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Looking Ahead – The Defensive Line

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Draft Blog - Looking Ahead - The Defensive Line 13

31, 31, 32, and 29. In a sport that seldom rewards age with consistent production and good health, those were the ages of the Dallas Cowboys’ projected starters DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Jay Ratliff, and Anthony Spencer at the start of the 2013 NFL season. The Cowboys took a calculated roll of the dice that this well established quartet could provide the splash plays demanded of the defensive line in new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s system and we have all borne witness to the disastrous result.

Ware, who hadn’t missed a game in his career, missed three consecutive contests with a quad injury, and has been unable to muster any impact since his return. Ware’s opposite bookend Anthony Spencer barely got out of the starting blocks and landed on injured reserve. At tackle, Jay Ratliff’s injury situation became so contentious his relationship with the club couldn’t bear the weight and fractured. Only Jason Hatcher has remained healthy enough to stay on the field, and he’s consistently played at an all-pro level while providing clear leadership to the group of new faces that surround him. The catch? Hatcher is an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

In addition to getting zero production from half of the projected starters, the team lost two key reserves in Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass to season ending injuries suffered on the practice field.

At present, seven of the ten defensive linemen on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster were not with the team last season, and an astounding six weren’t on the roster when training camp opened. Line coach Rod Marinelli has been given the lion’s share of credit for wringing every ounce of production out of a group made up of castoffs from other rosters.

The concentration of age and injury have led many fans that closely follow the team building process to believe that the defensive line will be the team’s primary focus at the top of the draft in 2014, and rightfully so. Lets take an early look at how the team might stock the position group to better prepare for 2014.

With ten defensive linemen presently on the active roster, we’ll work off the presumption that the team will carry ten into the 2014 campaign. What names will make the cut? How many rookies will wear the star?

 
Defensive Ends:

[column]DeMarcus Ware
Age to Start 2014: 32
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2017
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $16,003,750

Anthony Spencer
Age to Start 2014: 30
Contract Status:
Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

George Selvie
Age to Start 2014: 27
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $730,000

Kyle Wilber
Age to Start 2014: 25
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2015
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $679,805[/column]
Tyrone Crawford
Age to Start 2014: 23
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2015
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $733,81

Jarius Wynn
Age to Start 2014: 28
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Everette Brown
Age to Start 2014: 27
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Caesar Rayford (Practice Squad)
Age to Start 2014: 28
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2015
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $495,000

Edgar Jones
Age to Start 2014: 29
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0[/end_columns]
[clear][/clear]

 
Defensive Tackles:

[column]Jason Hatcher
Age to Start 2014: 32
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Nick Hayden
Age to Start 2014: 28
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $730,000[/column]

Ben Bass
Age to Start 2014: 24
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $570,000

Drake Nevis
Age to Start 2014: 25
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0

Corvey Irvin
Age to Start 2014: 29
Contract Status: Under Contract Through 2014
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $730,000[/end_column]

[clear][/clear]The Cowboys will enter the off-season with five defensive ends and just three defensive tackles under contract for 2014. Of the defensive ends, Kyle Wilber is included in that number, though he may have found his future home at Outside Linebacker after proving largely ineffective as an injury replacement for Ware.

 
Defensive End:
The very first off-season decision that must be made at end is on the weak side, where the team faces the real consideration of parting ways with one of the best defensive players to ever wear the uniform in DeMarcus Ware. The future of a long time star is never an easy subject to debate, but there is no room for sentimentality in the present state of this defense. There is zero likelihood that DeMarcus ware plays for the team under his present cap number. It is simply too cumbersome for a team that will have to make major changes to get far enough under the salary cap to address multiple needs.  Ware has been rendered ineffective by a combination of injuries. There are only three options, release, re-structure, or a negotiated pay cut. Of the three, release might actually be the most prudent based on his current production level, but it hinges on the team’s ability to find an adequate replacement. Designating Ware a June 1st cut would cost them just $3.75M in dead money against the 2014 salary cap, and $4.8M against the 2015 cap. The organization would no longer owe his 2014 salary of $12.25M for a net savings of nearly $8.5M in 2014, funds sorely needed to re-load this roster. A re-structure or pay cut are possibilities, but a cut is always tough to reach agreement on and why convert salary to bonus if you don’t expect to get a big return on that investment? I strongly believe the Cowboys and Ware are headed for divorce, leaving a critical starting position that can’t be filled by anyone on the roster.

