We saw what happened last year when he broke his ankle in December after he ran roughshod through a solid sample size of the NFL as a rookie. However, it doesn't serve as a good template for what might happen if Murray goes down in 2012. The Cowboys trust in Felix Jones continues to diminish and the fact the former Arkansas star failed his camp physical in late July means the outlook of the Dallas backfield is murkier than usual. Despite the lack of known talent beyond Jones, there are two players capable of solid, if not surprisingly good fantasy production. Because Dallas has a strong passing game capable of spreading the field, there is often room to generate big plays on the ground.
Phillip Tanner, RB – Tanner is a second-year runner from Middle Tennessee State who impressed the Cowboys last year with his determined running style and explosive burst. He is known for running through the Chargers secondary sans helmet during the 2011 preseason. Tanner will work ahead of Felix Jones for as long as Jones has difficult passing a physical. Jones' conditioning has been all over the board in recent years that it doesn't help his proclivity for injury. Having the No.3 running back in Dallas is a smart move. Tanner's pass protection and confidence will be a variable because he's a second-year player with little playing experience, but he has reported the camp in shape and he knows the play book. I think he's the favorite for a No.3 role that could quickly become the No.1 spot if Murray goes down and/or Jones continues to falter.
Jason Witten, TE – Before the Cowboys made the switch to DeMarco Murray in Week 7, Witten had double-digit fantasy points in four of the first five weeks the Cowboys played. After Murray, Witten only had two double-digit totals in the next seven weeks and only three of those weeks exceeded five fantasy points despite the fact Miles Austin was still struggling with injuries and Dez Bryant had conditioning issues. Once, Murray was lost for the season, Witten's final three games amounted to 7.7, 2.4, and 6.9 fantasy points. That's not great, but a noticeable improvement. Witten is still physically a top-tier tight end. If the ground game falters, Witten could see more opportunities. Jason Garrett is inventive enough to create mismatches with Witten if they find a slot receiver that can draw coverage away from Witten and give the tight end a glaring mismatch. Monitor that development as well.
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, WR – Nothing changes for the outside receivers in this offense. If anything, they see more targets if the running game falters. Both Bryant and Austin can make plays anywhere on the field and if Murray gets hurt, they may receive more targets on short passes to use them as de facto runners on the perimeter with screens, swing passes, and quick hitches.
Felix Jones, RB – Jones' potential has always been a "buy," but his past performance is closer to a "hold." This year is no different. Two years ago, Jones tried to bulk up to prove he could be the feature back and it backfired. Last year he tried a different approach and DeMarco Murray eventually took the job. As talented as Jones is, he's a player to draft and hold. However, the price to acquire Jones if Murray will be higher than his past performance warrants. If you own him, sell him to a desperate Murray owner. If you own Murray, don't pay the inflated price.
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