The Dallas Cowboys ended the 2015 season with Darren McFadden as the top dog at running back. After starting the season as one of the components of a running-back-by-committee approach the former fourth-overall pick turned into the workhorse for a beleaguered Dallas offense. He responded in a big way. The Oakland Raiders castoff turned in the second 1,000 yard season of his professional career, gaining the bulk of his yards in the final eleven games of the year. He also was able to complete a full 16 game slate for the Cowboys, a feat he only accomplished once as a Raider. Although the 2008 draft pick is in the twilight years of his career, he looks to have something left for the stretch run.
As an attempt to hedge their bet on McFadden being able to duplicate his past performance and as insurance against his history of injury, the Dallas front office also signed Alfred Morris, another veteran cast off by his former team. The Washington Redskins soured on Morris as their bell cow back and his production dropped dramatically from his two-time Pro Bowl start. His start to training camp with the Cowboys has Morris looking like the runner who plagued the rest of the league during his first couple seasons.
The opening round of the 2016 NFL Draft brought another top back into the fold. The Cowboys used the fourth-overall pick to select Ohio State All-American Ezekiel Elliott to be the future of their backfield. Elliott has shown the potential to be the kind of back that is a game changer. In three seasons at OSU, including one as backup to Carlos Hyde, he became the second all-time leading rusher in school history behind Archie Griffin. Griffin, if you remember, is the only man to win the Heisman Trophy twice. He is indeed an elite back.
With the Cowboys looking to run a ball control offense as the best way to help out their unheralded defense, the team will rely heavily on the running backs to eat up the game clock while methodically grinding out yardage on each possession, and helping to put points on the board. Having three running backs, each of whom is capable of producing a 1,000 yard season, is a valuable asset. The biggest challenge the team should face is getting enough snaps for all three. They may even consider trading one of the trio (re: Darren McFadden) to help build for the future.
The fact that Elliot and McFadden have not seen action in the preseason has allowed Darius Jackson to try and prove that he can be the Cowboys third back. The sixth-round selection has impressed many with his performance. His effort might just be the thing that convinces the Dallas front office that perhaps McFadden's biggest value to the team is as trade material.
And let's not forget that Lance Dunbar is waiting in the wings. Last year was turning into a breakout year for the third-down back before injury cut it short. It wasn't running the ball, but catching it out of the backfield that made him so dangerous. He is now cleared to practice and just adds tot he stable of options for the Cowboys.
Elliott will be the clear number one with one of the veterans as his primary backup. The Cowboys will be able to keep fresh legs in the backfield throughout the game which will allow them to wear down opponents. From top to bottom they should not see a significant drop off in production, especially when coupled with the best offensive line in the league. Dallas sits poised to dominate the ground game against every opponent they face. In 2016 the team has the horses to survive the loss of their featured back unlike two years ago when the loss of DeMarco Murray would have derailed the squad in their run to the playoffs. Having this many quality backs might be an embarrassment of riches, but as the season plays out that might be the key to success for Jason Garrett.