Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, the all-time leading rusher in NFL history, knows a thing or two about running backs.
While the Cowboys great is critical of the devaluation of the running back across the league, he is OK with his former team’s decision to pass on a runner in the 2015 NFL Draft, despite the loss of NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray.
Smith has faith in free-agent signee Darren McFadden to get the job done in Dallas along with holdover Joseph Randle, who showed flashes as Murray’s backup last year.
But McFadden is the key for Smith and the Cowboys. He was a bust with the Oakland Raiders, averaging 600 yards rushing over seven seasons after being picked No. 4 overall in 2008. He is looking for a new start after missing 29 games in his career due to injuries.
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Smith believes McFadden can finally put it all together in Dallas because he will have a strong supporting cast for the first time in his career.
“Darren McFadden, that is a running back you have to respect. You have to remember he played out in Oakland. Oakland doesn’t have what the Cowboys have,” Smith said during an interview on 105.3 FM Tuesday. “Having an offensive line, and a quarterback like Tony Romo, and some receivers, and a system that makes some doggone sense, he can become a better running back in this system.
“And [with backup running back Joseph] Randle, you can have a nice one-two punch. The one thing with McFadden, if he gets some of those running lanes that I saw DeMarco have last year, and it’s on — he can take it to the house.”
McFadden, 27, had 1,038 carries for 4,247 yards and 25 touchdowns in seven years with the Raiders and a career average of 4.1 yards per carry.
Last season was the first time McFadden played a full 16 game schedule. He started 12 games and rushed for 534 yards with a 3.4 per carry average.
Still, Smith believes McFadden is ready for a revival in Dallas.
Coach Jason Garrett said Murray had been labeled as injury-pronemuch of his career before last season when he rushed for a team-record 1,845 yards.
“We feel bringing [McFadden] into this environment will help him play his best football,” Garrett said.
Smith, however, does take offense to the notion that any running back can be successful behind the Cowboys’ offensive line, as well as the overall diminishing regard for the NFL running back. He says it is rooted in the zone blocking schemes that the Denver Broncos began using in the late 1990s to turn a series of little-known runners into 1,000-yard rushers.
“It’s disrespectful to all running backs, to be honest with you,” Smith said. “You can say arrogant, but it’s definitely disrespectful. ... The league has gotten very comfortable with this plug-and-play system. When you have zone blocking, or a system to what the Denver Broncos used to have in the late ’90s and early 2000s, they think like that.”
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760