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Can Dallas Cowboys Find RB Help On Another Team's Depth Chart?

In response to a reader question about possible free agent alternatives at running back, we inspect a selection of NFL rosters in the hope of finding some options for the Cowboys.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This question reached me the other day from 'a Cowboys fan working in the City of Brotherly Love.'

I had a question regarding the Cowboys that I haven't seen addressed regarding the RB position for the upcoming season. I've read various reports regarding RunDMC, but if McFadden doesn't work out for some reason, what other possible veteran RB's are out there that are currently on teams that could be available? Could Fred Jackson be available, could a St Louis Rams RB be available (other then Gurley)? I'd love to see an an article of possible RB's who could be available other than the usual Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, etc.

There was a link to an ESPN article in this morning's news post, which suggested that Christine Michael may be on the bubble in Seattle, as coaches there seemed to like free agent rookie Thomas Rawls more than the 2013 second-round pick.

In 2013, the Cowboys didn't have a grade on Christine Michael, most likely because of his injury history. So that makes it hard to judge whether there would be any interest in Dallas should Michael be released or offered in a trade, given that he wasn't even on the Cowboys' draft board in 2013.

But Michael's situation in Seattle is one that we see every year in the league. A player suddenly finds himself so low on the depth chart that he's waived/released/traded at some point, probably around final roster cuts in September when teams finalize their 53-man rosters. The Cowboys, like many other teams, have been active during roster cuts as they looked for new players to bring in, and if the past few years are any indication, they'll be active again this year.

2014: The Cowboys claimed Donald Hawkins off waivers a day after final cuts, picked up C.J. Spillman and Corey Toomer a day later, and then signed Jack Crawford and Michael Sam on successive days.

2013: Traded for DE Edgar Jones on the day of final cuts, then traded away DT Sean Lissemore and TE Dante Rosario the next day. Other roster moves between final cutdowns and the season opener: claimed LB Kyle Bosworth off waivers, traded for DE/DT Caesar Rayford, signed OG Brian Waters and DT Jerome Long.

2012: Acquired center Ryan Cook on the day of final roster cuts in a trade with Miami, and claimed tight end Colin Cochart off waivers a day later.

2011: Picked up FB Tony Fiammetta off waivers, signed WR Laurent Robinson and OG Derrick Dockery. Added WR Andre Holmes and DT Rob Calloway to their practice squad in the week between final roster cuts and the opening game.

There's no doubt that the Cowboys will scour the waiver wires once again this season, and they'll almost certainly make a few late signings. Those late additions will probably not be names that Joe Public would instantly recognize. But neither were Laurent Robinson or Tony Fiammetta at the time.

But there won't be an unlimited number of players to choose from. From now until final roster cuts, the Cowboys scouts will undoubtedly be on the lookout for a running back to bolster their depth, but whether they end up signing somebody is anybody's guess.

So who could they be looking at?

To keep this a manageable exercise, let's assume that the Cowboys are looking at teams like Seattle that run a zone-blocking scheme, just as the Cowboys do. By my reckoning, there are 11 teams in the NFL (in addition to the Cowboys) that are predominantly using a zone-blocking scheme. Let's further assume that each of those 11 teams will keep the same number of running backs on their team as they had on opening day last year. And finally, let's assume that the depth charts at are an exact representation of each of those 11 teams' depth charts.

Armed with that information, we can take a stab at predicting which running backs could be available on the waiver wire during final roster cuts - and whether it would make sense for the Cowboys to put in a claim on one of them. Here's a table summarizing the data for all 11 teams:

Team 2014 RBs
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6
Broncos 4 Anderson, C.J. Ball, Montee Hillman, Ronnie Thompson, Juwan Stewart, Jeremy Bibbs, Kapri
Dolphins 4 Miller, Lamar Williams, Damien James, LaMichael Gillislee, Mike Ajayi, Jay (R)
- -
Cardinals 4 Ellington, Andre Taylor, Stepfan Johnson, David (R)
Williams, Kerwynn Grice, Marion Hughes, Robert
Ravens 4 Forsett, Justin Taliaferro, Lorenzo Allen, Javorius Toussaint, Fitzgerald Magee, Terrence (R)
- -
Browns 4 Crowell, Isaiah West, Terrance Johnson, Duke (R)
Winston, Glenn Draughn, Shaun Lundy, Luke (R)
Saints 4 Ingram, Mark Spiller, CJ Robinson, Khiry Baker, Edwin Hightower, Tim Murphy, Marcus
Packers 3 Lacy, Eddie Starks, James Neal, Rajion Crockett, John (R)
Harris, Alonzo (R)
- -
Seahawks 3 Lynch, Marshawn Turbin, Robert Michael, Christine Rawls, Thomas (R)
Smith, Rod (R)
- -
Jaguars 3 Yeldon, TJ (R)
Gerhart, Toby Robinson, Denard Johnson, Storm Pierce, Bernard Grant, Corey
Eagles 3 Murray, DeMarco Mathews, Ryan Sproles, Darren Barner, Kenjon Tucker, Matthew Mostert, Raheem (R)
Steelers 3 Bell, Le'Veon Williams, DeAngelo Archer, Dri Harris, Josh Scheuerman, Ross (R)
Stingily, Cameron (R)

How to read the table: The Seahawks had three running backs on their roster for the season opener last year. If we assume that they'll keep the same amount this year, and that the depth charts are correct, their three top players (conveniently marked in red) won't be available for the Cowboys during final cuts. That leaves two Seahawks running backs, Thomas Rawls and Rod Smith as potential options for the Cowboys. Unless the Seahawks actually replace the former second-round pick Christine Michael with UDFA Thomas Rawls.

Of course, these RB depth charts are bound to change from now until the start of the season. It's not impossible, but unlikely, that the Dolphins will release 2015 fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi, and we've already seen that the Seahawks depth chart is in flux.

Nevertheless, as you I look over this table, I'm hard-pressed to find any names marked in green (thus signaling their potential availability for the Cowboys come roster cuts) that I recognize. Mike Gilleslee is a guy the Cowboys had a fifth-round grade on in 2013, so whether the Dolphins cut Gilleslee or Ajayi, either might be of interest for the Cowboys.

Marcus Murphy of the Saints was brought in for a workout at Valley Ranch during Dallas Days this year, but that may have been the extent of the Cowboys' interest in the player. Josh Harris, currently with Pittsburgh, was a Dallas Day invite in 2014, and the Eagles' Matthew Tucker was at Dallas Day in 2013.

Overall, there really isn't much to be excited about here, and I suspect the situation won't look very different if we look at the remaining 20 teams in the league. Which may be one reason why the Cowboys have repeatedly stated that they are happy with the depth they have at RB - there simply aren't many alternatives.

Of the 23 names marked in green above, 10 are rookies, which makes finding a veteran even more difficult, at least via the waiver wire. But if the Cowboys were willing to trade for a running back, suddenly most of the names marked in red become a possibility.

But do you think the Cowboys' depth at RB is so bad that you would consider parting with a future draft pick? Or do you trust Will McClay and the front office enough to believe they'll be able to "pull a Laurent Robinson" if they need to?

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