The first two weeks of the 2015 season did not start well for the Dallas Cowboys. Losing their No. 1 offensive weapon (Dez Bryant) in Week 1 and their starting quarterback (Tony Romo) in Week 2, the Cowboys struggled to move the football and score points with consistency. Because of the lack of impact at the quarterback position, defenses would load the box on the Cowboys to stop the running game because they knew that the chances of Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel beating them were low.
Nevertheless, one of Dallas' lone offensive bright spots was the productivity of Lance Dunbar. An undrafted free agent in 2012, Dunbar has consistently improved from the get-go in his NFL tenure. He was a favorite of the Cowboys dating back to his time at North Texas, but because of his size, his chances of making the 53-man roster were questionable. However, he impressed the coaching staff enough to be placed on the practice squad for his ability as a running back and as an all-around special teams player. Less than two months into the season, Dunbar was promoted to the gameday roster and has been on it since.
Through six weeks of the 2015 season, Dunbar took on the role of the change-of-pace back and the back that would catch passes out of the backfield. In previous years, the Cowboys had shied away from creating plays to get the running back in space for opportunities out of the backfield, but things changed with Dunbar. Against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football in Week 4, Dunbar tore his ACL, MCL, and the patellar tendon in his left knee. Dunbar was placed on injured reserve.
This year Dunbar may face some difficulty getting on the roster, that is if he returns to full health from the knee injury. Sure the Cowboys re-signed him in March, but a one-year deal worth just about $1.75 million doesn't guarantee a player making the roster.
After drafting both Ezekiel Elliott and Darius Jackson and signing Alfred Morris in free agency, the Cowboys now have two young backs that could be dangerous and one veteran that will command some carries. We know that Elliott will be the star of the group, but do not count out Morris or Jackson having productive seasons either.
We also have to remember that Darren McFadden is in the equation. Many seem to jump to the conclusion that McFadden will be traded or he'll be a roster afterthought in due time, but he's the most mature of the group on the roster and his presence alone will help out the rest of the corps.
In truth, Dallas has five backs that could all play nice roles on the roster. But the problem is that with such little roster space and with injuries waiting to happen at some point in the roster, keeping five running backs is just plain ludicrous.
The idea of keeping four backs and placing Dunbar on the PUP list seems to make the most sense, but that may just be more harm for Dunbar's chances on the roster. By placing Dunbar on the PUP list, he would sit out for six games, while Jackson and McFadden take on more carries in practice. I scratched my head when the Cowboys selected Jackson in the sixth round, but considering how interested they are in SPARQ analytics and athletic measures, Jackson seems to be the type of player the Cowboys have plans for. This all does not bode well for Dunbar. In fact, the writing may just be on the wall already.
To make matters worse for Dunbar, he not only has to outplay both McFadden and Jackson to ensure his spot on the roster, but he needs to come back to his former self from the knee injury. Considering that elusiveness and quickness were the two main traits as to why Dunbar was on the roster, if his knee doesn't heal entirely it would mean that those two traits are lessened. And if that's the chase, Dunbar won't be wearing a star on his helmet in 2016, whether that's in Week 7 when he comes off the PUP list or during Week 1 on a different NFL roster.