After a successful draft earlier this month that included offensive tackle Zack Martin, the Dallas Cowboys continued with their attempts to bolster their running game by signing recently released Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams. Fans may find this a questionable move, however; the free agent has played a whopping five games in his three years with the NFL. Perhaps he will cover the games in between DeMarco Murray’s bouts of wellness.
Williams, a second round pick in the 2011 draft, missed his entire rookie season after rupturing his patellar tendon in a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. He returned briefly for the 2012 season, but injured his shoulder in game five, after amassing a unimpressive 2.8 yards per carry on 58 rush attempts. He remained inactive for all 16 games last season, leaving the Cardinals with little enough faith to release him to free agency last week, now that his rookie contract has expired. The Dallas Cowboys wasted little time in signing the barely tested running back, releasing rookie free agent Glasco Martin to make room for Ryan Williams on the roster.
The Cowboys have been statistically bankrupt at the running back position for years. Joseph Randle, who is listed second on the depth chart, barely ekes out three yards per carry on average. In fact, before last season, no Cowboys player had rushed for 1,000 yards since Julius Jones in 2006. Murray had a solid season despite his injuries, but the backfield behind him combined for less than 400 yards. The team amassed a respectable 1,500 rushing yards over the season, but compared to the 2013 NFL average of over 2,000 yards, that no longer seems quite so respectable. It has been four years since the Cowboys ranked in the top half of the league in rushing.
Williams did manage over 1,600 yards at nearly six yards per carry in 2009 at Virginia Tech, but his 2010 season proved disappointing, with only 477 yards on over 100 attempts. He seems to have played more of a “red zone” role that season, given he still had nine touchdowns. Yet Arizona drafted him in the second round, above several other promising candidates, so they obviously saw something they liked in his game tapes or his combine performance. The Cardinals have also had their share of bad luck with running backs and injuries and may have hoped to get somewhere with a rookie that had not been pushed to his limits before ever entering the league. Though this strategy did not work for them, it could work for the Cowboys. Williams’ long rest will mean stamina, especially if he has kept up with his training, and will mean less wear and tear for Dallas to deal with later.
Williams could prove to have some fight left in him, and is itching to play after nearly three full seasons of sitting on the bench. The Dallas Cowboys’ choice to sign Ryan Williams is likely an attempt to provide more solid depth at the running back position. Given that Williams had some success in college, he could prove to be the bolster that the Cowboys need to push their running game to what it once was, in the days of the illustrious (and sorely missed) Emmett Smith. At the very least, Dallas fans will not have to watch Randle or Tanner stumble down the field whenever Murray inevitably takes off a few games.
Commentary by Christina Jones