The Dallas Cowboys’ offseason moves haven’t exactly displayed much faith in running back Darren McFadden.
After signing former Washington Redskins back Alfred Morris during free agency, the Cowboys then used their number four overall pick to select Ohio State’s workhorse, Ezekiel Elliott.
To make matters worse for McFadden, the Cowboys added yet another running back in the sixth round when they drafted Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson.
There’s no way McFadden is loving his chances to be a Cowboy come September at this point. However, I do believe there is hope for the NFL’s fourth leading rusher from a season ago.
In 2015 the Cowboys did just about everything they could to avoid having to start McFadden.
Whether that was due to his poor-scheme fit, injury history, or just general questions the team may have had about his talent, McFadden basically became the running back of last resort.
Joseph Randle started the season as the lead back before running into a slew of personal problems. Lance Dunbar saw time as the change of pace back before injuring his knee and missing the majority of the season. And, the Cowboys went and traded for Christine Michael, with hopes of expanding his role at the Meadowlands following the bye week.
Instead, it was McFadden who saw his role grow that day.
McFadden started every game the rest of 2015, finishing with over 1,000 yards and possibly the best season of his entire career.
He showed resiliency, toughness, and willingness to work and fight for a spot on the roster and a chance to play on Sundays. No, he wasn’t the ideal choice for the Cowboys but at times he was able to make it work and be a formidable back for the team.
Flash forward to this season.
OTA’s are right around the corner, and position battles are starting to heat up. We all know Elliott will be the starter, and the odds are certainly in Alfred Morris’ favor to be the number two back.
Rod Smith has moved to fullback and Lance Dunbar will likely begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
That leaves two running backs fighting for potentially one roster spot, Darren McFadden and Darius Jackson.
As I talked about in my film review of Jackson, I love his athleticism. He has breakaway speed, and has an ability to score each time he touches the ball that McFadden simply does not have.
I would also argue that Jackson is a much better scheme fit for the Cowboys, and could possibly fill the Lance Dunbar role until Dunbar returns to full health.
However, Jackson is coming from a small school where he didn’t exactly shine through as a star. Rarely will a player stay as under the radar as Jackson has at a school like Eastern Michigan, only to make it big in the league and perform consistently at a high level.
McFadden has two things that Jackson doesn’t which may go a long way with helping him make this team:
He has shown dependability as a Cowboy, and he has gained the trust of the coaching staff.
No, the injury concerns for McFadden haven’t gone away simply because of one healthy season. But I do believe that he has shown a level of dependability for this team by carrying the load for the majority of 2015, and performing relatively well while doing so.
I will be the first person to tell you all the reasons why McFadden does not fit on this team. I will also be the first to root for Darius Jackson to make a run for the 3rd running back slot this season.
However, I don’t believe that the coaches are really ready to let McFadden completely go just yet.
What he can bring to the team with depth and veteran experience at the position may be more valuable to the coaching staff than any extra flash Jackson may show.
Besides, we all expect Elliott to carry the bulk of the load anyway, so the 3rd running back very well may be just a veteran guy who can be trusted in game situations to simply not screw it up when called upon.
And to be honest, McFadden did more than just “not screw it up” a year ago.
I wouldn’t count Darren McFadden out just yet.