On the strong side, a healthy return by Tyrone Crawford from his Achilles injury is the team’s ideal scenario. He’s young, economical, and shows good promise. This would allow the surprisingly productive George Selvie to work in pass rushing situations and provide much needed depth at both end positions. Coming off surgery for a degenerative knee condition and 30 years old, I don’t see the team entertaining the possibility of bringing free-agent Anthony Spencer back.

The situation at defensive end is so murky, it has to be a priority for player acquisition both in free agency and the draft. Potentially needing two starters, with Crawford the only in-house candidate, if they make a run at a starter in free agency I expect this to be the position. Below are some options to look at in 2014’s prospective free agent and draft classes:

 
Free Agency:
Michael Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals
After a breakout year in 2012, the former Georgia Tech All-American is playing this season under the franchise tag in Cincinnati. His sack numbers are down, but his performance in all facets of the game continues to grade extremely highly. The 6’7”, 270lb. Johnson is a true 4-3 defensive end and will be 27 years old to start the 2014 season.

Michael Bennett - Seattle Seahawks
Bennett has been an extremely productive member of the Seahawks’ defensive rotation. After recovering from a torn rotator cuff in the off-season he has rebounded to record 7.5 sacks through week 15. The 6’4”, 274lb Bennett is a native Texan who starred at Texas A&M.

 
2014 NFL Draft:
Defensive line is perhaps the most dependent position on scheme for NFL success. Some of the top-ranked collegiate defensive ends simply don’t have the size to succeed as an every down player in a four man front. With that in mind, here are some targets to watch in bowl season and through the post-season all-star games. I’ll exclude South Carolina’s superlative Jadaveon Clowney, who will be well out of the Cowboys’ reach given the projected draft order.


Shawn Oakman *
6’9” 275lbs.
Baylor

Players Oakman’s size aren’t supposed to move the way he does. Explosive, with a basketball background and tremendously powerful with his hands, he’s a two way end that can rush and ravage run games. The Penn State transfer is a draft eligible red-shirt sophomore and has yet to declare his intentions. He’s a first rounder should he enter the draft this year, and possibly a top 10 selection in 2015 if he returns to school. Big 12 coaches are rooting for the former.

Kony Ealy *
6’5” 275lbs.
Missouri

Opposite the more heralded, but undersized Michael Sam, Ealy Recorded 7.5 sacks in 2013. Ealy has prototypical size for the position and could potentially kick inside on passing downs. He’d benefit from more functional strength in the run game and Ealy’s inconsitency may push him into the second round, but his potential as a pass rusher will likely have him off the board within the first 50 picks.

Kareem Martin
6’6” 265lbs.
North Carolina

Martin seemed to have finally bloomed into the potential as a pass rusher long expected of him over the second half of the 2013 season. Finishing the season with first team all-ACC honors, he recorded 78 tackles, including 20 behind the line of scrimmage and 11 sacks. I’d presently project Martin anywhere from a late second round pick all the way through the third.

Aaron Lynch
6’6” 244lbs.
South Florida

The case of Aaron Lynch is a curious one. After an outstanding freshman campaign at Notre Dame, he abruptly left the program citing homesickness and returned to Florida. After sitting a mandatory season during which he lost more than 30 pounds, Lynch has declared for the draft after playing a single campaign at South Florida. He wasn’t the same player at 245lbs and finally began to produce as the season wound to a close. Teams will want to answer questions about his dedication to football, but his frame, athleticism, and what he put on tape at Notre Dame will have teams looking his direction very early if he can convince them the game is important to him. He’ll be one of the true wild cards early due to my anticipation that teams could have very different takes on where his head is at regarding football.

Chris Smith
6’3” 268lbs.
Arkansas

Smith posted back-to-back very productive seasons in the SEC. His biggest concern is that production coming against weaker competition while being effectively marginalized by the conference’s heavyweights. I think its unlikely that Smith makes it out of round two without hearing his name called.

