The running back position has been a particular strength for a number of years with Marion Barber III leading the way from 2008-2010 and then DeMarco Murray from 2012-2014. Not much has changed as the Dallas Cowboys spent their fourth-overall pick in last year’s draft on Ezekiel Elliott.
After an MVP-like rookie season, the star running back will remain atop the depth chart for years to come. He can run better than most, he can catch better than most and equally importantly, he can block for Dak Prescott when it is needed. His intuitive running style, quickness and breakaway speed were constantly on display during his rookie campaign. Expect bigger and better as each year passes.
Darren McFadden was signed by the Cowboys in 2015 after many years with the Oakland Raiders. In his first season with the team, McFadden eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark and caught forty passes for over three hundred yards. What is important to note is that he did this in a time where the Cowboys were using a pair of inept quarterbacks in Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassell for the majority of the season. McFadden was active in only four games, all of which were at the end of the season, after sitting out most of the year with an elbow injury. As an unrestricted free agent, the Dallas Cowboys might not re-sign McFadden this off-season.
Alfred Morris’ arrival into Dallas was extra sweet because it simultaneously depleted a division rival. Morris came to Dallas expecting to compete with McFadden for the starting job after being named Second-Team All Pro in 2012 and having been to the Pro Bowl in both 2013 and 2014. Morris played in fourteen games last season and was initially the primary backup behind Zeke. He had a pair of touchdowns early in the season (including the game-winner against the aforementioned Washington Redskins) but as the season wore on his playing time was sharply reduced.
Lance Dunbar came to Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2012. His 2013 season ended with a season-ending knee injury, his 2014 season was mostly on the bench behind Demarco Murray (and Joseph Randle) and his 2015 season ended prematurely after he tore his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon. Even in light of all of this, the Cowboys saw flashes of potential and resigned Dunbar to a one-year contract in 2016. During the 2016 campaign, he appeared in thirteen games but had a relatively minor impact on the rushing or receiving game. As an unrestricted free agent, the Dallas Cowboys will re-sign Dunbar only if it is for a team-friendly deal averaging less than the $1.25 million that he played for this year.
Ezekiel Elliott: Starter - Zeke has solidified his position as the starting running back for the Cowboys for the next ten years.
Alfred Morris: Second String - This is very questionable at the moment. Morris started the year strong, but by the end of the season the Cowboys were not even putting him on the active roster. In the playoff game, they opted for McFadden. They do have Morris under contract for one more year, but will they even keep him? His cap hit for 2017 would be $2.1 million, dead money would be $500,00.
Darren McFadden: Possible Re-Sign - The Cowboys obviously preferred McFadden to Morris down the stretch. They kept McFadden active for the playoff game while Morris was not. If the Cowboys can get McFadden back at a decent rate, he might just knock Morris off the roster.
Lance Dunbar: Third String - Re-signing Dunbar helps the Cowboys as the shifty running back can catch passes from the backfield and continue his role on special teams.
Mid to late round rookie: Fourth String - Expect the Cowboys to pick up a prospect in this year’s draft to add to an already strong group of running backs.