Marion Barber’s Unique Place in Cowboys History

Few are shedding tears about Marion Barber’s imminent release, which will likely happen on Thursday. In 2010, he only managed 374 yards with four touchdowns, and for much of the season, he was not a factor in the offense.

In terms of team history, Barber does not belong in the same category as Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, or Don Perkins. However, some may be surprised how much Barber has accomplished in his six years in Dallas. Most will remember Barber for his intangible qualities, such as his fearless running style. However, consider also some of the stats below.


Barber’s 47 touchdowns rank third in team history behind Smith (153) and Dorsett (72). Barber averaged 7.83 touchdowns per season, which tops everyone other than Smith (11.77/year) and Duane Thomas (8.00/year but that only includes two seasons).

Of course, Smith averaged 312 attempts per year for 13 years, while Dorsett averaged 250 in 11 years. Barber averaged only 174 attempts per season in six years. On average, Barber scored a touchdown for every 22.17 attempts. That is better than any other full-time starter at halfback/lead back (other than Duane Thomas, who again only played two seasons in Dallas).


Barber was also very good at securing the ball, which was important given his role as a closer. On his 1042 attempts in six season, he had only 15 fumbles, or an average of 69.47 attempts per fumble. Among the top 30 running backs in team history, his ratio of attempts to fumbles would rank 7th.

(The leader in that category, incidentally, is Tashard Choice, who has fumbled only one time in 222 career attempts).


Barber does not have the numbers of someone who was strictly a short-yardage back. His 4358 yards ranks sixth in team history, just 426 yards shy of Robert Newhouse and just 651 yards shy of Calvin Hill. Given that Barber was never slated as a starter when Dallas drafted him in 2005, ranking that high on the team’s all-time rushing list is impressive.

A Good Comparison—Calvin Hill

Barber’s career of six years in Dallas happens to equal the same length of service for Hill, who played for the Cowboys from 1969 to 1974.

Their career paths were a little bit different. The Cowboys picked Hill out of Yale, thanks to the team’s advanced methods of evaluating college talent. After earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as a rookie, Hill had to take a backseat to Duane Thomas in 1970 and 1971. When Thomas departed, Hill became the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher. He left after the 1974 season after signing with the World Football League.

The team did not have the same expectations for Barber in 2005. Julius Jones was the team’s lead running back, and most expected Barber to fill a backup role.  Quickly, however, Barber showed that he had a nose for the end zone, and by 2006, many wanted to see Barber in the starting role. This did not happen until the playoffs in 2007, though. He started 38 games from 2008 to 2010.

The comparison in stats:

Barber: six seasons, 4358 yards, 4.2 ave., 47 TD. One-time Pro Bowl selection.

Hill: six seasons in Dallas, 5009 yards, 1166 att., 4.3 ave., 39 TD. Four Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro selection.

  • Jason Neighbors

    It’s too bad about Barber. Fans shouldn’t forget what a dependable player he was when he was going strong. I wonder if he is truly burnt out or just got over-satisfied with a fat contract? But the Cowboys just couldn’t continue to pay him that kind of money for decreasing production.

  • Anonymous

    Barber’s downfall started when he became a starter. He was at his best in 2006-2007 while coming off the bench. He had his moments later, but I don’t think he was as electrifying in 2008-2010. Those types of backs just don’t last long in this league.

  • Jason Neighbors

    I remember a certain someone clamoring for Barber to start over Julius Jones 😉 Just messing with you, Matt lol

  • Anonymous

    Yup, he sure did. That was the same guy who thought the move to get Roy Williams might help turn the 2008 season around. [Sigh…]