Spotlight: Marion Barber
posted by Jason Wood on Aug 6th
Jason Wood's thoughts
The Cowboys have enviable depth at tailback. In a league where teams are more frequently using RB-by-committee, the Cowboys personify the upside of that approach. In Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, Dallas has the ability to impose their will and slough off any potential injury concerns. The plug-and-play nature of this tailback trio is both a blessing and a curse. For the Cowboys and their fans, it means they don't have to alter their game plan if one of the guys is nicked up. But for fantasy owners, it means the potential for unpredictability week to week and possibly a maddening sense of inconsistency even if -- at the end of the year -- their fantasy numbers are right where you expected.
According to data from ProFootballFocus:
As you can see, all three backs were integral pieces to the Cowboys offense last year, and in fact none of them were on the field for even half of the team's snaps. It should also be pointed out that Felix Jones was only on the field a bit more than Tashard Choice. Why is this an important point to consider, you ask? Because the conventional wisdom this year is that Felix Jones breaks out as the feature back. Entering August, Jones is being drafted RB22 on average and 48th overall. Meanwhile Barber is going off the board 63rd overall and RB26. Choice is a relative afterthought, being drafted RB56 and 174th overall.
Analyzing Felix Jones - Undeniable Upside but RISKY
There's a lot to like about Felix Jones, not the least of which is the fact he's been the apple of Jerry Jones' eye since he was running wild at the University of Arkansas. When the Cowboys used their 1st overall pick on Jones two seasons ago, many thought his explosiveness, speed and penchant for big plays would vault him ahead of Marion Barber. That wasn't considered a negative on Barber, but more a belief that Jones was special. Two seasons into his NFL career and we're all still waiting for Jones' breakout. As a rookie, he only played in six games and totaled a whopping 32 touches for 276 yards. He was a complete non-factor, but optimists noted Jones' gaudy 8.9 yards per carry average on his 30 carries. Last year, he played in 14 games and averaged an NFL-leading 5.9 yards per carry. That's the good news. The bad news is he only had 116 carries and 19 receptions on the season, and finished the year as the 41st ranked fantasy back.
A lot of the enthusiasm for Jones comes from his late season heroics against Philadelphia. In the final regular season game, and then in the first playoff game, Jones ran wild against the Eagles to the tune of 31 carries for 239 yards and 2 TDs. But I think it's VERY dangerous to extrapolate two games as a new baseline. The fact is, for all of Jones abilities [and they are many], he's NEVER been a full-time running back. He played as part of a tandem in college with Darren McFadden. In college, while he was explosive (7.7 yards per rush!), he never had more than 154 carries in a season. So I ask, why would he now suddenly be in the position to tote the rock 15-20 times per game?
Analyzing Marion Barber - Underestimating Him a Huge MISTAKE
So what's the story with Barber? The Cowboys rewarded him with a huge contract two seasons ago, and yet it seems the media and fans have been counting the days until he's no longer a focal point of the offense. But why? He's been very effective in every season. Barber has never been a 1,000-yard rusher in five NFL seasons. So he too brings concerns about durability and whether he's really suited to be a full-time runner. Yet, he has had 200+ rushes in each of the last three seasons, and averaged 4.3 yards per rush over that span. Most importantly, he has scored 24 rushing TDs (at least 7 per season) over that span, not to mention 4 receiving TDs. Last year, he finished outside the Top 20 (RB21) but just barely, which ended a streak of Top 20 fantasy seasons (2006-2008).
On the surface, I could see how some might look at Barber as someone on the slight decline and then see Felix Jones' explosiveness and believe it only makes sense to flip flop their workloads. But that ignores THE CRITICAL REVELATION of this offseason: Marion Barber played with a torn quadriceps last year. The idea that a bruising NFL runner could stay on the field for months playing with a torn quad boggles the mind, but that's exactly what Barber accomplished in 2009. Which makes his "slippage" last year seem far less concerning. By all accounts, Barber is 100% healthy and has looked great in OTAs and early camp. Don't forget that as you try to decide whether either of these runners is worth your fantasy roster spot.
Why mess with a good thing? - Committee makes too much sense
I get that fantasy owners want certainty. We want one of these guys to magically evolve into a 250-300 touch player so we can have an elite player on our roster and not worry about a committee or time share. But OC Jason Garrett has no real incentive to give us what we want. ESPECIALLY when you consider that neither of these guys has proven capable of carrying a full workload. Meanwhile, they've BOTH proven that they are VERY effective in their current roles. Consider:
Top 50 RBs (2005-2009), Sorted by Fantasy Points per Touch
- Barber is powerful, patient and has been a touchdown machine throughout his career
- At 27 years old, Barber hasn't been overworked averaging roughly 200 carries per season, and is 100% healthy after playing through a torn quad last season
- Not only is Barber an above average short yardage back, but he's also an adept receiver. His 6 TD receptions over the last four years is up among the NFL's best at his position
- It seems the Cowboys brass are always lobbying for someone to take on a larger role; and Jones has been explosive enough to at least get the chance early in the season
- Barber doesn't just have to worry about Felix Jones vulturing touches, but Tashard Choice, too
- Flozell Adams remained an effective run blocker and it's unclear whether Doug Free or Alex Barron will be as effective
Another year, another chance to target Marion Barber. I look at a guy that finished RB21 last year on a torn quad and being on the field only 50% of the time and can't fathom how he's coming off the board in the 6th or 7th round in most leagues. He's healthy, Felix Jones is no workhorse in his own right, and this offense really has no incentive to change what's working. Do I think Barber will get enough work to explode into the fantasy elite? No. But I do think he should see as many, if not more touches than Felix Jones if both stay healthy...and that means Barber is the guy you want to target because he's going 2 or 3 rounds later.
Quotations from the message board threadTo view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.
Carry to carry, I think Felix Jones is a top 4-5 back in the NFL. If he stays healthy and gets carries, he'll put up big time numbers. I thought he was the best running back to come out of that draft (even though that title belongs to Chris Johnson) but I never liked McFadden over Jones. Felix has that elite extra gear and is an actual running back (as opposed to a great athlete playing RB). Granted, they're in significantly different situations (although McFadden does play behind a good run blocking o-line), but I always thought Felix would be the better pro and I think this is the season he officially breaks out. I don't think he'll be a huge fantasy star though just because of the lack of goal line work and how they'll still give choice some carries, but he'll be a great get for whoever picks him up in their leagues this season and will prove to be a very valuable dynasty piece going forward as well IMO.
Marion Barber projections
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