’ two other running backs this season combined for a 5.53 yards per rush average on 80 carries.
Murray also plays a very physical position that puts lots of wear and tear on the body. It’s a position filled with lots of injuries and a short shelf-life. When a running back’s skills start to diminish, they do so rapidly.
None of this is to say that Murray is a bad back by any means. We’re definitely nitpicking here. But this is something the Cowboys will also have to do if they are forced to make a decision between two of their best players.
Dez Bryant is more of a special talent than Murray. Aside from Calvin Johnson, there isn’t a better blend of physicality and athleticism at the receiver position than Bryant. He can get off the line with both strength and speed against corners who want to try and jam him. If a corner takes just one false step or is a split second slow to react to him in 1-on-1 coverage, Bryant will fly right by him (just ask Bradley Fletcher). He uses his body well to box out defenders and go after the ball in the air. Because of this, his quarterback often has a bailout option if Bryant does receive 1-on-1 coverage.
Bryant has also performed extremely well. In 2014, he led the NFL in touchdown receptions. Since 2012 he also has the most touchdown receptions with 41. The next closest has 35. He has shown the ability to play consistently over a long period of time despite the fact that defenses know he is the primary playmaking threat.
Because of Bryant’s ability to dominate in 1-on-1 situations, defenses are forced to go out of their way to account for him. Not only does coverage often roll his way, but he also receives tons of true double-teams. This opens up things for the rest of the offense, including 1-on-1 matchups for other receivers.
Take this 3rd down against the Eagles in Week 15 for instance. Here, the Eagles used two defenders to cover Bryant, a cornerback and a safety. The safety is focused squarely on Bryant because of the double-team, and his back is turned to a wide-open Jason Witten over the middle as a result.
This play went for 21 yards.
Herein lies the biggest difference between Bryant and Murray. Bryant creates more options for the Cowboys offense. Murray benefits from the offense around him more than he creates for it. Bryant would therefore be more difficult to replace, and this is why the Cowboys should pick him over Murray if they have to choose.