Despite losing DeMarco Murray via free agency and not having a true grasp on their running game early in the season, the Cowboys currently rank 9th in rushing. A large pat on the back goes to Darren McFadden, who is just three yards shy of a 1,000 yard rushing season and only the second of his eight-year career. It's hard not to believe had McFadden been starting all season that he couldn't be well past that mark right now. Even so, the Cowboys have got to find their rushing attack of the future for many reasons and we're going to dive deeper in the first part of this long series.
a.) Darren McFadden will be 29 years old once the 2016 season kicks off and here's a glimpse at what the production looks like at that advanced age.
b.) Dallas needs some serious depth and playmaking ability behind McFadden and it's unlikley that Robert Turbin or Rod Smith can be a full-time starter if needed.
c.) McFadden's health has always been a concern. He's been healthy this season but was unavailable for most of the offseason with hamstring issues and with him, you never know.
With the above noted, the Cowboys have other things to consider, too. It's been noted before that McFadden doesn't necessarily produce well in the zone blocking scheme as he's more of a power-run guy. That being said, the Cowboys' offensive line has shown the athleticism to adapt to him and they have had plenty of success this season. Trying to determine how important the position is to this team is quite simple. With an aging quarterback, we have seen first-hand how imperative it is to have a better than solid rushing attack.
The failure at the position this season was with the plan for a running back by committee. First of all, that only works if you have a stability at the position which they never had. Once Joseph Randle proved to the organization that he couldn't be trusted, the Cowboys handed the reins to McFadden and back to the workhorse style. This offseason, they will be faced with the question once again on how they are going to solidify the position.
In the past few seasons, the Cowboys have stuck to a belief that you use free agency to set yourself up for the draft. Last season, they signed Greg Hardy in the wake of desperately needing an improved pass rush. That made the selection of Randy Gregory all the better because he wasn't forced to start immediately. Though they have an incumbent in Darren McFadden, don't be surprised if a few names out there don't draw their interest.
Best Option: Lamar Miller, 24, Miami Dolphins
There were a few whispers in the offseason about Miller from Bryan Broaddus but none of those really carried much heat. Miller is an intriguing talent because he fits the mold of a one-cut runner much like Murray was. Another plus is the fact that he's still quite young and that he has fallen out of favor with interim coach Dan Campbell lately. The Dolphins also drafted Jay Ajayi, who looks to be the heir-apparent with Miller set to hit free agency. With rumors swirling around about this and that, this has all the makings of a divorce. If Miller does look for a new home in 2016, what better place to land than with the Dallas Cowboys, a team with a back's dream for blockers?
The 2016 Draft
This year's draft doesn't have quite the amount of options at the running back position but there is a handful of guys the Cowboys should keep their eyes on. The Cowboys will likely be looking for a back that can do it all. It's hard to find rookies that are established pass blockers but it's important to find willing learners. They also need a durable option that can help them re-establish their short running game. For as good as McFadden has been, this team has reverted to downright awful at converting short-yardage situations. A year earlier, they were one of the very best teams at clock management and third down conversions. This season, they weren't able to get a third and one converted if you spotted them half a yard. That must change in 2016. Let's take a look at a few top prospects and what Walter Football had to say about these guys:
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
Elliott has averaged 6.4 yards per carry this season for 1,672 yards with 19 touchdowns. He has 26 receptions for 176 yards as well. In every game this season, the junior has exceeded 100 yards. Elliott has been tremendous with his burst, vision, balance and ability to rip off yards in chunks. He also has done some nice blocking, which is valuable for pro evaluators. Elliott's first-step quickness is phenomenal, and he is proving to be a future three-down starter in the NFL. Sources have said that Elliott has graded out as a first-rounder.
Derrick Henry, Alabama
In 2015, Henry has averaged 6.1 yards per carry in 2015 for 1,797 yards with 22 touchdowns with 10 receptions for 97 yards as well. Henry has been a downhill bulldozer who has an underrated burst to get to the second level and break off long runs. He isn't elusive in the open field, and is a one-cut downhill runner, but he has shown surprising speed to run away from defensive backs when he breaks off long runs. Not only has Henry's running been impressive this season, but the blitz protection will really excite scouts. His contributions in the passing game will help Henry's draft grade and give NFL teams the evidence that he can be a three-down starter as a pro.
Devontae Booker, Utah
Booker has averaged 4.7 yards per carry this season for 1,261 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also had 37 receptions for 318 yards. His solid play has displayed versatility with quickness, toughness and elusiveness as a runner. Booker has gained a lot of yards after contact in college, but that quality will be diminished when he faces NFL defenders.
Those are just a few names with guys like D.J. Foster from Arizona State and Josh Ferguson out of Illinois rounding out their top five. Just because they have Darren McFadden does not mean they are set at this position heading into the offseason. If they decide that Elliot or Henry are the types of backs that will help them rewind the clock back to 2014, don't be afraid to pull that trigger and get your man. A lot of people get scared of taking running backs high in the first round. However, a team like Dallas who is trying to capitalize every last second out of Tony Romo and Jason Witten need to make their offense a juggernaut again. They have to make sure their running game is more effective this next season. They shouldn't settle for a top ten rushing attack, the Cowboys need to return to ground and pound dominance.