Let's be clear, nothing that has taken place in free agency should deter the Dallas Cowboys from taking a running back and perhaps as early as four if they feel so inclined. When this Cowboys' offense was really humming was in 2014 when they had the league's leading rusher. They were able to grind away teams with their persistent pace and use Tony Romo as the maestro of an almost unstoppable attack. Their defense was able to stay well-rested and protect some leads for them. Most importantly, they were outstanding on third down, though that was more of a testament to just how good a year Romo had.
That is still the formula in which the Cowboys would like to win the majority of their games and a strong rushing attack has a way of bringing out the best in everyone involved. For crying out loud, Jason Witten couldn't stop showing folks how well he and his offensive line blocked on plays. He's a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer who has become one of the best receiving tight ends in history. However, just to show how good he really is, he took almost more pride in his ability to block, something he had admitted to disliking in his younger days.
We all know how the wheels came off the bus in 2015 but folks will point to a resurrection of Darren McFadden being a high spot on a terrible season. In fact, McFadden posted just the second 1,000+ rushing performance of his eight-year career with 1,089 yards on 239 carries in ten starts. They are not wrong either, McFadden had a pretty good year, but it's not good enough. Not for a team that had a running joke going on all offseason long about who was going to start in the first place. Each of their backs dealt with nicks and bruises throughout OTA's and training camp. It was training camp, after all, when we first got a glimpse of McFadden anyways.
Though they finished fourth in rushing for 2015, the point is still being missed here. The Cowboys' offensive line was outstanding once again changing their zone-blocking scheme that fit their athletic style into a power scheme to get McFadden going. It wasn't by choice, it was by necessity. So now the Cowboys have gone out and signed a veteran ZBS guy in Alfred Morris to a deal that is very similar to McFadden's of last year. It doesn't mean much except that the Cowboys want to avoid the same type of mess as the last offseason. Is the stable better? Sure. Yet, I believe you'll find this draft to be where they really get better as a running team. This signing doesn't preclude them from taking an outstanding back in the NFL Draft.
That is, of course, what the Cowboys want their rushing attack to be: Outstanding. There is a quote by 16-time World Champion and two-time Hall-of-Famer Ric Flair that reads "don't just strive to be good, anyone can be good, strive to be great."
The truth of the matter is that McFadden wasn't effective enough for what they truly need. He wasn't brought in to be the starter. He was brought in to be a piece of their rushing attack, something he certainly can still be. Alfred Morris, whom I really like, has the highest mileage of any running back since 2012. He became an afterthought in Washington and decided that Dallas can best utilize his skill set; he's right. However, that doesn't mean that he's here to be the starting back either though he fits the offense's scheme like a glove.
The Cowboys' coaches have tons of motivational signs around Valley Ranch that read various things but the one quote you hear them preach the most when you get a glimpse of practice; Finish. Finish. Finish.
That's what the Cowboys will be looking for in fresh legs coming out of the draft. They want a player that is a finisher. They have a few good relief pitchers, but they want that closer. That's what they got out of DeMarco Murray in 2014 and that's what they hope to get again. That's precisely why you can't rule out the possibility of an Ezekiel Elliott even as high at four though it may be unlikely.
This year's draft doesn't necessarily offer up the extreme depth that last year's draft had at running back. Still, there are a handful of quality young backs out there that could really be an electric addition to the Cowboys offensive attack for years to come. When it comes to measuring these types of qualities, I tend to lend an ear to those that know best. In this case, let's look at OCC's post on finding superior backs. He's got four players that fall into Quadrant A as potential elite running backs to consider:
"What stands out here is that there's a cluster of four A-quadrant players that are pretty tightly bunched, all with above average athleticism and above average production. Not a big surprise to see (Ezekiel) Elliott and (Derrick) Henry show up here, but C.J. Prosise and Kenneth Dixon show up very well in this approach.
Prosise, of course, is a relative newcomer at the position, only converting to RB in 2015 after never having played the position before. His 7.0 career YPA (6.6 in 2015) compares favorably to Elliott, and his athleticism is ranks him in the 64th percentile among his NFL peers. He has a fairly high fumble rate of 3% (five fumbles on 166 carried from 2014-15), and perhaps that's a result of his late transition to the position. It is a watch out though.
Dixon shows up as the third running back on some big boards, and his markers suggest that's a pretty good assessment. Dixon has drawn comparisons with Thomas Rawls, and given that the Cowboys were very interested in Rawls last year, he might be high on their list this year."
The Cowboys would be wise to get themselves an A-Quadrant running back in order to get their offense back to their dominating ways. That's another thing that we seem to be missing here as the rushing attack was good last year, it certainly was. What they do best though is dominating people with their running game, it makes every aspect that much more detrimental for opposing teams. Instead of preaching the gospel of this offensive line can turn average backs into good backs, let's get a good back behind this great offensive line and let that be the story. Don't settle for a good running game, make it the best running game. If by some chance Ezekiel Elliot is their choice in the first round, let them run with it. If they take one later, so be it, just make sure that running back can help them in their return to rushing dominance.