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DallasNews: Felix Jones over Rashard Mendenhall: Three years later, numbers show why pick makes more sense


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http://cowboysblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2011/05/felix-jones-over-rashard-mende.html

By

Rainer Sabin / Reporter

rsabin@dallasnews.com | Bio

7:07 PM on Mon., May. 30, 2011 | Permalink

Thirty-seven months have passed since the Cowboys acquired Felix Jones with the 22nd overall selection in the first round of the 2008 draft. But to this day their decision to take Jones instead of Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall is questioned by a subset of vocal fans.

They wonder why the Cowboys didn't see what the Steelers did, why Dallas couldn't anticipate what Pittsburgh could, and why their team drafted what appears to be the less productive player. They grouse and point to the fact that Mendenhall, who was snatched up one pick after Jones, has received more carries, rushed for more yards, and scored more touchdowns than the Cowboys' top tailback in the three seasons since both players turned pro.

Those numbers - the most-common and most-cited statistical data available -- bolster their argument that the Cowboys chose the wrong guy. They also seem to prove that the Cowboys made a mistake when they bypassed Mendenhall, who has broken the 1,000-yard barrier twice in the last two seasons, for a player who has yet to come close to approaching that threshold during his young career.

And while the hard evidence is indisputable, it's uncertain whether Mendenhall would have been the right fit for the Cowboys' system. More specifically, would he have excelled more than Jones within the parameters of Jason Garrett's offense? In light of a recent study by the website, Pro Football Focus, that answer isn't so clear.

From 2008-2010, Felix Jones proved to be one of the most capable receivers among NFL running backs. In three seasons, he dropped only one of the 74 catchable passes thrown his direction. That level of proficiency is even more impressive when considering that only two running backs in the NFL - New Orleans' Pierre Thomas and Houston's Steve Slaton - have had better success rates. Yet it wasn't until last season that the Cowboys seemed to recognize just how dependable Jones really was.

In 2010, only four Cowboys players were targeted more than Jones, who made 48 receptions for 450 yards -- an output that far exceeded his production the previous two years when he was playing a supporting role while hampered by injuries. In space and outside the hash marks, Jones utilized his best assets - speed and agility -- during the better part of last season.

Never was that more apparent than in the Cowboys' 33-20 victory over the New York Giants last November, when Jones ran 71 yards for a touchdown after hauling in a screen pass.

The emergence of Jones as a dynamic receiver made the Cowboys' pass-heavy offense that much more threatening while blunting the impact of the team's inefficient running game.

Yet it also shed light on why the Cowboys may have favored Jones over Mendenhall, who has proven to be one of the least reliable receivers among NFL running backs since he entered the league. In the last three years, Mendenhall has dropped eight of the 62 catchable passes (12.9 percent) thrown to him. That may not seem like much.

But had Mendenhall attained the minimum number of catchable passes needed to qualify for Pro Football Focus' study, his drop percentage would be one of the highest among running backs included in the analysis. Only Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, Arizona's Tim Hightower and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson fared worse during the same sample period.

That is a troublesome rate of failure, but it's one that is overlooked because Mendenhall isn't a regular receiving option out of the backfield in Pittsburgh's offense. Rather, he is a traditional rusher. In fact, in 24 of the 39 games in his career, he's caught one or fewer passes. Whether Mendenhall's lack of productivity as a receiver is the byproduct of the system in which he plays or a direct result of his ability to execute is difficult to ascertain.

But back in April 2008, when asked why he picked Jones over the Steelers' running back, owner Jerry Jones insinuated that Mendenhall's skill-set wouldn't necessarily enhance the Cowboys' offense.

"Both of them were so close you could flip a coin over them," Jones told The Dallas Morning News. "One of them could be a full-time 25-carry back. We don't see Felix that way."

Rather, the Cowboys saw Felix Jones as somebody whose versatile repertoire could be utilized within the offense that was in place. In retrospect, that was a keen observation. While Jones hasn't equaled the output Mendenhall has produced in the most-recognized statistical categories, he has outperformed him in other aspects - aspects that are valued by Garrett and the Cowboys.

In the end, Jones may not appear to be the better of the two running backs based on data that have historically quantified the productivity of players at their position. But it appears he is best-suited for the team that ultimately picked him. After all, the Cowboys want players who can catch the football. And Jones has proven he can do just that.

