The Cowboys have established their identity as a running team with the help of the league's best offensive line in place. It's no coincidence that DeMarco Murray ran away with the rushing title and had the best year for a Cowboys' running back in history. However, with every year, you are never promised anything. Since free agency opened, Dallas stuck to their number and Murray defected to Philly for more money. This is a business, I can't fault him for getting paid.
Now the Cowboys are headed for the run-by-committee approach much like the majority of the NFL. With that said, if Dallas is really looking to replace Murray's value, look no further than the draft. Any team looking for a capable back to plug-and-play should be excited about the possibilities of the 2015 class. Here is a list of guys that I think could very well be donning the star this upcoming season.
1. Todd Gurley, 6'1 222 lbs, Georgia
Perhaps the best prospect since Adrian Peterson, Gurley has the frame and strength for the position. Gurley plays like a pro when lowering his pads to square up his shoulders and attack the line of scrimmage. He runs with fantastic balance, power and momentum that makes it extremely difficult to slow him down. He has a keen since for daylight and hits the hole with confidence and acceleration. Gurley also has pretty good hands and can pick-up blitzes fairly well. He may not be the first back taken due to him tearing his ACL in November. His timetable seems to be August, but some teams will take pause on his durability.
2. Melvin Gordon, 6'1 215 lbs, Wisconsin
Gordon looks to be the first back off the board with his health being no question. He has a well rounded skill-set but is elite when it comes to acceleration and balance. Gordon's speed is flashy and he's gone quickly through the hole. He has great vision and consistently follows his blocks and bounce off blocks with no loss in momentum. His frame isn't necessarily ideal with the need for more bulk. He is an unproven pass catcher which Dallas likes their backs to show that trait. Gordon does possess the power and strength necessary for the NFL.
3. Jay Ajayi, 6'0 221 lbs, Boise State
The hometown boy from Plano makes those explosive cuts that Dallas would surely love to have. Ajayi has impressive flexibility and it shows with his nimble style. He's a tough and hungry competitor with perfect pad placement in his runs. He often runs low and close to the ground with great balance. He's a hard runner to get down at times and uses every ounce of power to push forward. A very patient runner but Ajayi is not hesitant by any means. He has quick eyes, great vision and is an athletic pass catcher. He's a high effort player who plays with that chip on his shoulder. Ajayi sometimes plays with less power than wanted and has shown to have ball security issues in the past. He has the tendency to wear down late in games and will need to be utilized properly. Some off-field issues still linger from his past, but Ajayi is relentless and plays with incredible spirit. Ajayi will likely be a second day selection.
4. Ameer Abdullah, 5'9 205 lbs, Nebraska
He's much tougher than his small frame would dictate. A very elusive back, who runs like his feet are on fire. He lowers his pads to deliver the blow on would-be tacklers. He can make quick jump-cuts without losing any speed. Ameer is a quick thinker and uses his natural ball carrier instincts to force defenders into poor angles. He has shown to be very limited as a blocker and will need to upgrade that part of his game. He has also had fumbling issues in the past to correct. Ameer is a first-class citizen off the field and works his tail off in the weight room. Ameer will be a valuable pick in the second round.
5. Tevin Coleman, 5'11 206 lbs, Indiana
Brugler has stated that Coleman is a mirror-image of DeMarco Murray. Without Murray in the fold, this pick makes a ton of sense for Dallas. His physical demeanor and one-cut style is perfect for the Cowboys. He has a nice acceleration to him and hits top-speed rather quickly. He's a natural when changing directions and has decent hands to be a pass-catcher. Coleman has also shown his ability to pick up blitzes and fair well in pass-protection. He's a durable runner and doesn't wear down in games. He's not as elusive as you would want and also needs work in securing the ball but his production cannot be argued with. Another likely second-round selection for Dallas if they choose to go defense in the first.
6. Mike Davis, 5'9 217 lbs, South Carolina
In a conference with both Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon, it can be difficult to get noticed. Davis did exactly that for the Gamecocks throughout his career there. He's a compact runner with a great combination of burst, agility and power that should transfer well in the NFL. Davis has very good straight-line speed that allows him to pick up yards in chunks. He's a natural runner with solid vision to cut-back when necessary. There are questions about his ability to carry a full workload and has shown signs of wear at times. Davis had dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries that could hurt his stock. Davis could be a solid rotation type of back and could be had in the third or fourth round.
7. T.J. Yeldon, 6'1 226 lbs, Alabama
He's taller and leaner than most backs but uses his size, speed, and agility in a deceptive manner. Yeldon has great body control and makes effortless cuts leaving defenders whiffing. He's got solid vision and cut back speed but sometimes runs too high. He's sort of a work in progress in pass protection. Yeldon does possess the ability to breakaway from tackles with tremendous top-end speed. He needs work to not be so patient and learn to hit holes quickly. Yeldon would be another great addition in the third round if Dallas were to load up early on defense.
Those are just few of the many backs that will be available come late April. Dallas will certainly have options no matter what round they decide to pull the trigger on a runner. The future of the NFL running landscape will look back on 2015 as a solid haul. For my money, the Cowboys could find a replacement in rounds two or three while still allowing themselves to upgrade their defense first and foremost.
In the next part of this series, we'll take a look at some pass rushers that the Cowboys may want to pair with Greg Hardy and DeMarcus Lawrence. The amount of high-level rushers aren't as plentiful this year, and Dallas may look to snag one early to further their rebuilding of the defensive line.