The Dallas Cowboys feature one of the premier running backs in all of the NFL. After hearing his name announced with the fourth selection of the 2016 NFL Draft, Ezekiel Elliott immediately made an impact for America’s Team. Elliott recorded 15 rushing touchdowns, led the league in rushing yards, and even received six MVP votes after a historically great rookie campaign.
Behind Zeke, though, is uncertainty.
The Cowboys have two veteran running backs behind their All-Pro tailback: Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris are both on the roster. It remains to be seen whether or not the team will bring both back for the 2017 season.
McFadden had a very solid first season in the Big D. In 2015, McFadden was the Cowboys’ workhorse and ran for 1,089 yards on 239 carries; however, the former Arkansas star tailback was only able to find the end zone three times over the course of the season. Unfortunately for McFadden, a freak injury suffered during Memorial Weekend kept the ten-year veteran on the injured/non-football injury list until the final month of the regular season in 2016. He finished the season with 24 carries and 87 yards rushing. McFadden is confident in his abilities heading into the 2017 season:
“I still feel fresh,” McFadden said. “Like you said I didn’t get a lot of wear and tear on my body from the season. I only played in the last three regular season games and the playoff game. I feel like I have a lot that I can offer any team. As far as being out there and a guy that can carry the load, I don’t feel like I’ve lost a step at all. I feel like that any team that want to take a shot at me I don’t think it’d be a bad deal for them.”
After rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, Alfred Morris has struggled to regain the magic he had during his rookie campaign. The sixth-round selection out of Florida Atlantic rushed for 1,000 yards each of his first three seasons in the NFL, but he hasn’t been the same back. The Redskins let Morris walk, and the Cowboys picked him up. With Zeke as the clear number one option, McFadden returning in December, and even Lance Dunbar seeing time in certain formations, Morris struggled to find a niche. He recorded 243 yards and two touchdowns on 69 carries in 2016. Will the Cowboys keep him on the active roster this fall?
As good as Zeke is, the Cowboys would like to find a reliable option behind him. Injuries can occur and it is not ideal to have your star tailback take beating after beating every Sunday. So, it is important Dallas finds a second and third option. The Cowboys let go of Darius Jackson last season in order to make room for McFadden’s return in December, so the team doesn’t have a young back waiting in the wings to take carries in the backfield.
Can that be Jahad Thomas?
Thomas, an undrafted free agent that signed with Dallas shortly after the draft concluded, starred at Temple University for four seasons in Philadelphia.
During his four-year career in Philly, Jahad Thomas rushed for 2,599 yards and 30 touchdowns. He rushed for 2,215 yards and all of his 30 career rushing touchdowns over the course of his final two years on the college level. He posted a career average of 4.6 yards per carry. The stud tailback isn’t just a rusher, though. Thomas became a threat in the passing game for the Owls.
Thomas averaged 23 receptions in three seasons for Temple. He caught more passes as his career went on, catching 14 passes as a sophomore, 22 as a junior, and 33 as a senior. Thomas recorded 364 receiving yards in 2014, 216 in 2015, and accounted for 418 in his senior season. He has shown the ability to be a weapon in the passing game, an element that the coaching staff loves in their backs.
NFL’s scouting report loves Thomas’ dynamic versatility and his ability to hurt defenses both on the ground and by catching passes.
Possesses plus play. Shows burst both around the corner on the play-side as well as out of his cuts. Vision extends beyond what's in front of him, finding linebackers early and reacting to their flow. Choppy footwork allows for quick cutting in tight spaces. Has experience in a pro-style rushing attack. Excellent pass catcher. Able to line up in slot and create separation as a receiver. Able to create yards after catch with his speed. Has ability to help out as kick or punt returner. Voted to wear single-digit number by teammates, which indicates toughness inside Temple program.
Thomas’ 5’10” and 190 pound stature may limit him in some packages and formations, but he showcased the ability to harm defenses in a variety of different ways throughout his collegiate career.
Here is just one example of what Thomas can do in the open field. He shows he is dangerous on a screen play, as he almost takes it for six. It would be awesome to see some of that on that same field — in a the silver and blue, of course.
Think you’re bringing down Jahad Thomas in the backfield? Think again.
And again, Notre Dame.
Oh, and yeah, he can return kicks, too.
Despite his size, Jahad Thomas possesses the skills to potentially become a big play back. He may never develop into a number one lead back, but Thomas certainly has the potential to become a change-of-pace, game-breaking running back.
Ezekiel Elliott is the best running back in the NFL, but even he needs a break or two during a game. Jahad Thomas has the potential to become a reliable reserve back that can help in both the run game and with Dak through the air. Thomas has the ability to hurt defenses by lining up in the slot and catching underneath passes out of the back field. Thomas also returned kicks for over 1,000 yards and a score during his Temple career, which can only him make the roster.
Can the Temple product emerge as a backup running back candidate in Dallas?