The Dallas Cowboys' preseason featured a battle for the third running back spot between seventh-round draft pick Bo Scarbrough and Darius Jackson, who had just come back to the team that originally drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. A roster battle between these two became one of the Cowboys' main preseason storylines over their last two games and as we awaited to hear who had been “the guy” on cutdown day, we came across some pretty surprising news.
Both Jackson and Scarbrough were cut, leaving the Dallas Cowboys with only two players at running back.
As we all know, the Cowboys' offense revolves around one of the best running backs in the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott. Heading into his third year in the league, Elliott is one of the very few three-down backs currently in the pros. He's a workhorse for Scott Linehan's offense and will continue to be for quite a while.
Through 25 starts, Elliott has averaged 24.88 touches per game. Unlike most teams that have gone for the “running back committee” route, the Cowboys have their guy, Ezekiel Elliott. For obvious reasons, even he needs a break from time to time, which leads us to the one guy who will back up Zeke in 2018.
Rod Smith proved last year and this preseason that he's a player worthy of ten carries per game. Whether or not he gets that amount of playing time playing behind Zeke remains to be seen but the point is, with so much uncertainty at tight end, offensive line and wide receiver on offense (plus a very thin defensive backfield on the other side of the ball), it wasn't worth it to keep a third RB. The roster spots were needed at other positions, unlike the one position that's actually ready to go with Elliott and Smith.
The Cowboys have already signed Darius Jackson to the practice squad and are likely considering adding Bo Scarbrough as well. In case of an unfortunate injury, they could easily call one of these guys up. Even if they had kept any of them on the roster, they wouldn't make the absence of a player like Elliott any better.
And finally, let's talk about the forgotten man in this discussion…
Tavon Austin is a wide receiver. Even though he wasn't listed as one on the Dallas Cowboys website before, he is now. But more importantly, we saw how he was used on training camp and throughout the preseason. He will be a receiver for this football team.
However, that doesn't change the fact that we might see him play as a “receiving back” of sorts playing from the backfield once in a while. His speed and play-making potential will give an opportunity to use Austin to get #21 off the field to let him catch his breath.
It's not common for NFL teams to carry just two running backs, but hey… it's also not common for any team to have a player such as Ezekiel Elliott. I love this decision by the Cowboys. This is outside-the-box thinking right here. And if someone like Rico Gathers – or any of the bottom end players who made the team – ends up proving he was worth the roster spot, this could be a move that impacts the team's future in a bigger way than we realize right now.