It’s amazing what a year of pedestrian production out of the running back position can do for perspective. The Dallas Cowboys felt that they could throw just about anyone behind their mammoth-sized offensive line and keep trucking along, but after letting stud rusher DeMarco Murray walk in free agency, they soon found that wasn’t the case.
Darren McFadden was merely a marginal free agent acquisition, Joseph Randle never took over the reigns and Lance Dunbar was never going to be the answer before an injury cut his 2015 season short. In the end, it wasn’t necessarily just a lack of an elite running back that sent the Cowboys spiraling out of control (see: Romo, Tony). Of course, it also didn’t help.
With Randle out of Dallas (and likely the league) and McFadden still not a reliable answer, it may be time for the Cowboys to either pay up at running back or find a long-term answer in the draft. The draft route is certainly the more viable option financially, and luckily there are several quality prospects to consider. With the 4th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, however, Dallas might be in a weird spot. That’s too early to take a running back, and trading down would keep them from landing an impact player – probably on defense – that they sorely need.
That arguably puts the Cowboys in the position of trading back into the first round or standing pat and seeing what falls to them with their second pick in round two. With that scenario being the most likely, let’s asses their five best bets at the running back position heading into April’s draft:
Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
One cool thing about Elliott is he surely wouldn’t hate playing for the Cowboys. The former Buckeye already professed his desire to play in Dallas and as arguably the draft’s top rusher, it’s very possible he gets his wish. The problem? Dallas arguably picks too high in round one to take him early and he’s too good to slide to them again in round two. That could force the ‘Boys to get creative, whether it has them trading down in the first round or using a couple of picks to trade back into round one later on.
Dallas has options here and Elliott wants to be their next lead back, so the only other big question is if he’s actually the answer. Picking from the #4 spot, that’s tough to sell. Elliott has the talent to be a featured running back at the next level, though, possessing the vision, burst, toughness and long speed to be a dynamic player. He’s even a decent blocker, while his lone glaring blemish might be his catching out of the backfield. In time, though, and possibly short time, he could be a legit elite rusher in the league. Will that be enough to get the Cowboys to take the dive early? Only time will tell.
Derrick Henry (Alabama)
Dallas seems to be heading more to a running back by committee approach, especially with the recent signing of bruising running back, Alfred Morris. Because they now have some versatility and depth in their backfield, they might decide to wait until round two or later to add another young talent to the backfield. Henry, last year’s Heisman winner and a bruiser, himself, should be available in round two at the very worst and round three at the best.
Henry fits what Dallas does, as he runs down hill, is very strong, yet has a good burst and underrated speed. He could easily get into weight trouble if he doesn’t watch himself, while he does not possess much in the agility/elusiveness department. He won’t wow you most plays, but he was extremely productive in college and can definitely carry a huge load. His long speed and receiving limitations could hold him back, but down the road he could be the answer.
Devontae Booker (Utah)
Booker might be the most exciting option on this list, seeing as he won’t make it to round one and maybe isn’t even guaranteed to be a second round pick, yet he very well could end up having round one upside. Blessed with good speed, quickness and overall athleticism, Booker is a complete back that can break long runs and make an impact as a receiver out of the backfield.
Booker’s main downfall is his perceived lack of strength and he’s of a slighter build. Talent-wise, though, he’s busting, and he was very productive for the Utes. Booker could potentially be a major steal in round two or three and might even be the Cowboys’ best option, all things considered.
Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech)
Dixon is another guy with some upside that is held back due to his size, while he also faced less than stellar competition for most of his college career. Dixon is a supremely talented receiver and has the skill-set and shiftiness to be a real weapon for the Cowboys. His main issue is long speed and size, which could combine to keep him from ever becoming an every down option. He might dip into round four or later, though, potentially offering the best pure value at the position. He’s not a total answer to what ails Dallas here, but he’s an option that certainly would help the passing game and would provide depth.
Alex Collins (Arkansas)
There are a slew of running backs who could battle for this last spot (or even a spot or two higher), but Collins has a three-down skill-set, played in a pro style system and could eventually be the answer for the Cowboys, but at little cost. He’s not the fastest or most explosive runner, but he certainly carried a full load at Arkansas and has a nice blend of power and quickness. He mostly takes what is given to him and isn’t the most exciting rusher, but that’s also not really what this Dallas offense needs. Possibly a third round or later prospect, he represents serious value if the Cowboys feel like they can wait at the position during the 2016 NFL Draft.
These are just a few options the Cowboys could roll with at running back. An argument can be made that they don’t need to draft a new running back now that they have three quality options to rotate, but ideally, they will once again get a top level talent that can carry the full load like DeMarco Murray once did. Ezekiel Elliott would undoubtedly be their top choice, but they’ll need to use their first round pick to get him, and that might not be very realistic. From there, it’d be anyone’s guess who they’d target, but this list could be a good starting point.
Think Dallas fades running back in this year’s draft or got a prospect they’re sure to be smitten with? Tell us in the comments below!