I shall let my Redskins brethren mention all the ways in which the "logic" in this article fails on numerous fronts lol :cool:...

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Felix Jones IMO is a great back who just doesn't get enough touches.

I feel like people may look back at this 2008 draft in 10 years and say it produced the most talent at RB than ever before... You really couldn't go wrong.

McFadden

Stewart

Jones

Mendenhall

Johnson

Forte

Rice

Smith?

Charles

Slaton?

Choice?

Torrain?

Hightower?

(even the question mark guys have shown flashes of starter potential)

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Wasn't one of the primary arguments for Felix Jones that he was a better compliment to Marion Barber than Medenhall? Which is probably true, but unfortunately Barber never developed into the back that they hoped he would have (he never hit the yardage, avg, or TDs that he had in '07 again). I can almost guarantee you that if the cowboys knew that Barber's play would drop off, they would have drafted Mendenhall.

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"Both of them were so close you could flip a coin over them," Jones told The Dallas Morning News. "One of them could be a full-time 25-carry back. We don't see Felix that way."

Well no **** Sherlock. The question is why anyone would pick a RB who's too small to be a bell cow 25 carry a game RB that high in the draft? Felix was a huge reach with that pick. But besides that look where the Boys are 3 years after that dumb decision. Marion Barber is washed up and on his way out of town and Dallas needs a 25 carry a game back. Think Felix is going to turn into that bellcow? No chance. Ever since Felix was told to add weight to take the pounding an NFL RB has these days he's lost most if not all the speed that made him special. As a 25 carry a game RB he looks slow and average. In the end there is no defending this pick in my opinion. It hurt them short and long term and that quote tells me that Jones knew he was reaching when the pick was made and did it anyway. Reminds me of the Al Davis picks made just for speed that never work out.

No matter how you slice it, in 2011 would Dallas be better off with Mendenhall or Jones? Mendenhall of course even if he can't catch the ball that well.

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They keep drafting the same players over and over again. Jones and Murray is one example, but far worse is Bobby Carpenter, Kevin Burnett, Jason Williams, Sean Lee and now Bruce Carter. That's one first round pick and 4 second round picks on the same position in 7 years. Maybe Lee and Carter will eventually replace James and Brooking, but if they don't they're just another in a long line of nickel linebackers that hang on until their rookie contract runs out and move on.

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It is the typical Cowboy way of making the pick look like a masterful pick when in reality it is just another Jerry Jones blunder. If Fleix jones was that great then why did everyone else ahead of the Cowboys bypass on him? The article is just another pro-Cowboy supporter that wants to make things look beautiful in a $h!t pile.

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If Fleix jones was that great then why did everyone else ahead of the Cowboys bypass on him?

Sorry, but doesn't this apply to every draft pick after the first 20 or so? If Mendenhall was so great, why did everyone ahead of the Steelers "bypass" on him (whatever that means)?

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It is the typical Cowboy way of making the pick look like a masterful pick when in reality it is just another Jerry Jones blunder. If Fleix jones was that great then why did everyone else ahead of the Cowboys bypass on him? The article is just another pro-Cowboy supporter that wants to make things look beautiful in a $h!t pile.

Agreed on everything but the bolded part. Rashard Mendenhall was picked one pick after Felix, could you say the same thing about him?

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Small quiz:

Which current puke running back has a 1,000+ rushing yard year?

Trick question! :ols:

I knew it was Julius Jones in 06 who squeaked over the 1000 mark. I didn't realize the next was Emmitt Smith way back in 2001 who eclipsed the mark by just 21 yards.

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Small quiz:

Which current puke running back has a 1,000+ rushing yard year?

Tashard Choice has 1,000 yards for his career, does that count?

---------- Post added May-31st-2011 at 08:45 PM ----------

Trick question! :ols:

I knew it was Julius Jones in 06 who squeaked over the 1000 mark. I didn't realize the next was Emmitt Smith way back in 2001 who eclipsed the mark by just 21 yards.

But Julius Jones isn't a current Puke RB

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I know, that's why I said trick question lol.

Mendenhall has 554 more yards and 13 ore TD's so far!

And for all of Jerruh's talk about Felix being a better "receiving" back:

Mendenhall has only 19 less receptions and 134 less receiving yards than Jones. They have the same number of touchdowns (1 each). Mendenhall has one less fumble on receptions, and a higher ypc (8.9 to 8.4 for Jones).

