It’s not always easy for undrafted free agents to work their way into a prominent role in the NFL, but that could be exactly what Rod Smith did with the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. He performed so well that he could now find himself in contention to be Ezekiel Elliott’s primary backup in 2018, but will that be the case?
The all-important third season in the NFL is typically when teams find out exactly what they have in certain players. The 2017 season was Rod Smith’s third year in the league and after scratching and clawing his way through his first two seasons, he seemed to finally blossom.
For Rod Smith, it all started in organized team activities (OTA’s) and training camp practices. He started to string together several days of practice where he was catching the attention of the Cowboys coaching staff. He did so well in fact, he was given the opportunity to prove himself in preseason.
That was exactly the opportunity he was waiting for, and he seized the moment.
With the opportunity in hand, Rod Smith averaged 4.5 yards per carry in preseason and rushed for a total of 130 yards on 29 carries. He also added seven receptions for 57 receiving yards through the air. He did all this while still maintaining his role on special teams.
The Dallas Cowboys obviously saw enough of him to not only keep him on the 53-man roster, but activate him the entire season over Darren McFadden, a proven veteran.
The way some players perform in training camp and preseason doesn’t always translate to when the games actually mean something in the regular season, but that wasn’t the case for Rod Smith. The majority of the season he was third on the depth chart behind Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris, but opportunity would knock again for him when Elliott was slapped with a six-game suspension.
The Cowboys first went with Alfred Morris to handle the lions share of the carries in the running game, but they sprinkled in a little bit of Rod Smith along the way. Smith ended up looking like the better of the two and was rewarded by receiving more playing time.
The Cowboys seemed to like the versatility Rod Smith brought to the offense over the more proven and steady veteran Alfred Morris. He continued to receive more and more playing time as a result, and didn’t disappoint with his performance.
He ended up averaging 4.2 yards per carry and rushed for 232 yards on 55 attempts and scored four touchdowns. Through the air, he hauled in 19 receptions for 202 yards and scored one touchdown. He did all this in mostly a backup role and only started one game in 2017.
With Ezekiel Elliott now expected to return as the main ballcarrier for the Cowboys and Alfred Morris becoming a free agent, Rod Smith has another opportunity in front of him to become the RB2 in 2018.
I think he is more than capable of handling the backup responsibilities. But, the Dallas Cowboys could very well look for someone who could provide a different skill set or be an upgrade through the draft or free agency.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Cowboys add another RB to create competition with Rod Smith to become the primary backup to Zeke. But, I’m not going to bet against #45 as the RB2 next season. Are you?