From the end of the 2015 season to today, the Cowboys’ most improved position is undoubtedly at running back. They have so many new options in Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Darrius Jackson, as well as returning players in Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar. If any one of them is called to action, good things are sure to happen.
Unfortunately, Dunbar may not be called upon until after the first six weeks of the 2016 season, as he is likely to start the season on the PUP list. That is unfortunate for him and unfortunate for the Cowboys. Until his season-ending injury in Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints, he had asserted himself as a vital part of the Cowboys’ offense.
He only received five carries in 2015, but he managed to impact the passing game dramatically. He worked out of the backfield and occasionally flexed into the slot. With Dez Bryant out with a broken foot, Dunbar and Jason Witten became the targets for Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden early into the season. Dunbar caught the ball 21 out of the 23 times he was targeted.
Anyone watching the Week 1 game against the New York Giants could see that Dunbar is a great asset, especially when the Cowboys are down, late in the fourth quarter. But with Dunbar likely to start the year on the PUP list, who will fill his role on the Cowboys’ offense?
One possibility is Darren McFadden. There’s been a lot of rumors that McFadden could be cut before the season begins because he doesn’t fit the offensive scheme. But, with Dunbar on PUP, McFadden could find a comfortable place on the team playing Dunbar’s role. McFadden had 40 catches last year for 328 yards. That shows he is capable of taking on a more receiving-back role.
Another option would be Darius Jackson. Jackson had a school-record 16 touchdowns last year and ran for 1,110 yards on 207 carries. The Cowboys probably have faith in Jackson to work more as a receiver because he caught 21 balls for 201 yards and two touchdowns last year in Eastern Michigan. He’s bigger than Dunbar and might be just as fast. Jackson could find himself a role on the 53 man roster, catching passes during the 4th quarter or 2 minute drills.
The Cowboys probably won’t rule out the possibility of Lucky Whitehead seeing some of Dunbar’s production too. Whitehead finished the season with 10 carries for 107 yards and six catches for 16 yards. It was clear that the coaches saw potential in Whitehead and were looking to get him the ball.
With Dunbar out, the Cowboys don’t have a definite pass-catching runner, but they do have other options to fill in for the time being. It’s unclear, as of now, who the substitute could be. One thing’s for sure, when Dunbar does return, his catching, running and returning abilities are certain to impact the game.