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Will Barber's release help Felix Jones?

7/26/2011

Fantasy football owners have waited for years for tantalizing Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones to get a legitimate opportunity to be a star. As a rookie, Jones averaged nearly 9 yards per rush and electrified in the return game. In 2009 he led the league by averaging 5.9 yards per carry. I'd argue Jones got that chance to be a star in 2010, and looked like a decent player when he ran for 800 yards, or 4.3 yards per rush, but not a special one. Of course, last season, fantasy owners blamed his lack of star performance for the Cowboys' refusal to get rid of Marion Barber.

Well, that doesn't appear to be a problem anymore, as Barber and his hefty salary will be a casualty of the new league salary cap -- or perhaps it would have happened regardless -- leaving Jones as the team's No. 1 running back, at least in theory. Then again, has anything really changed? Wasn't Jones the top running back all last season? He did receive 185 rushes, more than Barber and Tashard Choice combined. He just didn't do that much with the chance.

OK, so I've been burned before. Perhaps you have cursed Felix's name as well. The Cowboys could still go out in the open market and entice a big-name running back to join the show (doubtful). Third-round draft pick DeMarco Murray out of Oklahoma clearly has skills, and a similar build and style to Jones, so maybe he takes over (also doubtful). And let's not forget that Choice remains on the roster and some believe he has a bright future in 2011 as well (doubtful times three).

But even if Jones gets 250 touches from scrimmage, I can't be convinced this is a star fantasy option, even someone you can count on as a starter in a 10-team format. What has changed? I know, I know -- why can't I just simply type the words Felix Jones is finally gonna be a star and we can all move on? I can't do it without the italics. I just can't. I see a great talent but similar roadblocks as last season. In fact, I can't feign surprise that Barber was released; the drafting of Murray kind of sealed it, anyway. My basic point is that Jones, for all the promise, is a good running back and should be productive like he was last year, but I doubt we see anything like 1,300 rushing yards or double-digit touchdowns fantasy owners covet from a top-10 running back. This fellow scored twice last season and touched the ball 233 times from scrimmage. His lack of gaudy stats couldn't have been Barber's fault.

When the Cowboys switched coaches last season, we did see Jones grow a bit as a player, as he took on a greater role in the passing game and made some big plays. But only once did he receive more than 16 rushes in a game, and it came against a team that couldn't stop the run to save its life (the Indianapolis Colts) in an overtime affair. Barber played in only one December game. Jones was sharing with Choice, but also, the team just wasn't using him the way we might want, in part because they have to be worried about his durability, but also because they have other people to help, including near the goal line.

I like Jones as a sixth- or seventh-round pick in ESPN standard (10-team) drafts. We currently have him ranked 54th overall, and 24th among running backs. Makes perfect sense to me. Jones is a candidate to top 1,000 rushing yards (ESPN Fantasy projects fewer than that), and I bet he can top his one rushing touchdown with relative ease. He should score four or five times just based on previous usage and a bit of luck. There will be times you use him as a flex option, perhaps multiple weeks. But I do see Choice and Murray playing roles in the offense as well, and let's not forget Tony Romo throws the ball a ton -- and does so effectively -- and this team has a pair of potential top-10 wide receivers and a stud tight end. Fantasy owners shouldn't get carried away with any part of this running game.

Now, if you want to talk about a Dallas Cowboys stud player affected by someone being released, I'd say this was a really good day for Dez Bryant (goodbye, Roy Williams) ... but that's a different topic!