Cowboys Draft: Running Back Prospects & Strategies ✭
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Cowboys Draft: Running Back Prospects & Strategies

Cowboys Headlines - Draft Prospects and Strategies for Running Backs

NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft: Running Back Prospects & Strategies

Free agency has started and everyone has their own ideas about who the Cowboys should pick up, but let’s not forget about the draft. The NFL Draft is where Dallas will improve or slide year to year, and where the Cowboys can build a dynasty or a disaster.

In previous articles we looked at the defensive prospects and strategies position by position, now let’s start looking at the offensive side of the ball.

First up, a glaring position of need: the running back.

The Cowboys need a running back that can contribute year-one and be the starter going forward. With Free Agency playing out like it has, the Cowboys will surely draft a running back at some point in this draft (of course we said that last year too). So in this article let’s take a look at some of the prospects that could be on the Cowboys radar in the first four rounds.

Before we look at the various players, let’s look at some of the attributes that are important when analyzing the running back position. I typically look at:

  1. Speed – For running backs speed is highly correlated to success
  2. Quickness – Even a higher correlation
  3. Vision – Can’t use speed and quickness if you can’t see the hole
  4. Power/Physicality – Can they break a tackle and can you get a hard when you need it
  5. Patience – Do they let the blockers set up the blocks
  6. Blocking – Do they understand what your assignment is and can you execute it
  7. Route Running – Can they run crisp routes and gain separation
  8. Hands – Do they catch consistently and do they catch with their hands
  9. Intelligence – Do they understand concepts
  10. Character/Work ethic – Are they the right kind of guy

With that in mind, here are some of the players available and where I think they’ll go in the draft.

Ezekiel Elliott (OSU)

Strengths

  • Compact, strong lower body
  • Quick, shifty, good change of direction
  • Has breakaway speed
  • Has great vision
  • Quick to hole and can quickly adjust as hole shifts.
  • Good vision and runs to daylight
  • Good balance
  • Can run in between tackles and can run stretch play. Probably better bouncing outside
  • Can get low, take on tackler, keep driving and shed
  • Willing blocker, likes to hit rushers
  • Good technique when blocking, takes on blocker and redirects him past QB
  • Catches with hands and knows how to set up screens
  • Doesn’t get driven backwards often. Finishes run.
  • Prevents negative yardage. When stopped in backfield can shift, redirect and find a way to get a few yards.

Weaknesses

  • Was pushed backwards by bull rush. Knows assignment and is willing, but can be knocked backwards.
  • Tries to bounce outside a little too often
  • Can lose balance at times

Summary

  • Starter day one
  • A complete, three down back
  • Needs to work more in I formation
  • For Dallas he would provide a homerun threat who can play three downs
  • A first rounder, I have him rated as a top 15 player

Derrick Henry (Alabama)

Strengths

  • Big man. A power back with good speed. Physical and a load to tackle
  • Tall, long strider. Speed surprises tacklers and causes them to take bad angles
  • Although he runs upright, he is a strong runner. Tacklers tend to fly off of him.
  • Great stiff arm
  • Breakaway speed. He is a homerun threat
  • Sees hole and hits it quickly. One cut and go.
  • I thought he was an outside the tackle runner, but after watching tape he is a good inside runner. He will be a very good back in an I formation.
  • Can adjust direction when running full speed. Makes him shifty in open field.
  • Long arms that allow for him to stiff arm effectively.
  • Doesn’t get driven backwards often. Finishes run.
  • Gets short yardage. Can get pads low
  • Is a decent blocker and understands assignments
  • Good hands for a running back

Weaknesses

  • Runs straight up. Could be an injury risk
  • When there is heavy traffic, he tends to try to bounce
  • Needs more patience to allow blocks to develop

Summary

  • Has the size and the mentality to be a three down workhorse
  • He will become a complete, three down back. Though probably not at the start.
  • Will excel in a stretch type offense scheme
  • For Dallas, he would provide a homerun threat who can run both out of the I and the stretch play
  • I have him graded as am early second round player. Top 40.

Devontae Booker (Utah)

Strengths

  • Compact frame, low center of balance
  • Brings some physicality. Will lower head and deliver hit.
  • Shifty inside runner
  • Can run the stretch play. Good one cut runner.
  • Hits hole quickly. Hits top speed in two steps
  • Ability to cut back
  • Shows patience to set up blocks
  • Shifty in open field, can turn a tackler around
  • Will try to finish play
  • Is not shy of contact. Will lower his head and take on tackler
  • Good short yardage player, always falls forward

Weaknesses

  • Does not look like he has elite speed. Will need to see workout numbers to see if he can be a homerun type back
  • A body catcher, he needs to work on routes and catching with hands
  • Not an effective blocker. He does not have the effort you want.

