IRVING, Texas — Joseph Randle had to wait 151 picks to hear his name during the NFL draft.
The former Oklahoma State running back and Wichita native has almost no chance to start for the Dallas Cowboys because of DeMarco Murray, the Oklahoma Sooner in front of him on the depth chart.
So maybe he regrets bypassing his final college season to trade one set of Cowboys for another. Or maybe not.
“A lot of teams passed up on me, but it’s all good,” Randle said. “I’m just going to try to make the best of the situation I’m in. I can’t really be in a better situation, so maybe the wait was worth it.”
Randle says that because the Cowboys are starting to believe in the “two-back league” theory. And that’s partly because Murray has missed nine games with injuries since he rushed for a franchise-record 253 yards in his first start in 2011.
Murray broke an ankle seven weeks after his sparkling debut and missed the final three games. He was sidelined six games last year with a sprained foot, which played a role in Dallas having its worst rushing season in the 16-game era.
When the Cowboys went weeks without re-signing former first-round pick Felix Jones this offseason, it became clear the draft was a likely place for an addition. Randle was still sitting there in the fifth round last month, and he joins a pair of undrafted holdovers in Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar behind Murray.
“I’ve never really been a true starter, even though I was a starter,” Murray said. “Coming from Oklahoma and even since I’ve been here, I’ve started but Felix was always here and things like that. I’m excited for the new kid. I’m excited for Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner. Those guys definitely have worked hard and earned themselves a shot at playing time next year.”
Randle rushed for more than 2,600 yards and 38 touchdowns his final two seasons at Oklahoma State. He had 24 TDs as a sophomore for one of the best offenses in the nation, so his pedigree sure seemed better than the fifth round.
He doesn’t really care now, though.
“I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “That’s just the way I play the game. I always find my own motivation no matter what it is. Somebody talking trash or it could be anything that week. You never know.”
Randle was limited to noncontact drills for the three-day rookie minicamp that started Friday. He has a cast on his right hand after surgery on a thumb that was injured at Oklahoma State. But his first weekend with the Cowboys has been as much about meeting and absorbing as it’s been about playing, so he’s not missing much.
The cast will stay on through offseason workouts and a full minicamp in June, but Randle expects to be ready for training camp.
“I think he’s very into it mentally,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “His drive, his determination, you’ve got to hold him back. That’s a good thing.”
The 6-foot, 198-pound Randle has a similar build to Murray, and both came from college offenses that required running backs to catch passes and block for prolific quarterbacks. Oklahoma has had two Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback in the past decade, but Oklahoma State has more of a spread offense that emphasizes the pass even more.
“How much did we pass? Every play,” Randle said. “So I pass protect every play. Whatever the challenge is, I’m ready for it and I’m going to prepare for it all offseason.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says Randle fits the mold of an every-down back more than Dunbar, who impressed coaches as a runner and was a consistent contributor on special teams. Depending on how much he fills in for Murray, Randle could have a role on special teams as well.
“You see quickness, explosiveness in a fairly big body, and some versatility,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You think of him first as an offensive player, and with backup players in the past, you say, what role can they play? He certainly has physical traits to do a lot on special teams, even though he doesn’t have that much experience doing it.”
Randle doesn’t know why he slid in the draft. Brown doesn’t either, and reminds that former 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick. So was Washington’s Alfred Morris a year ago. He was the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson and played a big role in the Redskins’ win over the Cowboys in the season finale with a playoff berth on the line.
“You’d have to ask other teams that passed up on me,” Randle said. “I’m going to try to remind them.”
Even if he is a backup.