Jackson Jeffcoat
6’5” 250lbs.
Texas

Jeffcoat’s production has been outstanding, though concerns persist about his size translating to the NFL effectively. 2013 Big 12 defensive player of the year and Hendricks award winner, Jeffcoat is highly decorated and I don’t see him transitioning to linebacker. With 80 tackles and 12 sacks to his credit as a senior, I believe Jeffcoat comes off the board in round two in May.

* Denotes underclassmen that have not yet declared for the 2014 draft

 
Defensive Tackle:
The song remains the same for the Cowboys at defensive tackle. Jason Hatcher has been fantastic this season, holding together a unit in tatters and producing what I feel has been an All-Pro campaign. What exactly do you offer a 32 year-old defensive tackle? My answer is that I hope the Cowboys establish a very low walk away number, thank Hatcher for his contribution, and set about finding his replacement in earnest. To invest heavily in age again would be throwing good money after bad. New contracts are about paying for future production, not rewarding past performance and at Hatcher’s age the odds of recouping the investment are astronomically against.

Ben Bass and Nick Hayden certainly factor into the mix, but neither projects as a full time starter on an adequate defense. As position groups go, however, the cupboard at defensive tackle is very nearly bare. Doing the right thing for the team’s future with Hatcher means that defensive tackle will top this club’s off-season priorities in my opinion. Here’s a look at the potential groceries:

 
Free Agency:
Henry Melton - Chicago Bears
Melton lost this, his franchise-tagged year, to injured reserve much the same as Anthony Spencer did here in Dallas. Melton will be 27 in 2014, and the Grapevine, Texas native has proven his ability as a disruptive three-technique tackle that this team covets.

Linval Joseph - New York Giants
After Melton, the selection of potential free agent tackles under 30 years old falls off sharply. Joseph is a player the Cowboys have a lot of familiarity with and could hit the market at just 25 years old. Players like Miami’s Randy Starks sound appealing based on production, but the Cowboys have wisely shied away from older players on the open market.

 
2014 NFL Draft:
Ra’Shede Hageman
6’6” 311lbs.
Minnesota

Hageman may not be the pure three-technique model in this system, as pure speed is not his game, but his combination of power and ability to create disruption will surely have him high on the Cowboys’ board. Hageman also has the versatility to play the one-technique as he’s seen duty in both roles at Minnesota. An impressive athlete, Hageman is a sure first round talent and will be mocked to the Cowboys frequently as draft season picks up steam.

Dominique Easley
6’2” 285lbs.
Florida

Easley suffered a season ending ACL injury in September, but put down plenty on film to ensure NFL interest will be high. He wins with quickness and definitely has the one gap ability to get in the backfield and disrupt offenses that this defense demands. He can improve at locating the football faster and finishing, but provided the knee checks out his athleticism is unmatched in this class. Easley projects from the late first throughout the second round.

Will Sutton
6’1” 305lbs.
Arizona State

Sutton was the PAC-12 defensive player of the year, and has received an invitation to participate in the senior bowl. Extremely disruptive, and adept at using his hands and leverage to get off blocks and finish plays, Sutton may be more polished if less athletic than Easley. He didn’t match the production of his junior season when he recorded 13 sacks, but figures to make an early impact for the team selecting him on the draft’s second day.

Aaron Donald
6’0” 285lbs.
Pittsburgh

I have described Donald as the most “Kiffin” three-technique in this year’s class. Extraordinarily productive with 26.5 tackles for a loss this season and 10 sacks, he augments his physical ability by dedicating himself to the study of his opponents. His film rat nature will certainly impress defensive line coaches during the interview process. His size limits his versatility, but the Cowboys are in desperate need of his skill set. He figures to be selected in the second or third round and could immediately help the Dallas front seven.

Timmy Jernigan
6’2”, 298lbs.
Florida State

A first team All-ACC selection, Jernigan has been the most productive interior player on a talent laden Seminole defense. Another player that makes his way with quickness and leverage, Jernigan shares the versatility to play both spots in the Cowboys’ interior line. With at least a double dip at defensive tackle expected by the team in this draft, Jernigan is a prospect that could be available into the third round.