Summary

  • Should be a good NFL back. His style will translate well
  • Will do well in an offense that runs the stretch. Patience to see hole, then explodes through gets yardage and then finishes runs
  • Will need to become a better blocker
  • For Cowboys he could be a first and second down back that will give you 15 -20 carries a game
  • I have him graded as a mid-second round player. Top 45-50.

Kenneth Dixon (La Tech)

Strengths

  • Bowling ball, low center of gravity and compact
  • Usually takes more than one defender to tackle him
  • He will lower his shoulder and punish you
  • Really good vision. Sees the hole before it fully opens.
  • Knows how to get the short yardage
  • Is not shy of contact. Will lower his head and take on tacklers
  • Is patient will wait for how to develop
  • Good blocker
  • Good hands and good route runner
  • Showed good speed at combine

Weaknesses

  • Does not look like he has elite speed.
  • Dances too much if there is not a hole he can see
  •  Dances too much at times.

Summary

  • On tape, he is a pounder and got big chunks, but not necessarily a big play guy. At combine showed he has speed to be homerun hitter too
  • Will do well in an offense that runs downhill. He is a North South runner. Needs to play in I, not a stretch
  • Reminds me of Tolbert from Carolina.
  • For Cowboys he could be a first and second down back that will give you 15 carries a game
  • I have him graded as a late second round player. Top 60

C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame)

Strengths

  • Good route runner and catches with hands. Was an former receiver
  • Acceleration and quickness are his best traits running the ball
  • He also exhibits good patience and vision
  • Can move a pile, keeps churning his legs. For his size he does a nice job of finishing plays
  • Having played receiver, he is a mismatch for linebackers and safeties
  • Shifty, good lateral quickness
  • Runs the stretch play well. Better on the outside than inside though
  • Decent blocker, bends knees, squares up

Weaknesses

  • Has had history of injury
  • Runs upright and too tall. Doesn’t get pads low enough and that can allow tacklers to drive him back
  • Tries to bounce outside too frequently
  • Needs to trust what he sees

Summary

  • May be steal of the running back class.
  • Can make the big play. Vision to see hole, quickness to get through, power enough to get through traffic in the hole, speed to finish.
  • He is inexperienced as a running back and will need to learn better techniques.
  • Has a lot of upside. He can run inside and outside. Speed with some power
  • Would be a good starting third down back to begin career, with three down capability as he learns
  • For Cowboys he would be a change of pace back and could be a third down back. In a year or two could be the three down starter.
  • I have him rated at the middle of the third. He is a top 75 player

Alex Collins (Arkansas)

Strengths

  • Quick feet. Short, quick steps allows quick change of direction
  • Good spin move. Uses it well
  • Gets low and drives the pile.
  • Good power and drive on inside runs, will be good in short yardage situations
  • Has some patience, though on most runs he sees hole and drives through it
  • Falls forwards and gets you the extra two yards on each play
  • Doesn’t get driven backwards often. Finishes run.
  • Uses hands to catch. Not a body catcher.
  • Decent route runner
  • Runs like an NFL type back. Hits hole, finds space, gets 6 to 8 yards consistently. Breaks it outside when there is a big hole.
  • Will put a thumping on the tackler

Weaknesses

  • Does not have elite speed
  • Not a big homerun type back.
  • At times he needs to be patient and allow blockers to clear hole
  • Only an adequate blocker. Will need work
  • Will fumble

Summary

  • He is a NFL type back. Pound ball in middle and occasionally break it back outside.
  • Needed to run a good 40 and he would have improved draft positioning.
  • He reminds me of a Chris Ivory type back
  • For Cowboys he could be a work horse back that will give you 20 carries a game and average 4.0 yards a game
  • I have him graded as a late third round player. Top 90.

Jordan Howard (Indiana)

Strengths

  • Strong and powerfully built. Possibly the strongest runner in the draft.
  • Good feet for a power back. Shifty is short space. Can jump cut to avoid tacklers
  • Powerful legs and forward lean allow him to take on tacklers and drive them backwards
  • Good vision. Sees the hole and can accelerate quickly
  • Really good patience. Will let blocks set up
  • Not really used in pass game, but does show the understanding of how to set up screens
  • Vision in open field is really good. See angles that tacklers are taking, can make subtle adjustments to avoid tackler
  • Squares up on blitzers. Willing to block.

