The Dallas Cowboys have general depth across the roster right now, but you can’t include the running back position in that statement. Ezekiel Elliott is a superstar but Rod Smith is a free agent and the rest of the RBs have barely any playing experience. Could Dallas use the 2019 NFL Draft to fill this need?
Zeke will be in Dallas for at least two more years, and hopefully well beyond that. He has one year left on his standard rookie contract and now has the fifth-year option added for 2020. The Cowboys claim to want a long-term deal with Elliott and will likely get that figured out sometime next year.
As good and as durable as Zeke is, it’s still dangerous to put all of your RB eggs in one basket. The Cowboys have gotten by with Rod Smith as their backup the last two years, though they may have suffered a bit during Elliott’s 2017 suspension. A more dynamic player could’ve helped them then, and is probably even more important to find now.
Darius Jackson is the current RB2, and though he’s flashed athletic ability during preseason games there’s been no production in real NFL action. He has six more carries in his career than our other reserve, Jordan Chunn, who spent all of last year on the practice squad.
If the Cowboys are serious about championship contention going forward, can they risk having such a weak depth chart at running back? If Ezekiel Elliott were to go down, he could take any hopes of the Super Bowl right with him.
Free agency is one way Dallas could solve this problem. There are still some solid veterans out there like Jay Ajayi, Doug Martin, or Spencer Ware. They could even re-sign Rod Smith, at least getting system familiarity and strong special teams play out of their backup.
However, having not signed any of those veterans yet, it seems Dallas may be focused on the 2019 Draft to find their backup running back. They likely will turn to a free agent if they don’t come away from this weekend with a solid rookie.
It will be interesting to see how this draft goes with the running back class. There are no Elliotts, Barkleys, or Fournettes in this group; 2019 could be a year where no RB gets taken in the first round.
There are two sides to that coin. On the one hand, it means Dallas could potentially land a top prospect like Penn State’s Miles Sanders with their second-round pick. But it could also means that this entire RB group is suspect; a weak class that could lead to a lot of disappointments all around.
Another scenario is that other RB-needy teams scoop up top names before the Cowboys come on the board. If that happens, Dallas will likely use the 58th pick on another position and hope to find a steal at running somewhere on Day 3.
In truth, I don’t expect the Cowboys to take any RB as high as the second round. The potential is there if the right guy falls to them, but it would be unwise to pass on a potential starter at safety, tight end, or some other spot just to draft Zeke’s backup.
If they do draft a RB early, Dallas could be making a pretty big statement about how committed they are to Elliott beyond 2020.
What seems far more likely in this draft is that the Cowboys will use a mid-round pick on a guy like Bryce Love, whose pure speed make him a nice change-up player behind Elliott. A guy like Love doesn’t threaten Zeke’s status as the top dog, simply giving the offense a new toy to work with.
With two picks in the fourth round and one in the fifth, this seems a pretty good range for where Dallas will find their backup runner. They will likely go with some combination of TE, DT, and S with their first two picks on Friday night.
Even if the Cowboys do draft a RB this weekend, don’t be shocked if they still add one of the veteran free agents. They may bring in a guy simply for insurance during training camp and the preseason. And at this point in the offseason, they should be able to sign him for a minimal deal.
We’ll find out soon just how Dallas plans to address their backup RB position. Will it be with an eye to the future, perhaps wanting to guard against any contract issues with Ezekiel Elliott? Or will it be a player who clearly is here to supplement Zeke rather than replace him?
Draft Likelihood: 90%
Projected Round: 4th-5th
~ ~ ~