The Ezekiel Elliott suspension put the Cowboys running back situation into flux. Elliott is currently appealing the league’s decision, but for now the Cowboys are forced to plan for life without him until the week after Dallas’ week seven bye. Other players will have to pick up those carries.
Darren McFadden is an option. The Arkansas legend rushed for over one thousand yards during the dreadful 2015 season. He showed that he is capable of carrying the load and running behind the Cowboys’ Great Wall of Dallas. But, McFadden only found the end zone three times on the ground. He is the veteran of the group, but he’s suffered with injuries throughout his career. Can he stay healthy long enough to carry the Cowboys’ backfield? McFadden looked good against the Colts on Saturday night with his 59 yards on nine carries, but he had a costly fumble in the red zone. That can’t happen on Sundays.
Alfred Morris is another candidate to take over the load. The former Washington Redskins back eclipsed the 1k mark each of his first three seasons in the National Football League. He has showed that he can find his groove as the lead guy, but can he still be effective if he doesn’t get a chance to build a consistent rhythm? Morris rushed for 49 yards on nine carries, including a big 18-yard run, against the Colts in the Cowboys third preseason game. The veteran back hasn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since the 2014 season, but he is a nice candidate to fill Zeke’s void during his suspension.
What about Rod Smith, though?
Smith, the brother of phenom linebacker Jaylon Smith, has made a big impression during fall camp for the Cowboys. The Ohio State product has impressed during training camp and is making a big case to make the 53-man roster this season and have a larger role in the Cowboys’ backfield than previously expected.
Cowboys 247’s Sam Quinn wrote on the emerging RB3 battle between Alfred Morris and Rod Smith. Quinn notes that Smith brings an element in the receiving game that Morris does not.
First, he offers something as a receiver. He caught three passes for 27 yards in the Colts game. Morris has never caught more than 17 passes in a season. The Cowboys are not the Patriots, they don't use their running backs as receivers all that often. But it's an important skill to have, one that Smith offers slightly more so than Morris.
He also makes the point that Smith brings more of a youth factor, as Morris is approaching the age of 30. The older a back gets, the more wear and tear he suffers. Smith brings more youth and explosiveness than the veteran out of Florida Atlantic does.
The other advantage Smith has is age. Morris will turn 29 during the season. Smith is only 25. He still has room to grow. If the Cowboys have to decide between a player who is likely getting worse and one that may still get better, the former would have to significantly outperform the latter to balance that out. That has not been the case.
Back at the beginning of August, our own Tom Ryle wrote on Smith’s experience playing on special teams and the versatility that he brings to the table.
His experience as a special teams player is actually a great advantage for him over Morris, who is not a teams’ guy. As a backup, he is much more likely to contribute with the ST, while still being available as depth at RB. In practices, he is showing a complete game, catching the ball well out of the backfield as well as running it effectively in both normal and short yardage/goal line situations. Flexibility is a valued trait on a Jason Garrett coached team. By filling two roles, Smith becomes a good option for the team when the cut down comes.
He has been putting together a solid camp. Smith has shown the ability to break through tackles, but also shows that he can break a run open and take it to the house, as David Helman captures in this video below:
Then, Smith caught everybody’s attention on Saturday night when he ran through the Colt’s defense en route to a highlight reel run that went viral on Twitter. The explosive run is exactly what the Cowboys need during Zeke’s presumed absence.
There’s this run, too:
This was a great run by Rod Smith. That's no gain for a lot of runners in this league, and Smith turns it into 7. pic.twitter.com/h2BnxfFmuV— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) August 20, 2017
Smith finished the game with 53 yards on only seven carries — averaging more than seven yards per touch. It wasn’t just a one game wonder, either. Smith also impressed in the Cowboys’ Hall of Fame game against the Cardinals back in Ohio. In that game, the former Buckeye rushed 18 times for 64 yards. While not eye-popping stats, he still looked like a capable back during the contest.
After the game, Garrett explained that they wanted to see what Smith could do with the rock.
“We wanted to give the bulk of the snaps at running back to Rod,” Garrett said. “He got a lot of snaps, he got a lot of carries in the game. I thought he handled himself well.”
Smith has clearly been earning the staff’s confidence and trust. His preseason and training camp thus far has him trending upwards on the Cowboys depth chart. At 6-foot-3 and weighing 230 pounds, Rod certainly has the body to withstand hits in the National Football League. His bruising style of running the football meshes perfectly with the gigantic offensive line that is opening up running lanes for him.
With his versatility to be an impact player in both the running game and the receiving game, running back Rod Smith is building a case for himself to move up the Cowboys running back depth chart this fall.