The Dallas Cowboys are going to be faced with a difficult decision when it comes to evaluating the running back position and deciding who’s in and who’s out.
One of the most surprising selections for the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL Draft was when the organization decided to draft Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson in the six round, especially after making running back Ezekiel Elliott the 4th overall pick.
If you would have asked me before the draft what position the Cowboys were most likely to double dip in I would’ve probably answered either defensive end or cornerback, but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought the Cowboys would use two of their nine draft picks on running backs.
The running back position will be one to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the off-season and it will be interesting to see what the Cowboys ultimately decide to do with all of these RBs.
Let’s take a look at the depth chart and try to predict who stays and who goes.
Current RB depth chart: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Ben Malena, Darius Jackson, Rod Smith
Ezekiel Elliott will more than likely sit atop the depth chart and be the number one running back for the Cowboys heading into the season.
Not only is Elliott the most talented RB on the Cowboys roster, but because he is already so well-versed as a pass protector, he will be able to step in day one and contribute as a three down player.
The fact that he was drafted so highly doesn’t guarantee him the starting spot in my mind, but the fact that he is already better than the majority of RBs in the league and on the Cowboys roster should be a telling endorsement.
Chance of staying: High. Elliott is definitely not going anywhere and should be with the Cowboys for years to come.
Darren McFadden probably sits second on the depth chart, but I think that is mostly due to the fact that he had a relatively productive season 2015.
In 2015, McFadden rushed for 1089 yards on 239 carries, but only managed to score 3 rushing touchdowns. Although those are respectable numbers, especially concerning the fact that he was only named the starter about midway through the season, McFadden may be on the outside looking in.
I can see the Cowboys moving on from McFadden at some point the off-season. He’s not the best fit in a zone blocking scheme and is getting up there in age. The Cowboys could decide to go younger and cheaper.
Chance of staying: Low to moderate. The Cowboys could value his veteran experience and decide to keep him around to mentor Elliott, but Alfred Morris could possibly make him expendable.
Alfred Morris was one of the few free agents the Cowboys decided to sign during the off-season and at the time the signing was looked upon as if he would become the featured back in 2016.
The Cowboys may very well have to decide between keeping Morris who is a better fit to run in the zone blocking scheme, or McFadden who they are already familiar with.
Training camp and off-season workouts will be important for Morris to prove himself with the Cowboys and hopefully earn the trust of the organization. The battle between Morris and McFadden will be an interesting storyline to follow for the remainder of the off-season.
Chance of staying: Moderate to high. I think if the Cowboys have to choose between Morris and McFadden, they will choose Morris because he is a better fit to run in the zone blocking scheme.
Lance Dunbar seems to have finally found his role with the team and has earned a lot of fans both inside and outside the organization.
Dunbar is a good change of pace back and proved in 2015 that he is a major threat out of the backfield as a receiver. However, Dunbar’s time with the organization has also proven that he has had a hard time staying healthy.
He will most likely start of the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and have to miss the first six weeks of the season. His health will ultimately decide his status with the team.
Chance of staying: Moderate to high. Dunbar’s health is a concern, but the Cowboys are really high on him.
Darius Jackson is an intriguing prospect and the fact that the Cowboys decided to draft him with the 216th pick overall says something about the way they feel about him.
Jackson set a school record with 16 touchdowns last year and ran for 1110 yards on 207 carries. What I think the Cowboys like most about him was the fact that he also had 21 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
With the uncertainty of Lance Dunbar’s health, the Cowboys will be looking for a pass receiving RB and that could earn Jackson a roster spot in 2016.
Chance of staying: Moderate. Even though he was a draft pick, it doesn’t guarantee him a roster spot. His best bet might be to make the practice squad, but he will be given a chance to prove himself and earn playing time.
Rod Smith joined the Cowboys last year after he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks. He found a role for himself on special teams, but didn’t contribute much to the running game.
It will be a longshot to say that Smith is able to lock down a roster spot. It will ultimately come down to how many running backs the Cowboys decide to keep.
Do they keep three running backs or do they decide to keep more than usual?
Smith’s future with the Cowboys may come down to special teams once again. Will he prove to be more valuable than Darius Jackson?
Chance of staying: Low. I really just can’t see a scenario where they keep more than three running backs and that means Smith is probably looking from the outside in.
Ben Malena has been part of the Cowboys on two separate occasions, but as of yet not been able to contribute in the running game.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he is cut before training camp because the Cowboys should already be pretty familiar with the type of player he is and what he has to offer.
With the depth that the Cowboys have at the running back position it is highly unlikely that Malena would even get very many repetitions in practice and his best bet might be to try to prove himself with a different organization.
Chance of staying: Low. I can’t see a scenario where he makes the team, much less brought to training camp.