5-11.5, 224, 4.41
Projected Draft Position: Mid-First Round
The improvement by the Dallas Cowboys in 2003 was nothing short of remarkable.
After 3 consecutive 5-11 seasons under former head coach Dave Campo, Bill Parcells proved to be just what the doctor ordered as Dallas marched through a 10-6 regular season on their way to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Unfortunately, their undoing came in the first round at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.
The inability to establish any sort of consistency running the football allowed the Panthers to pin their ears back and attack Quincy Carter from all angles. The end result was a 29-10 loss to a team that the Cowboys had managed to defeat just a month earlier, and a quick exit to an otherwise unbelievable season.
There's little doubt that in 2004, the Cowboys will have to improve in several areas on offense to have any hopes of moving ahead of Philadelphia in the NFC East and deeper into the postseason.
One of those areas will be at running back, where several players will be looked to this offseason to improve the team. And the first player at the top of the board in Valley Ranch is Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones, a junior who declared for this April's draft after finishing up another incredible season in Blacksburg.
|Jones rushed for 1,419 yards during his junior year, which established a new single-season rushing record at Virginia Tech.|
Certainly, it goes without saying that in a draft that isn't incredibly deep in the offensive backfield, Jones headlines the small group of "impact players."
"He's an explosive runner with great elusiveness, speed, and athleticism," notes NFL Draft Expert Tony Pauline. "He runs with good lean and balance, and keeps his footing after the initial hit. He's also patient, and fast enough to run outside of tackle yet tough enough to handle the ball on the inside."
Jones, by most services, is expected to be taken in the mid first round, but could slip further down under the right circumstances. Interestingly enough, his final decision on entering the draft was made after learning that he would most likely be selected in the first round.
"You never know what's going to happen," said Jones in his press conference announcing his decision. "And the opportunity is here and now, and it's the best opportunity for me. It was a tough decision, but this is a once and lifetime thing, and I want to take advantage of it right now."
The Cowboys currently own the 22nd pick in the draft, which obviously puts them on the edge of acquiring the services of a running back like Jones. Nevertheless, the interest in Valley Ranch is high, and rightfully so.
Veteran running back Troy Hambrick averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in 2003 while never fully gaining the confidence of Bill Parcells.
Where Hambrick faltered, Jones would likely excel. He's a proven workhorse that can flourish in a run-oriented offense where the running back is depended on to carry the load.
"He is a great combination of innate abilities, football skills, and physical stature. His athleticism leads one to believe he can be used in a variety of offensive systems that rely on running the ball," adds draft expert Tony Pauline.
And while the Cowboys may have to trade up to acquire Jones, don't rule out that very possibility. Jerry Jones for the most part, has played it cool on draft day the last two years, only trading down in 2002 after learning that Roy Williams would still available two spots later.
"Jones is a player that the Cowboys, or any team for that matter are interested in," a source told SilverStarDigest late last week. "Right now, you're looking at a guy that's probably going to be selected around fifteenth pick in the first round. It likely will depend what Parcells can accomplish in free agency first. He may find everything he needs before April, but if not, Jones headlines his wish list at running back."