The Dallas Cowboys have many areas on their roster that need attention during the 2021 offseason. However, the depth chart at running back could very easily go unchanged from last year. The top two players are obvious, and second-year prospect Rico Dowdle did enough in 2020 that he should be a heavy favorite as the third RB this season.
We all know that Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will return as the one-two punch at running back. If anything, Dallas has struggled to find ways to give Pollard enough touches the last two seasons behind a workhorse starter like Zeke.
This dynamic has made the third running back a low priority at times. In fact, the Cowboys didn't even keep a true number-three in 2019 and just had Fullback Jamize Olawale ready in case of emergency.
But last year Olawale opted out under the COVID-19 policy and created more of a need, both to back up Elliott and Pollard and on special teams units. This is where undrafted free agent Rico Dowdle was able to find a niche and make the 53-man roster for the entire season.
In the tradition of number-three RBs like Rod Smith and Phillip Tanner before him, Dowdle made his bones on special teams. Not only did he serve on coverage units but Rico, unlike those former Cowboys, also got some looks as a return man on kickoffs.
As we saw in Dallas' near upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dowdle should compete for that role again in 2021.
The key to making the bottom of the depth chart at so many NFL positions is through special teams work. If Rico Dowdle can remain a fixture on coverage units while also giving the team an option as a return man, he will be very hard for anyone to beat out for his roster spot.
It's unlikely that he will see any major competition joining the RB ranks this offseason. With Zeke locked up and two years left on Pollard's rookie contract there's no need to make a significant signing or use a draft pick at the position. That should leave Dowdle as a the front-runner going into training camp.
The biggest threat to Rico's job security in 2021 is if the Cowboys decided to revert back to their 2019 strategy and only keep Elliott and Pollard at running back. This could happen if Olawale returns or they decide they want some other pure fullback helping the run game as a lead blocker.
But again, players who provide versatile value like Dowdle tend to stick around. It's how guys like Phillip Tanner (2011-2013) and Rod Smith (2015-2018) managed to have a combined seven seasons with the Cowboys and stints with other teams despite rare usage on offense.
In an offseason with so many questions to answer, it's nice to have one position that doesn't need much attention. The Dallas Cowboys could stand pat with their current running back trio and be just fine for 2021, thanks in part to the underrated value of Rico Dowdle.