For a NFL offense to reach its full potential, the offensive line needs to be consistently playing their best football. For the Dallas Cowboys, who have had the best offensive line in the league since 2014, this part of the offense has begun to feel like an afterthought.
The imposing wall up front offensively that Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Doug Free combine to form gives the Cowboys their offensive identity as a physical football team that will command the game with a steady ground attack.
Ezekiel Elliott is here to provide the majority of Dallas’ work in that running game, but the rookie out of Ohio State is not the only intriguing option in the backfield for Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to employ.
Of course, the running game as a whole will also benefit from strong play out of QB Tony Romo and his weapons out wide. Stretching the field vertically and keeping this offense balanced will be left primarily to Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, and Cole Beasley. However, similar to the situation at running back, the Cowboys have a few different directions that they could go to fill out the rest of the depth chart at wide receiver.
With the team entering a game week – opening up the preseason in Los Angeles against the Rams on Saturday – let’s explore further some decisions the Dallas Cowboys will have to make at running back and wide receiver.
Running Backs – Who will take carries away from Zeke?
Ezekiel Elliott is going to be hard to take off the field on Sundays for the Cowboys.
If you draft a running back in the top 5 of the NFL Draft like the Cowboys did, you expect him to be able to play as a workhorse that can immediately be the focal point of an offense.
Elliott can do all of these things as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker. The sky is truly the limit for one of the most complete running back prospects to enter the NFL in years, as his standard will be set by DeMarco Murray’s 2014 performance behind this offensive line.
Perhaps being forgotten at this point from the Cowboys 12-4 division winning season of two years ago is the effort that Joseph Randle put in behind Murray. As a slashing change-of-pace back that served as a home run hitting threat, Randle carried the ball 51 times for 343 yards.
With Elliott being a Swiss army knife type of back – combining the physical abilities of Murray and finesse abilities of Randle into one player – it is going to be that much harder for any back behind him currently on the roster to take carries away from him.
Vying for that RB2 spot is last year’s leading rusher Darren McFadden, newly signed zone-runner Alfred Morris, rookie Darius Jackson, and Lance Dunbar. If Dallas truly wants to replicate 2014 and use a back that varies in style from Elliott, they should be hoping for Darius Jackson to continue to impress and for Lance Dunbar to retain his usual form as he works back from injury.
While there may only be one game day roster spot for Jackson and Dunbar to occupy, both backs can carry the ball with blazing speed in the open field. Jackson is already becoming a fan favorite for Cowboys Nation, as he has looked good through training camp thus far, and expects to get a heavy workload to prove himself further this preseason.
Personally, while I am all for Darius Jackson playing his way onto this football team, I am hoping the Cowboys get away from the differing styles in the backfield and add more physicality to the offense by making veteran Alfred Morris the primary runner behind Ezekiel Elliott.
With Romo under center with Elliott and Morris primarily lining up in the backfield, the Cowboys offense would truly be feared by defenses on every single snap as one that can blow you off the ball and run it at you while providing the threat of a dynamic passing game at the same time. With the offensive line excelling at getting to the second level, a full speed Ezekiel Elliott followed by a bruising Alfred Morris coming at linebackers and corners is a recipe for total offensive domination in 2016 from the Dallas Cowboys.
Wide Receivers – Finding Romo’s Newest Toys
The WR position on the Cowboys roster is currently full of talent, potential, and future decisions to be made. With the team being so deep all over the roster both offensively and defensively, there is going to be a few “odd men out” when it comes to this current group of 11 pass catchers.
The roster locks, however, are pretty set in stone.
Dez Bryant is ready to get back to doing Dez Bryant things, Terrance Williams and Brice Butler will both make the team and fight for playing time across from Bryant, and Cole Beasley will man the slot once again.
This leaves even last year’s fan favorite UDFA Lucky Whitehead on the bubble, competing for one – or at the most two – spots with this year’s UDFA class of wide receivers consisting of Ed Eagan, Andy Jones, and Chris Brown.
Vince Mayle, Rodney Smith, and Devin Street are also on the roster, but appear to be on the outside looking in right now at these other young options that are turning heads. Particularly, Ed Eagan and Andy Jones have both put some of their best football onto the Oxnard practice fields through the first week of training camp.
Should the decision come down to these two wide outs for the Cowboys, the winner will tell us a lot about the direction this offense plans on heading.
Should Eagan beat out Jones, we can expect to see plenty of short passes from the Cowboys offense to get the ball out of Romo’s hands quickly and into the hands of his play makers. Eagan would likely serve as a slot WR opposite of Beasley, and is shifty with a faster “second-gear” than Beasley in the open field.
While this quick strike offense would certainly be exciting, with Eagan also helping his cause by giving the Cowboys another option at punt returner, the team will also be looking for more red zone threats after struggling in that area through 2015.
Of course, not having Romo and Bryant out there and in sync took away the Cowboys’ best red zone connection, but the rest of the receivers called on to make plays for the backup quarterbacks were underwhelming.
Jones has looked the best. Getting reps with the 1s now. https://t.co/jM1D6L1E4s
Enter Andy Jones, a physical stud out of Jacksonville who could make the Dallas red zone offense absolutely unstoppable. While Jones struggles to create separation at the line, his ability to make contested and adjusting catches has caught the eye of coaches enough to get him some reps with the first team offense.
As things stand now, the Cowboys may feel that they have enough speed at the position in Bryant, Williams, Butler, and Beasley, and decide to use their final WR spot on Andy Jones to give them some more versatility.
Should this be the case, and they also plan on running mostly Alfred Morris behind Zeke Elliott, the 2016 Dallas Cowboys offense could be one of the greatest displays of power and speed coming together to form something special that we have ever seen.
What do you make of the Cowboys situation at running back and wide receiver? Agree with my picks to make the cut? Disagree? Let’s talk about it! Comment below with who YOU will be hoping makes the cut to start the conversation.