Great pick Jerruh! :thumbsup:

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And for all of Jerruh's talk about Felix being a better "receiving" back:

Mendenhall has only 19 less receptions and 134 less receiving yards than Jones. They have the same number of touchdowns (1 each). Mendenhall has one less fumble on receptions, and a higher ypc (8.9 to 8.4 for Jones).

Great pick Jerruh! :thumbsup:

Well, last year Felix averaged half a yard more per rush, over 2 more yards per catch (and had the highest catch % of any player in the NFL last year) and only 120 more total yards.

I'm not saying Jones was a great pick, but Mendenhall has had to really rack up the carries to get his yardage. Under 4 ypc really isn't very good.

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Well, last year Felix averaged half a yard more per rush, over 2 more yards per catch (and had the highest catch % of any player in the NFL last year) and only 120 more total yards.

I'm not saying Jones was a great pick, but Mendenhall has had to really rack up the carries to get his yardage. Under 4 ypc really isn't very good.

Mendenhall is in one of the toughest divisions in terms of run D AND has a so-so line in front of him. His performance actually is rather impressive. Shelix needed soft-ass competition, like the Redskins :( and Houston, to help inflate his stats.

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Well, last year Felix averaged half a yard more per rush, over 2 more yards per catch (and had the highest catch % of any player in the NFL last year) and only 120 more total yards.

I'm not saying Jones was a great pick, but Mendenhall has had to really rack up the carries to get his yardage. Under 4 ypc really isn't very good.

John RIggins averaged under 4.0 ypc most of his career. LaDainien Tomlinson averaged under 4.0 ypc in two of his first four seasons in the league. Mendenhall averaged 4.6 ypc in 2009 and 3.9 ypc in 2010...and averged 4.5 ypc in the AFC Championship game and in the SB as well.

I wouldn't use Mendenhall's ypc average as a strike against him.

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Mendenhall is in one of the toughest divisions in terms of run D AND has a so-so line in front of him. His performance actually is rather impressive. Shelix needed soft-ass competition, like the Redskins :( and Houston, to help inflate his stats.

I wouldn't exactly call Cincinnati or Cleveland defensive power houses...and the Steelers o-line last year was much better than the Cowboys.

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It's been entertaining watching the downfall of the Cowboys' three-headed monster backfield. It was only a couple of years ago when I was considered a homer on ES for suggesting that Brandon Jacobs was a better RB than Marion Barber. Now, Jacobs just finished second in the league in yards per carry and had more rushing TD's than all three Cowboys RB's combined. It's always so much fun when Cowboys' hype dies.

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I wouldn't exactly call Cincinnati or Cleveland defensive power houses...and the Steelers o-line last year was much better than the Cowboys.

but now that rob ryan has left cleveland for the pokes CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!!!!!!1

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Well, last year Felix averaged half a yard more per rush, over 2 more yards per catch (and had the highest catch % of any player in the NFL last year) and only 120 more total yards.

I'm not saying Jones was a great pick, but Mendenhall has had to really rack up the carries to get his yardage. Under 4 ypc really isn't very good.

This is crap and you know it's crap. First off, a power back takes a serious toll on a defense. Secondly, it's much easier to run when you only get the ball 15 times a game. Mendenhall's worth to a team is well above his yards per carry. He gets the tough yards when tough yards are needed. Jones does not. It's why Emmitt Smith (this probably won't go over too well here) was so valuable, more valuable than Barry Sanders in my opinion. Emmitt wore down defenses. Sanders was simply amazing but I was never that worried when the Skins were playing him because the Skins defense wasn't on the field for the entire game like they were playing Dallas. 3.8 yards per carry on 30 carries is a lot more valuable than 4.3 on 15 especially when a good chunk of that yardage is on one play. You can rationalize all you want that Jones was a good pick and he is a nice luxury to have but he's not worth a 1st because he'll never be an every down back.

---------- Post added June-1st-2011 at 10:43 AM ----------

It was only a couple of years ago when I was considered a homer on ES for suggesting that Brandon Jacobs was a better RB than Marion Barber.

I doubt too many Skins fans thought of you as a homer for that. Now thinking that Tiki Barber was better than Trung Canidate, that made you a homer.

---------- Post added June-1st-2011 at 10:46 AM ----------

but now that rob ryan has left cleveland for the pokes CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!!!!!!1

"There, I've run circles round you logically." -- John Cleese

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