Faceoff - RB Julius Jones, Dallas Cowboys
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Upside - by Jason Wood
Sidelined for the start of his rookie season, it was surprising to see Jones amass 30 carries in his first game in the lineup against the vaunted Ravens defense. But from that point on, Jones was the driving force behind the Cowboys offense. Over the final seven weeks, Jones had no less than 22 carries and totaled 192 carries for 803 yards and seven touchdowns. Projecting his workload over a full 16-game schedule would imply:
- 439 carries
- 1,835 rushing yards
- 4.2 yards per carry
- 217 receiving yards
- 16 touchdowns
Now, rest assured, Julius Jones isn't going to have 439 carries this season; that would be a new NFL single-season record. But it does demonstrate two very important points. One, when healthy Jones is capable of shouldering a huge workload. Two, Bill Parcells has the confidence in Jones as a focal point of the offense.
And don’t make the mistake of worrying about the presence of “A-Train” Thomas and rookie Marion Barber. No running back, regardless of his durability, can sustain the workload Jones was given in the 2nd half of the 2004 season. By adding two promising backups to the mix, the Cowboys should be able to run the ball 30+ times per game, but spell Jones in order to keep him fresh and ultimately more effective.
With a surefire workload, excellent production in tough conditions as a rookie, a bolstered offensive line, and a passing game that should be modestly successful but not enough to take away red zone chances from the running game, Jones seems a virtual lock for 280-320 carries, 1200+ rushing yards and 10+ touchdowns. You could make the case he warrants first round consideration, but at the very least he is one of the more compelling second round options.
Downside - by Mark Wimer
Julius Jones vindicated the Cowboys’ selection of him during last year’s draft when he finally got the chance to play football at the seasons’ mid-point, after missing the first half of 2004 due to injury. He racked up an impressive 197/819/7 rushing and 17/109/0 receiving in only 8 games, and figures to be a centerpiece for the Cowboys again in 2005.
However, the Cowboys made a significant off-season acquisition when they picked up Anthony Thomas from the Bear’s sidelines. He’s a prototypical big-back, a “thumper” in Coach Parcells’ lexicon, and gives the Cowboys a solid inside runner to compliment Jones. And therein lies the rub for Jones owners during 2005 – from where I sit, Thomas figures to take short-yardage and goal-line chances away from Jones. Said Coach Parcells around June 2nd, “I look at him as a between-the-tackles runner, a pretty tough guy. My vision for him right now would be some short yardage, goal line, that kind of thing.” (San Antonio Express News article by Tom Orsborn, 6/2/05).
Sometimes when teams stack the line to stop a 3rd-and-1, the running back bursts through the line for a big gainer. Goal-line work equates to scoring chances, obviously. Thomas will take away enough of Jones’ chances to significantly diminish his fantasy value during 2005 in comparison to featured backs like LaDainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James, who don’t get the hook in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Coach Parcells has always liked employing a big-back in those situations, and I don’t expect he’ll suddenly change his mind during 2005.
Jones should still see a majority of the carries, and I see him ending up between 1100-1200 yards rushing with 8-9 TDs with 200-300 yards receiving and 1-2 TDs – he won’t challenge for elite fantasy status during 2005 due to the “Thomas factor”.