Unfortunately, injuries are apart of the game of football. Injuries can happen anywhere, but most of the time we see them occur on the gridiron. Players continuously deal with fractured bones, pulled muscles, head injuries, and leg injuries among others. Those injuries do not usually occur at a player's home. The injury to Darren McFadden is comical in one sense, breaking an elbow trying to save an iPhone, but potentially serious in others.
Coming off one of the best years in his career, McFadden was able to put together a season where he ranked among the leaders in rushing. He ran for just under 1,100 yards despite taking over after Week 7. Despite McFadden’s progress behind the Cowboys’ offensive line, the team still decided to spend their top-five, first-round pick on Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott in the draft.
In Elliott, the Cowboys have a guy who can do a variety of things in a variety of ways. There truly isn't a weak spot in Elliott’s game and for that reason, as well as the fact that he’ll be the most-talented back this offensive line has had behind them, means he should successfully produce yards and points for the Cowboys’ offense.
The Cowboys had needs on defense but drafting a running back made sense. With Elliott, the Cowboys can do a much better job at putting points on the board to keep pressure on opposing offenses while controlling the clock, and keeping their defense off the field. We saw the formula work in 2014. With more talent in place, the team could replicate their success this upcoming season. The Cowboys’ best version of offense could help make the Cowboys' best version of defense. That is why Elliott in Dallas works.
However, the team still liked the idea of adding another running back later in the draft. Keep in mind that even with Elliott, the Cowboys still had Alfred Morris and McFadden as backs that were more than capable of taking over a starting role. In the sixth round, Dallas drafted Darius Jackson out of Eastern Michigan. The pick was questionable, but since the Cowboys are so focused now on finding the best athlete through analytics like SPARQ, it’s easy to see why they really liked Jackson.
Just a few days ago, the discussion had been whether the Cowboys would or wouldn’t keep four running backs on the roster. But with the injury to McFadden, Dallas may have some more interesting decisions to make. Remember, McFadden wasn't a guarantee to make the roster if Elliott and Jackson came along quickly in training camp. But with the injury, there is a chance that the Cowboys just go their separate way from McFadden and keep three running backs in Elliott, Morris, and Jackson.
Figuring out the type of role Jackson will have on this team will be difficult. With such a talented cast of players at the running back position, I’d imagine that the team would feature a heavy dose of the running game, perhaps even handing the football off 30 times a game. Elliott will obviously get the bulk of the carries, but Morris was brought here for a reason and he’s going to command a role as well. I don't expect Jackson to get that many carries, but I do see him coming in during specific sub-packages in a few different roles. I also believe he could return kicks and punts if needed.
You also have to wonder what the Cowboys will want to do with Lance Dunbar, who recently returned to the team on a one-year deal. Before he blew out his knee in Week 4, Dunbar was quietly building himself a really nice role on this roster. As of now, all signs point to Dunbar starting the year on the PUP list. But depending on the roles the Cowboys give out to both Morris and Jackson, we will get a better idea as to what to expect out of this group when Dunbar does indeed come back from injury.
Sadly for McFadden, the veteran running back can’t seem to catch a break. After having an unbelievable, healthy 2016 season despite playing in an offense that didn’t have many weapons, McFadden received awful luck with the accident at his home. It’s the nature of the NFL, but when a job opens up, a player is there to pounce on it. And if he didn’t have the chance then, Darius Jackson now will have all the opportunity in the world to not only make the final 53-man roster, but also take some of Morris’ carries away.