In a league that is continually officiated to favor the passing game, getting to the quarterback is the only equalizer. The failings of the defensive line are the catalyst for the monumentally poor defensive performance the Cowboys are presently enduring. The lack of a reliable rush exposes everyone in coverage, and as exhibited by the state of the roster, the Cowboys are in desperate need of an infusion of youth and production up front. I expect no fewer than four defensive linemen to join the team, and with talented veterans potentially departing, those players need to be prioritized as major contributors. They aren’t just building depth here. The Cowboys must re-make the defensive line as thoroughly as possible in a single off-season, but the reward could be the incremental difference that turns close games into wins. They gambled and lost on age this season. 2014 depends on their ability to stack the deck in the team’s favor, and it starts with the defensive line.


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NFL Draft

Red River Rivalry Brings WR Devin Duvernay to Dallas, Hopefully to Stay

Brian Martin

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Red River Rivalry Brings WR Devin Duvernay to Dallas, Hopefully to Stay 1

If you happen to be a fan of college football and the Dallas Cowboys, then the 2019 Red River Rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns might just be a game you want to tune in for this weekend. Both teams will showcase quite a few players who could enter the 2020 NFL Draft and one of the more talented, although still underrated, players could be of interest to the Cowboys.

Enter Texas Longhorns Wide Receiver Devin Duvernay.

When it comes to positions the Dallas Cowboy would be most interested in next year's NFL Draft, wide receiver might not be at the top the list… or so it would seem from the outside looking in. But if you look a little deeper only Amari Cooper, who the Cowboys will extend eventually, and Michael Gallup are locks to stick around beyond this season. That's where Devin Duvernay comes in.

With Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin under one-year contracts, the Dallas Cowboys could be looking for their next slot receiver. Devin Duvernay may be new to the position with the Longhorns this year, but he's already proving to be a dynamic weapon out of the slot and could be exactly what the Cowboys are looking for.

The slot WR position is an important one for the Dallas Cowboys, especially for Quarterback Dak Prescott. It has become a security blanket of sorts over the years for Prescott and finding a sure-handed receiver he's comfortable with is easier said than done. Luckily though, they don't come much more reliable than Devin Duvernay.


Devin Duvernay

Texas Longhorns WR Devin Duvernay (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

According to the folks over at Pro Football Focus, Duvernay was one of the rare collegiate WRs who didn't drop a pass in 2018. That's pretty impressive considering he played the Z-receiver role with the Longhorns last year before moving into the slot in 2019. I'd say that's pretty sure-handed. Down the field targets are much more difficult to haul in than the ones thrown near or around the line of scrimmage.

Sure handedness isn't Devin Duvernay's only impressive trait though. His physicality and infectious attitude on the field is something that would pair nicely with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, both of whom are a little low-key/reserved as far as their on-field persona is concerned. Duvernay is a WR who likes to punish would be tackler and he has the build to do just that.

At 5'11", 210 pounds, Duvernay's thick, well muscled frame is much more RB-esque than that of a traditional receiver. His build is comparable to Carolina's D.J. Moore and San Francisco's Deebo Samuel, both of whom were taken relatively high in their respective drafts the past couple of years. His play to both of these WRs is similar as well.

The soon to be former Longhorns WR has all the intangibles to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball. His physicality alone makes him difficult for any defensive back to tackle, but he also possesses elite speed as well. He claims he can run a 4.3 40-yard dash and his film certainly suggests he's capable of doing just that.

Overall, Devin Duvernay is absolutely someone the Dallas Cowboys should keep an eye on when the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns meet up this weekend in Dallas for the Red River Rivalry. I'd be more than happy if he ended up being one of their Day 2 selections, which is where I have him being drafted right now.

Do you like the idea of WR Devin Duvernay in a Dallas Cowboys uniform?


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Cowboys Land CB in Matt Miller’s way-too-early 2020 NFL Mock Draft

Brian Martin

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Matt Miller's 2020 Mock Draft Predicts Cowboys Strengthen Their Secondary

What better way to kick off the 2019 NFL regular-season and the start of college football then a way-too-early 2020 mock draft? Well, you're in luck. Matt Miller, one of my favorite draft analysts, just released his latest 2020 NFL Mock Draft for Bleacherreport.com and you may be surprised as to who he selected for the Dallas Cowboys.

One of the reasons I enjoy Matt Miller's work above many other so-called "draft analysts" is because he has his ear to the ground and has a pretty good connection with scouts around the league. That kind of information is pretty invaluable, but he also has a solid understanding of team "needs". Add all of that up and you get a really solid guesstimate of who could be on a certain teams radar, in this case the Dallas Cowboys.