Weaknesses

  • While willing to block, he does not have great understanding of schemes yet
  • Looks slow on tape. My concern is if he has speed needed at this level.
  • If he is hit before he gathers speed, he is easy to wrap up.
  • Injury prone

Summary

  • Powerful back. Would be a good first and second down back. Will finish yards to create short yardage plays
  • Will be a good short yardage back.
  • Would be rated higher but concerns for speed and durability
  • For Cowboys he could be a first and second down back that will give you 15 carries a game
  • I have him graded as an early fourth round player. Top 100

Kenyan Drake (Alabama)

Strengths

  • Speed and quickness
  • Big play type back
  • Great working in space
  • Good vision
  • A receiver working out of the running back position, runs good routes, has good hands.
  • If he see hole he will be through it quickly and at full speed
  • Will run between tackle if hole is there, will try to finish run
  • Runs better to the outside. Can either get to the corner or hit hole at full speed and cut back
  • Willing blocker

Weaknesses

  • While he is a willing blocker, he does not have great technique or size to do it
  • Runs upright. Gets knocked back quite often. Can’t get the extra yard
  • Needs to run with more strength
  • Can’t pick up the extra yard
  • He is an injury risk

Summary

  • He is a matchup nightmare. Will be homerun threat and third down back in league
  • Never could break in as starter for Alabama. Also had injuries. So he does have questions
  • Would be rated higher but concerns about power and durability
  • For Cowboys he could be a third down and change of pace back that will give you 10-12 touches per game. He would be a big play threat, but would need to limit touches.
  • I have him graded as early fourth. He will be a top 100 -110 player

Jonathan Williams (Arkansas)

Strengths

  • Very good inside runner
  • Runs with quick, short direction changes
  • A mix of speed and quickness. Good initial burst
  • Decent vision but not great.
  • Decent patience. Will let blockers set up and hole develop
  • Looks to have good breakaway speed
  • Will finish run most times.

Weaknesses

  • Runs upright at time
  • Can dance too much while looking for hole
  • Needs to improve his catching skills
  • Coming off injury

Summary

  • Good inside runner. I think he will be good in I formation or running stretch
  • A good mixture of quickness, shiftiness and speed.
  • Need to see more in pass game to see if he can be a three down back
  • For Cowboys he would be a good two down back that can run inside and still be a break away back.
  • I have him as a top 120 player. This is depending on his medical

Paul Perkins (UCLA)

Strengths

  • Acceleration and quickness are his best traits
  • He sets up blocks and has patience to see plays develop
  • If he see hole he will be through it quickly and at full speed
  • Understand routes and how to set them up
  • Is a playmaker, can give you the big play
  • Shifty, good lateral quickness
  • Can create yardage out of nothing. When he is stopped, he can change direction and pick up positive yardage
  • Elusive in space
  • Provides matchup problems for linebackers in coverage

Weaknesses

  • Has had history of injury
  • Does not have size to be an effective blocker
  • Cannot move the pile, he is not a power back
  • Worry about durability

Summary

  • Better on the outside that running inside
  • Played out of the spread and that is the best option for him. Can either get to the corner or hit hole with quick acceleration and can cut back effectively
  • Would be rated higher but lacks the size and power to run between tackles consistently
  • For Cowboys he could be a third down and change of pace back that can give you 10 -12 touches per game. He would be a big play threat, but would need to limit touches.
  • While there is a lot of buzz about him, I do not see him as an every down back early in his career. I have him graded as late fourth round player. He is a top 130 player

Kelvin Taylor (Florida)

Strengths

  • Solid build. Strong legs and thick upper body
  • Quick, shifty with a burst to daylight
  • Will run through traffic, runs with effort
  • Has good lean, always falls forward
  • Good cut back ability
  • Has good vision. Both at first and second level

Weaknesses

  • Size is an issue
  • Has had below average seasons before 2015
  • Average only 4 yards a carry in 2015
  • Can be hesitant at times hitting the hole. Particularly when there is a lot of traffic in front of him
  • Lacks real power. While he runs hard and does fall forward, he cannot move piles or drive tacklers backwards
  • Do not believe he has top end speed
  • Tries to bounce outside

Summary

  • He can run between tackles or bounce it outside. Runs hard and can get lean. Always gets the extra yard.
  • Would be rated higher but lacks the size and power to run between tackles consistently
  • For Cowboys he could be a change of pace back that can give you 8-10 touches per game.
  • I have him graded as a fifth round player. He is a top 150 player

The Cowboys will need a running back. One strategy they could deploy is to trade down in the first and try to get Elliot in the 10-15 range. However, if the Cowboys stay put in the first and draft a DE (or Jalen Ramsey), then they could go after Derrick Henry in the second. I am higher on him that most, but I do have concerns. If the Cowboys have the same concerns, they could move back with their second and land Booker or Dixon, and an extra pick.

Third round options could be Prosise or Collins. An early fourth round option could be Howard and a late 4th round option is Williams. If they want to go with a change of pace back, they could probably nab Perkins or Drake in the fourth.

There are a lot of viable options in this draft, but I suspect the Cowboys will try to draft a running back in the third or fourth round.

In the next article, I will take a look at the receiver position.

Tommy Simon

Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

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