The Lead Back: Ezekiel Elliott
The Dallas Cowboys’ training camp is inching closer and evaluation begins for everyone on the roster from day one. After putting together one of the best rushing campaigns by a rookie running back in NFL history, it’s safe to say Ezekiel Elliott will once again lead the Dallas Cowboys’ rushing attack in the 2017 season. Whoever, not named Ezekiel Elliott, puts on the best display in training camp and preseason among Dallas Cowboys rushers will be the team’s second running back. Whoever puts on the second best display after that back, will be the team’s third rusher, and so forth.
Dallas will likely carry three running backs on game day. Their offense can get creative and allow rookie WR Ryan Switzer to play the 3rd down back role by flanking as a pass catcher out the backfield, but it’s yet to be seen if that is an option during the season. Any running back without the name “Zeke” will have to play special teams. That, alone, puts Alfred Morris in an unfortunate predicament and leaves us with Darren McFadden and Rod Smith to examine more closely.
The Backup: Darren McFadden
McFadden, although in limited field time, played snaps on special teams, showed power and burst in games against the Buccaneers, Lions, and Eagles in December (on a small number of snaps) and proved that he’s still a viable pass catcher out the backfield. Look for him to take the role of RB #2 if he stays healthy going into week one.
The odd man out: Alfred Morris
It was tough for Alfred Morris to get on the field in 2016 with Elliott pounding defenses game after game. But with his 69 attempts, he gained 243 yards and scored twice early in the season against Washington and Chicago. Combine that with him being a non-factor in the passing game and subpar pass blocking, and it might take a miracle for him to make the team this upcoming year. Unless he makes a drastic improvement in those areas, Morris might be the odd man out amongst the Cowboys’ backs.
The other Backs in Waiting
Rod is the team’s fullback, and he’s saw more regular season action in 2015 than 2016. He only caught a handful of passes in 2015 and saw decent field time on special teams. Recently, the Cowboys switched Rod to running back, and it’s up in the air on how he’ll perform. The coaches will watch with a close eye to see how well the 6’3, 230lb bruiser will play during the offseason.
Rod’s competition for the #3 RB spot will be the speedy former Temple rusher, Jahad Thomas. Thomas could be everything the Cowboys wanted former running back Lance Dunbar, to be. At 5’10, 190lbs, the speedster ran for 2,599 yards during his career at Temple and showed his ability as a receiver, picking up over 20 catches in each of his last two seasons at Temple. It will be a very close battle between these two for the Cowboys’ 3rd running back spot.