Let's take a look at who Matt Miller predicted the Dallas Cowboys could draft in the 2020 NFL Draft with their first-round selection. Miller set this particular mock draft according to current Super Bowl odds from Caesar's Palace.

25. Dallas Cowboys

Bryce Hall

Virginia Cavaliers CB Bryce Hall

The Pick: CB Bryce Hall, Virginia

Matt Miller predicting the Dallas Cowboys select Cornerback Bryce Hall with there first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft definitely seems like a plausible possibility. He knows the Cowboys can't afford to pay everyone and he even said as much. With Byron Jones and Anthony Brown entering a contract year in 2019 and with Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis having expiring contracts after 2020, Dallas' secondary could definitely need addressing.


The Cowboys know this as well which is why they probably attempted to add some developmental depth to the CB position through the 2019 NFL Draft when they took Mike Jackson in the fifth-round. Jackson has the attributes they look for in their corners, but in no way has he looked like he'd be ready for a starting role next season. That makes Miller's Bryce Hall selection a definite possibility.

According to Miller's 2020 mock draft Bryce Hall is the fourth secondary player to come off the board. There were three cornerbacks selected ahead of him and one safety. He does fit the mold Kris Richard prefers in his CBs (6'1", 200) and also has the physical playing style in press coverage Richard likes as well. All in all, this is a very solid prediction for the Dallas Cowboys.

Whether or not the Dallas Cowboys would choose to select a CB this early is unknown at this point. But, it certainly seems like a high possibility considering all the corners with expiring contracts in a year or two. I think the Cowboys could look into taking a tight end or a safety with their first-round pick as well, but again it's way too early to have any kind of clue as to how their draft board will look like when the 2020 NFL Draft rolls around.

I don't know about you, but I'll be keeping a closer eye on Bryce Hall this season just in case Matt Miller is correct. I'd like to get a head start to see just how well he would fit, or not, with the Dallas Cowboys.

Do you like the Bryce Hall selection for the Dallas Cowboys?


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2020 RB Options for the Cowboys if Things Turn Ugly With Ezekiel Elliott

Brian Martin

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2020 RB Options for Cowboys if Things Turn Ugly With Ezekiel Elliott

The Dallas Cowboys could have a Le'Veon Bell-type situation on their hands in regards to Ezekiel Elliott. It's been reported Zeke is contemplating a holdout until his financial demands are met by way of a contract extension. This could put the Cowboys between a rock and a hard place.

Ezekiel Elliott is technically still under contract for two more seasons because of the fifth-year option he carries as a former first-round draft pick. Threatening to hold out seems a little premature, but Zeke has the Cowboys by the short hairs right now, meaning the leverage is on his side.

This is a situation that could, unfortunately, turn ugly, and quickly.

Check out Ep. 6 of Cowboys Weekly - Segment 1 for more discussion from Inside The Star on Ezekiel Elliott's Hold-Out situation:

The Cowboys have several other mouths to feed and Zeke may not be at the top the list considering his continued immaturity issues off the field. His on-field production is undeniable, but so are the red flags that keep popping up. It may be time for Dallas to look for his successor and fortunately, the 2020 running back draft class is a pretty good place to start.

Let's take a look…

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jonathan Taylor

Wisconsin Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor (5'11", 219) would probably be the ideal candidate to replace Ezekiel Elliott for the Dallas Cowboys. He is one of the more productive collegiate running backs expected to enter the 2020 NFL Draft and has the intangibles that are eerily similar to Zeke as far as size, speed, and power are concerned. Unfortunately, that likely makes him a top 10 selection, putting him out of reach of the Cowboys.

Taylor doesn't come without his warts though. As a true Junior, he's seen a lot of action in his three years as the starting RB for the Badgers. That wear-and-tear is a cause for concern because it could lead to durability issues once in the NFL. He also has struggled with his ball security. He's put the ball on the ground 12 times in the last two seasons, which will need to be cleaned up at the next level. But, there's no denying his talent.

