As we move along in this position group ranking series with the third installment, we stay on the offensive side of the ball.
Having already touched on the quarterbacks and wide receivers, why not get to the last “small skill” position group, the running backs.
No NFC East team made the splash at running back this offseason like the Dallas Cowboys did in the 2016 draft. By drafting Ohio State stud back Ezekiel Elliott with the number four overall pick, the Cowboys further solidified what was already considered to be a formidable and feared running game.
Before drafting Zeke, Dallas signed former Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris in free agency. Morris will more than likely be the number two back, and serves as an ideal scheme fit for the Cowboys. He should provide them with solid contributions this season.
The fourth leading rusher in the entire NFL last season, Darren McFadden, is the third running back on the Cowboys projected 2016 depth chart.
That’s how good this group is.
Lance Dunbar should return to full health down the line this season, and will be the perfect change of pace back for their offense.
While they certainly didn’t add a back of Ezekiel Elliott, or even Alfred Morris’, talent level, the Eagles did make an offseason running back move.
They decided to trade former Cowboys 2014 leading rusher Demarco Murray to Tennessee, as part of the “destroy anything Chip Kelly did” campaign.
The Eagles do have a decent backfield, however, with veteran Ryan Mathews leading the way. Mathews looked like the better back between him and Murray at times last season, and he should get more carries in 2016.
Philadelphia drafted West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round of the 2016 draft as well. Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing a year ago with over 1,500 yards and 9 touchdowns, and he is expected to take the 2015 Ryan Mathews role this season.
Last but not least is Darren Sproles. Sproles is getting up there in age, turning 33 this year, but is still a viable option in the passing game.
Outside of Elliott, the Giants added the best new back in this division during the offseason in former UCLA Bruins back Paul Perkins. Perkins finished with just under 3,000 combined rushing yards his final two collegiate seasons, and in my mind, has a chance to serve as the week one starter.
Perkins immediately upgrades a running back group which has been criticized heavily over the past few years.
Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen return to the Giants after having up and down seasons a year ago. Jennings is starting to get up there in age at 31, but he had a career high 863 yards last season on 195 carries.
Last, and I believe least, come the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins lost out on Alfred Morris this offseason when he signed with Dallas, meaning it is now officially Matt Jones’ time to shine in Washington. Jones was second on the team last year with 490 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns. He also contributed nicely in the pass game.
2013 fifth round pick Chris Thompson saw increased time last year and will certainly see even more carries in 2016.
The Redskins also added Georgia Bulldogs back Keith Marshall in the seventh round of the 2016 draft.
The Dallas Cowboys spent a really high draft pick on who they believe was not only the best running back, but also the best player in this years draft. And the player this pick was spent on, Ezekiel Elliott, is the one who catapults the Cowboys to the top of this ranking.
While I like the situation in Philadelphia with Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood, it certainly doesn’t match up with the Cowboys top-tier stable of Zeke, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, and Darren McFadden.
The Cowboys have led the division in rushing yards the past two seasons, and it doesn’t look like this trend is going to be stopped anytime soon.
The runner up to Dallas? I have to give it to the New York Giants.
I love the pick of Paul Perkins, and both Jennings and Vereen are solid players who can contribute in a three headed rotation.
But the Giants lack the star power at running back which the Cowboys will thrive on. I also believe the Cowboys top two backs are better than any three of the backs on the Giants roster.
The Cowboys edge out the Giants in the battle of NFC East running backs.