Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Draft 2008 – Round 1 #22 – Dallas Cowboys – RB Felix Jones

NFL Draft 2008 Logo The Dallas Cowboys are on the board about an hour earlier than I would have guessed. The consensus is that they need a WR, RB, and CB on the first day.

Rashard Mendenhall, the running back out of Illinois, seems the obvious choice here. He’s a top 10 overall selection on most draft boards. I expect Jerry Jones to get cute and work the clock the whole time he’s allotted but would hope he goes that way if he can’t get a great offer.

The pick is in!

Stupidly, they went with Felix Jones of Arkansas. I don’t get it. I really don’t.

Scouts, Inc.: 32 (vice 7 for Mendenhall)

Strengths: Versatile back with world-class speed. Exceptional when he can get the ball in space. Displays rare initial burst through the line of scrimmage and around the corner as an outside runner. Is elusive in space and displays an elite second-gear to run away from most defenders. Does not have a lot of tread on his tires. An unselfish player that proved he will put the team before himself in college. Finds different ways to contribute and could be best suited for a multi-purpose role in the NFL. Displays very soft hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Will adjust to ht poorly thrown ball. Runs sharp routes and is instinctive in that regard. A homerun threat after the catch. Will get in good position and give a solid effort as a blocker. Should also provide excellent value as a return specialist in the NFL. He showcases his rare second-gear with his 82-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the 2007 Kentucky game. It was a classic example of one cut and gone.

Weaknesses: Has always split carries at collegiate level. Can he carry the full load in the NFL? Has the frame to get bigger but needs to prove capable of putting on weight (and keeping it on) without taking away from his exceptional burst, which is what makes him special. Lacks power as a runner. Is not big or strong enough to push the pile in short-yardage situations. Is not a sharp-cutter; more of a glider. Can get undercut rather easily at times in space. Takes too many chances bouncing runs outside because he can outrun everyone at college level but will need to be more decisive versus faster defenses in the NFL. Will get in position as a blocker but lacks sand in his saddle to hold ground versus bigger blitzing linebackers.

Overall: Prior to declaring early for the 2008 NFL draft, Jones played a versatile backup role to Darren McFadden throughout his three seasons with the Razorbacks. During that three-season span, Jones rushed for 2,956 yards and 20 scores on 386 carries, caught 39 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned four kickoffs for touchdowns. It’s hard not to wonder what type of numbers Jones would have churned out as a premier back at another school. To his credit, though; Jones never showed frustration playing in McFadden’s shadow. Instead, he has managed to build quite a resume as a versatile No. 2 back. Jones is not as big or strong as McFadden, but he does set the bar when it comes to breakaway speed — and that’s saying a lot considering McFadden’s outstanding burst. Jones can be an instant impact player if used in as multi-purpose role. He should contribute right away as a change-of-pace back that can provide some homerun hitter both as a receiver and in the return game. Only time will tell if Jones is capable of emerging as a team’s fulltime load-carrier. Until then, his versatility and big-play potential make Jones awfully intriguing for a team with the luxury of drafting a complementary back late in the first round.

Rick Gosselin: 21 (vs 10 for Mendenhall)

Mel Kiper: 18 (vs 10 for Mendenhall)

The only thing I can figure is that the Cowboys were drafting Jones as a complementary back to Barber and all the reports about his lack of ego was the seller. But the price is the same whether you’re getting a guy with backup mentality or starter mentality. I’d rather risk having the 1st round pick being too good to keep in a complementary role and losing Barber down the line. Competition is good.

A decent pick for their position but certainly not the best running back on the board. Again, this pick may turn out quite well — but it’s not the smart pick.

UPDATE: DMN’s Albert Breer agrees.

Let me be clear here — This is a big, big, big, BIG mistake. Rashard Mendenhall is twice the back that Felix Jones is. And if my feelings weren’t clear enough today, take it here. I believe Mendenhall is better than both Arkansas backs.

I don’t agree with this move. What. So. Ever. Check back with me when Mendenhall is rushing for 1,600 yards. And when Ray Rice is a better pro than Felix Jones.

Tim McMahon reports that the Cowboys wanted a good fit with the two-back system.

Jerry acknowledged that Mendenhall has the potential to be a 20-plus-carry back. The Cowboys do not see Felix (no relation to Jerry despite Arkansas ties) as that kind of player.

So why take Felix? They wanted a change-of-pace back in the first round because they believe Marion “The Barbarian” Barber will be the lead horse for the foreseeable future. Wade Phillips raved about Felix’s big-play ability and versatility. “Barber allowed us to have the luxury of being able to have a back come in and be able to do some of the things that Wade just described,” Jerry said. “He flourishes in a two-back system. He really is comfortable there.”

If that’s what you want, find someone in the 4th round, a la Barber two years ago. You don’t spend a 1st rounder on a permanent backup.

Rick Herrin issues a reminder that makes you sick to the stomach:

Jerry is obviously hoping he made the right pick. He didn’t last time when he traded out of the first round and could have drafted Rams running back Steven Jackson. Instead they went with Julius Jones in the second round.

Let’s hope this one turns out better. Julius wasn’t a total bust — Dallas fans are too hard on him in that regard — but he’s no Steven Jackson. I’m afraid we’ll be making unfavorable comparisons between Jones and Mendenhall for a while.

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