D'Andre Swift, Georgia

D'Andre Swift

Georgia Bulldogs RB D'Andre Swift

D'Andre Swift (5'9", 215) is one of my favorite RB options in the 2020 draft class to replace Ezekiel Elliott if things turn ugly with the Dallas Cowboys. He doesn't have the same kind of production as Jonathan Taylor and is still somewhat under the radar because he's been stuck in a committee with the Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Elijah Holyfield the last two years. But mark my words, he will be the next great RB to enter the NFL out of Georgia. Swift could be as ideal of a candidate to replace Zeke as there is.

Dallas likes an inside runner with zone vision as well as someone who can be a threat in the passing game, and D'Andre fits the bill. Despite being a little smaller in size than Zeke, he still possesses the power to run inside. Then throw in his receiving ability, 32 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns last season, and you have someone who is more than capable of replacing #21's offensive production. He's projected to be a late first-round pick, which could put him within striking distance of the Cowboys.


J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

J.K. Dobbins

Ohio State Buckeyes RB J.K. Dobbins

J.K. Dobbins (5'10", 214) could be someone who is already on the Dallas Cowboys' radar as a potential Ezekiel Elliott replacement. They seem to have a liking for Ohio State running backs (Zeke, Rod Smith, Mike Weber) and could turn to another Buckeye to carry the rock. Dobbins, an all-purpose back and native Texan (Houston, TX) checks all of the boxes the Cowboys typically look for in their featured back.

Dobbins has the size, speed, and vision to be a featured back in the NFL. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards his last two seasons while splitting time with Mike Weber and has averaged about 200 receiving yards during that time span as well. He's not the most physical back, but he keeps moving his feet upon contact. He also needs to improve in pass protection in order to become a true three-down RB in the NFL. But his vision, shorter area quickness, elusiveness, and patience as a runner are all top-notch.

Travis Etienne, Clemson

Travis Etienna

Clemson Tigers RB Travis Etienna

The breakout season of Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, unfortunately, overshadowed the Heisman-worthy year Travis Etienna (5'10", 200) had in 2018. In his first year as a starter, he rushed for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns, all the while averaging an impressive 8.1 yards per carry. If he can follow that up in 2019 he could become the most coveted back in the 2020 draft class and become a really intriguing option for the Dallas Cowboys.

Etienne will probably need to add a little bit more "good weight" and muscle to his frame if he wants to be considered a featured back in the NFL. If he can accomplish that and not lose any of his elusiveness or speed he should climb up draft boards. If not, he may not be of much interest to the Cowboys because they already have a similar RB in Tony Pollard. He does possess plug-and-play talent though, making him a potential Ezekiel Elliott replacement.

Najee Harris, Alabama

Najee Harris

Alabama Crimson Tide RB Najee Harris

Najee Harris (6'2", 230) is yet another big, physical running back who has had to remain patient and wait his turn at Alabama, but 2019 could be his breakout season. With Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs, and Damien Harris ahead of him on the depth chart the last two years, Najee saw limited playing time. But, when he did receive the opportunity to showcase his skill set he didn't disappoint. His physical talent could make him a top-5 running back come draft time.

Despite his limited playing time last the two seasons, he averaged over 6 yards a carry. He rushed for a career-high 783 yards and four touchdowns on just 117 carries in 2018 and should easily surpass those totals this season. In doing so he should become one of the more sought after RBs in the 2020 draft class. With the Cowboys, as Zeke's potential replacement, his physicality would pair nicely with Tony Pollard's slashing style. A Harris/Pollard duo could be just as productive as the Cowboys running game has been in the past.

Honorable Mention

The above five running backs are all potential Ezekiel Elliott replacements who I really like and will likely receive the most national attention due to the programs in which they play. But, they are only a few in what looks like a really strong 2020 RB draft class. Here a few honorable mentions you should also keep a close eye on as well.

  • Cam Akers, Florida State
  • Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
  • Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
  • Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
  • Kylin Hill, Mississippi State

I believe any of these running backs mentioned above at any point in the article could be in play for the Dallas Cowboys if they choose to play hardball with Ezekiel Elliott over his want for a contract extension. The 2020 running back draft class has a plethora of potential starters and this could be in the back of the Cowboys mind when they're determining where they want to spend their money. Paying top dollar for an RB might not fit in their budget, even for one as talented as Zeke.

Do you like any of these potential RBs as replacements for Ezekiel Elliott?


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