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Breaking Down Cowboys RB Position After Ronnie Hillman’s Addition

Brian Martin

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Breaking Down Cowboys RB Position After Ronnie Hillman's Addition

The recent signing of Ronnie Hillman was a little bit of a head scratcher for a lot of Cowboys Nation. The Dallas Cowboys RB position looked to be one the strongest units on the entire team, which only added to the confusion. That is why I thought it would be the perfect time to break down the Cowboys RB depth chart and hopefully clear some things up.

A lot of people believed the signing of Ronnie Hillman indicated that the Cowboys organization was a little worried Ezekiel Elliott could be slapped with some kind of suspension to start out the 2017 season. But, this would be untrue.

The decision to bring in Hillman was to provide depth to the Cowboys RB position so that they would have enough bodies to get through training camp and preseason. They simply didn't want to overload their top RBs, which is smart considering they have an extra preseason game to play because of the Hall of Fame game.

Ronnie Hillman's addition to the Cowboys RB depth chart doesn't really change much right now, but it could end up shaking things up if he performs well. Let's take a closer look at the Cowboys RB position and I'll share with you who I think ranks where.

Dallas Cowboys RB Depth Chart

Ezekiel ElliottEzekiel Elliott

Zeke Elliott is without a doubt the top dog sitting atop the Cowboys RB depth chart. He had a fantastic 2016 season and put together one of the best rookie performances for a running back in the history of the NFL. He may be looking at a possible suspension to start off the 2017 season, but that won't affect his spot on the depth chart at all.

Darren McFadden

Darren McFadden is clearly Elliott's backup for the 2017 season and that shouldn't change unless there is some unforeseen injury at some point down the road. The Cowboys coaching staff really value McFadden's veteran leadership and his versatility as a RB. His value this season will likely be as a relief back to give Elliott a breather every now and then. It's a role he accepts and embraces, which is one of the reasons the coaching staff loves him.

Rod Smith

It may come to a surprise to you, but I believe Rod Smith currently sits third on the Cowboys RB depth chart. Smith is a versatile RB that can be utilized in several different ways. He is not only the Cowboys biggest RB, but he also plays fullback, and is on nearly every special-teams unit as well. He has a really good chance to make the Cowboys final roster, but Ronnie Hillman could threaten that if he performs well.

Alfred Morris

I personally think Alfred Morris is on the outside looking in. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't make the Cowboys final 53-man roster. He is honestly the least versatile RB the Cowboys have on the roster. The Cowboys like there third RB to be able to contribute in several different ways, but that's simply not Morris' game. I think he will be playing somewhere else in 2017.

Ronnie Hillman

I started to place Ronnie Hillman ahead of Alfred Morris on the depth chart, but since he just joined the team I decided to give Morris the benefit of the doubt. Hillman is the type of RB the Cowboys currently don't have on their roster. He has the elusiveness and quickness to be the change of pace kind of back, which could prove to be valuable if he performs well in training camp and preseason. He could find himself sitting behind McFadden on the depth chart and take on that Lance Dunbar type role in 2017.

Jahad Thomas

Thomas was a longshot to make the Cowboys 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent to begin with, but his recent injury really hurts his chances even more. He will likely see plenty of playing time in the preseason once he's fully healthy, but his best bet to stick around is likely going to be on the practice squad.

Do you think Ronnie Hillman's addition changes anything?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

Star Blog

How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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Is DE Kony Ealy At Risk Of Not Making Cowboys Final Roster?

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: As Late FA Signing, New DE Kony Ealy Brings Value at DE

As training camp approaches and we draw closer to the 2018 NFL season, fans are beginning to get excited for new faces, old stars, and new beginnings for the Dallas Cowboys.

One player which has been a bit forgotten about over the last few months, and even overlooked when he was first signed back in April, is defensive end Kony Ealy. Of course, some of this overlooking is justified, as Ealy's career has been filled with more valleys than peaks thus far.

With a fresh start in Dallas, though, some expect Kony Ealy to rekindle his career, and look like the player he was during the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss just a few seasons ago. The problem is, that game looks like the outlier and not the norm over his professional career.

Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy has had a shaky start to his career. Now joining his third team in the same number of seasons, it's certainly fair to say he hasn't lived up to his second round draft selection.

At 6'4" and 275 pounds, however, Ealy fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme. While he isn't the explosive pass rusher that other players on the roster are (and can be), he could provide solid rotational depth across the defensive line.

With fellow former second round pick Randy Gregory gaining reinstatement to the NFL this week, Ealy could struggle to salvage any real playing time with the Cowboys at all. Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton all feel like locks to make the team.

Then there is 2018 day three pick Dorance Armstrong and former fourth round pick Charles Tapper providing competition as well.

Tapper and Armstrong are unproven, but have the athletic profiles to become solid edge rushers at the professional level. For both, especially Tapper, health is of the upmost concern going forward. If Tapper can remain healthy, he has a real shot of making the team and having his impact felt as early as 2018.

That "if" has been a serious one thus far, however.

When the Cowboys first signed Kony Ealy back in April, I really believed he could provide solid and cheap depth along their defensive line. Now in July, I still have those beliefs, but it's become fair to question if he will even find himself on the final 53-man roster based on the competition around him.



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Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin’s Footsteps?

Brian Martin

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Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin's Footsteps?

Connor Williams has yet to play a single snap the NFL, but there are already some pretty high expectations for the rookie Guard. That's because he will be sandwiched between two Pro Bowl players in Center Travis Frederick and Left Tackle Tyron Smith. But, it's the Dallas Cowboys third Pro Bowl offensive lineman Williams should try to emulate and follow in the footsteps of.

Yes, I'm talking about Zack Martin.

Zack Martin's career couldn't have gotten off to a better start coming out of Notre Dame. He hit the ground running as a rookie with the Cowboys and put together a dominating performance his first year in the NFL, earning his first Pro Bowl bid as well as being named to the All-Pro team. He continued to play at a high level ever since and has not only turned into the best player at his position, but continued his Pro Bowl streak every season since entering the league.

To ask, or even expect Connor Williams to have the same kind of immediate success as Zack Martin is probably a little unfair, if not impossible. The kind of success Martin has had already in his career is almost unheard of. But, that's not to say Williams isn't going to try to follow in Martin's footsteps and to become the best player he can.

Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin

The footsteps I think Connor Williams should try to follow as it pertains to Zack Martin is how well he made the transition from a collegiate Offensive Tackle to an NFL Guard. I think that should be Williams' main focus right now with training camp coming up.

Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup as the Cowboys new Left Guard. It will be a new position for him after playing mainly Tackle at the University of Texas, that will require an entirely new mindset and technique. But, it's in transition I believe he can make rather smoothly.

Connor Williams should benefit from Zack Martin's similar transition from college OT to an NFL OG. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the rookie shadowing Martin throughout training camp to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It's probably the best way for him to jumpstart his career.

Now, I fully expect to see some growing pains from Williams throughout the 2018 season. It's to be expected from any rookie, especially one transitioning to a new position. But, I do believe he will not only be an upgrade at LG for the Cowboys, but will make the entire OL even better.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what kind of player Connor Williams ends up being this season.

Do you think Connor Williams can follow in Zack Martin's footsteps?



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