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Do Cowboys Need To "Chase" Ezekiel Elliott Or Derrick Henry In The Draft?

Will the Cowboys have to pick a running back early or are there going to be options later in the draft?

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Lots of folks had made up their minds that the Cowboys needed to sign RB Lamar Miller in free agency this year. And if not Miller, then maybe Chris Ivory. Or Matt Forte? Perhaps Bilal Powell? None of that happened, and those same folks are now bitterly disappointed, notwithstanding the fact that the Cowboys said they were "confident" in their running back situation.

With the big-name free agency signings now behind us, our collective attention returns to the draft. Two weeks ago, in a summary of 25 post-Combine mock drafts, not a single draftnik had the Cowboys picking a running back in the first round, but that may be changing as the Ezekiel Elliott train gains steam in Cowboys Nation.

Underlying that initial call for the big-name free agents and now for the top running back in this year's draft is the belief that a dominant run game requires a dominant runner, much like DeMarco Murray was in 2014. And that belief is not without merit.

In 2014, en route to their 12-4 record, the Cowboys forged an identity as a hard-nosed, physical offense, a marked departure from the pass-happy offenses of the previous years. Switching their offensive identity to a ball-control, ground-oriented attack, the Cowboys ran the ball 50.1 percent of the time, Murray set an NFL record with eight straight games of at least 100 yards to open the season, led the league in rushing yards by a wide margin, and earned OPY honors.

The new identity proved to be the cornerstone of the team’s success. Romo had the best and most efficient season of his career, leading the league in passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt, while the defense benefited because it spent less time on the field.

But does all of that mean the Cowboys have to chase a running back in this year's draft? If they do, odds are they would end up reaching in the first two rounds, at least if some of the more recent mock drafts are anything to go by.

Here's a selection of recent multi-round mock drafts, and where they see the running backs going (Cowboys selections marked in bold). (Reuter)
Behind the Steel Curtain Drafttek Draftsite Walter Football (Walter)
Walter Football (Charlie)
First Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott
Derrick Henry
Second Derrick Henry Derrick Henry Derrick Henry Devontae Booker Derrick Henry Derrick Henry
Alex Collins Kenneth Dixon Kenneth Dixon
Third Devontae Booker Alex Collins Alex Collins Devontae Booker
Jordan Howard Devontae Booker C.J. Prosise C.J. Prosise
Kenneth Dixon Jonathan Williams Kenneth Dixon
Paul Perkins Josh Ferguson
Kenyan Drake Alex Collins
Paul Perkins
Fourth Kenneth Dixon Alex Collins Kenyan Drake Paul Perkins Devontae Booker Jonathan Williams
Daniel Lasco Kenneth Dixon Paul Perkins Jordan Howard Jordan Howard Kenyan Drake
Keith Marshall C.J. Prosise Daniel Lasco
Kelvin Taylor
Fifth - - Jordan Howard Tyler Ervin C.J. Prosise - - - -
Paul Perkins Jordan Howard Alex Collins
Kenyan Drake Kenyan Drake
Daniel Lasco Aaron Green
Josh Ferguson
Sixth - - - - C.J. Prosise Jonathan Williams - - - -
Jonathan Williams Deandre Washington
Deandre Washington Tra Carson
Kelvin Taylor
Daniel Lasco
Keith Marshall
Seventh - - - - Josh Ferguson Byron Marshall - - - -

None of these mocks see an early run on running backs, averaging just 2.5 running backs in the first two rounds. And there are only two consensus backs who show up in the top two rounds in all mocks: Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry.

The Cowboys could be in play for both, but what these mocks suggest is that there might be a sweet spot for drafting a running back, and that's at the top of the third round. There should be a host of running backs available at the top of the third to suit any taste, and the Cowboys could very well be in a position where they can pick from the cream of the running back crop (excluding Elliott and Henry) with their pick in the third.

Using a third on a running back would also chime nicely with where they picked Murray in the 2011 draft and allay any concerns at Valley Ranch about overinvesting in the position.

The running back options get slimmer in the fourth, but with two picks in that round, the Cowboys will still be in a good position there as well to pick up any remaining quality backs.

Of course, if you're going to base your draft strategy on a bunch of mocks then all is lost anyway, but this at least provides some food for thought.

The reality of the draft is that you will usually have to invest a high pick for premier talent, but this year's running back class looks like it will provide value in the later rounds.

Going by the mocks above, the draft is going to offer a lot of options at running back in the third and fourth rounds. But should the Cowboys wait that long and let the draft come to them, or should they aggressively pursue their target player?

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