The hope for the Dallas Cowboys offense returning to form in 2018 rests mostly in the legs of third-year RB Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke Elliott, whose 2017 season was derailed by a six-game suspension that he fought until he no longer could, will be looking to prove to the league that he remains one of the most dominant backs in football.
Elliott of course won’t be alone, as the Cowboys committing to their running game is certainly nothing new. Many in Cowboys Nation are preparing for the team to add yet another first-round offensive lineman at the end of this month, getting value at left guard with the 19th overall pick.
For all of the talks about how the rest of the team’s needs on offense will be addressed in the draft though, it is important not to lose sight of the investment this team may make at RB once again.
Currently, the Cowboys have only Rod Smith under contract to back up Ezekiel Elliott. Smith made a solid case for the RB2 job this season in nine games, but shouldn’t be handed the keys to this prestigious position just yet.
The Cowboys did also trade for Fullback Jamize Olawale this offseason, who could earn a role out of the backfield that few fullbacks have in Dallas recently.
Even still, the Cowboys would be wise to come away with multiple new toys for Dak Prescott to work with at this draft, one of which should be a “change of pace” running back. Here are a few prospects to keep in mind.
Nyheim Hines – North Carolina State
NC State’s Nyheim Hines may not have tested as the best athlete at the Scouting Combine, but on tape in the ACC he was good enough for 1,399 rushing yards and 152 receiving yards in his final Junior season.
Hines has experience as both a running back and wide receiver, and is an absolute terror in space for any defender. This is a player that gets up the field in a hurry with the ability to run with above average power and vision.
Filling out their depth chart at both RB and WR while keeping the numbers they currently have at both will be difficult for the Cowboys, making a player like Hines that much more intriguing.
Mark Walton – Miami
Admittedly, I’m not as big of a fan of Miami’s Mark Walton as most in the draft community. With that said, it is hard to deny the type of explosive ability he could have running behind this vaunted offensive line of the Cowboys.
Walton is a race car of a back when given even the tightest spaces to work in, accelerating quickly and effortlessly to blow past defenders. When Ezekiel Elliott was on the field in 2017, it did appear that the extra gear to his running speed was missing.
While Elliott is undoubtedly still this team’s workhorse, mixing in carries for a back like Walton could have outstanding results for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.
Josh Adams – Notre Dame
Josh Adams of Notre Dame should be available a bit later in the 2018 Draft compared to Hines and Walton. Also unlike these other two ACC backs, Adams brings more of a physical style to the backfield.
At 213 pounds, Adams punished defenses all season long for the Fighting Irish, to the tune of 1,430 yards. Creating big plays that win games should still be a priority for the Cowboys, but so to is their proven identity of grinding out drives on the ground to control games.
A running back stable of Elliott, Smith, and Adams would certainly allow the Cowboys to do exactly that, giving them an even longer term view at the RB position.
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At this point, nobody following the Dallas Cowboys will be surprised if an offensive lineman or wide receiver is announced as this team’s pick early in the draft.
Running back should be added to this list as well, and the immediate impact the team gets out of a rookie runner may even exceed that of the receiver they appear set on drafting with a priority pick.
Nyheim Hines, Mark Walton, and Josh Adams are just three names to remember as players that can help the Cowboys here.