The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2017 campaign after a brilliant and exciting 2016 season. Tony Romo went down before the regular season ever began, but America’s Team ushered in two new superstars over the course of the season: quarterback Dak Prescott and tailback Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott, the eighth quarterback selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, and Elliott, the fourth overall selection of the same draft, formed one of the deadliest one-two punches in the game during their rookie seasons. Dak took over the most important job on the most recognizable team in American sports.
How deadly can the Cowboys’ rushing attack be in 2017? Let’s take a look at the guys expected to take carries and make an impact on the ground for the ‘Boys this fall.
Elliott established his presence early on for the Dallas Cowboys.
He showed Kam Chancellor that he wasn’t scared and proved to the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense that he is a force to be reckoned with. Sure, it was just a preseason game, but Zeke let the world know that he is not going to back down from anybody. From that moment on, he put the NFL world on notice.
From week three on, it’s hard to argue that Ezekiel Elliott was not the top running back in the game of football. The stats back it up. Against the Bears on Sunday Night Football, Zeke carried the rock 30 times for 140 yards. The very next week against the 49ers, the ex-Ohio State superstar ran the ball 23 times for 138 yards and a touchdown, averaging six yards a pop.
He continued his success throughout the season, refusing to hit the infamous “rookie wall”. Some of Zeke’s other notable performances include his 134 yards and two touchdowns — one sixty yards — against the Bengals in Jerry World. He also recorded 157 yards on 28 carries in Lambeau, 114 yards and two scores on the ground at Heinz Field, and 159 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against a hot Buccaneers defense.
He finished the season as the lead guy across the league with his 1,631 yards — the third most by any rookie rusher in NFL history. His 15 touchdowns on the ground also led to big time wins throughout the year. His impressive rookie campaign even earned Elliott MVP votes.
Although a potential suspension looms, 2017 should be another great year for Ezekiel Elliott.
Darren McFadden missed most of last season due to injury, but he is back and healthy for another campaign with America’s Team.
McFadden has shown the potential to be an elite running back at the highest level dating back to his days at the University of Arkansas with former Cowboys back Felix Jones. However, things have not gone as smoothly in the NFL for the former Razorback star.
It looks like he has found a home in Dallas, though. During the dreadful 2015 season that saw numerous injuries across the board — including to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant — McFadden put together a solid campaign.
McFadden recorded 1,089 yards on 239 carries, averaging just over four-and-half yards per touch on the ground. It was his highest yardage total since his third professional season. And that came starting only 10 games of the season, replacing Joseph Randle. The one downside of his 1,000 yard campaign, though, was his inability to reach the end zone. Despite starting ten games and playing in all sixteen contests, McFadden only landed in for six three times in 2015. That was part of the reason why the front office decided to select a game-changing back like Elliott at number four overall.
With McFadden back and healthy, the former Arkansas star looks to make a big impact in the Big D behind one of the best backs in the game.
Alfred Morris is entering his sixth NFL season and his second with the Dallas Cowboys.
Morris is no stranger to the NFC East. The former Washington Redskins tailback stormed onto the scene alongside Robert Griffin III during his rookie season in the NFL. The former Florida Atlantic fourth-round selection ran for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns over the course of his debut season. He eclipsed the 1k mark each of the next two seasons, too, but his production slipped during the 2015 season. The Cowboys picked him up prior to the ‘16 fall.
Last season, Morris saw some action behind Elliott. He carried the ball 69 times, accounted for 243 yards on the ground, and averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Can he have an even bigger role for the Cowboys this season?
Despite his track record of being a reliable back, it’s no guarantee Morris makes the 53-man roster this time around for the Cowboys. Dallas already features Zeke and McFadden and Rod Smith is making a name for himself this preseason, too. But, Morris isn’t going down without fighting.
In the Hall of Fame game against the Cardinals, Morris made a case on why Jones and company should keep the sixth-year veteran on the team. Big Al rushed for 42 yards on only six carries in the exhibition game last Thursday evening. His highlight of the game was his 25-yard carry in which Morris found the hole, burst through the opening, and even hit the ‘B-button’:
Zeke Barrera of Cowboys Wire wrote that Morris’ stock is trending up following Dallas’ first preseason game of the 2017 schedule:
If Alfred Morris is going down, he’s going down swinging. With RB Darren McFadden seemingly set to back-up the NFL’s reigning rushing leader in Ezekiel Elliott, there may not be enough playing time to justify keeping Morris around as the third-string running back. On Thursday however, Morris showcased what he brings to the table as a runner, reeling off six rushes for 42 yards. His 25-yard gain in the second quarter was one of the most exciting plays of the game, and could give the Cowboys’ coaching staff reason to hang onto the veteran RB.
Sure, it was just a preseason exhibition after all. However, Morris’ performance shows that he can still add value to the Cowboys’ backfield and forces an intriguing decision to be made about his future in the Big D.
Dak Prescott was the man leading the Dallas Cowboys to eleven consecutive wins after face of the franchise Tony Romo suddenly went down in Seattle last August. He showcased his arm en route to completing nearly 68% of his passes, recording 3,667 yards, and posting a remarkable 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the course of his regular season.
His historic and record-breaking rookie campaign earned the former Mississippi State legend NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Prescott is well on his way to becoming one of the faces of the National Football League.
Prescott also burned defenses with his legs, too. The dual threat playmaker formed a dynamic rushing attack alongside Elliott in 2016. While he wasn’t asked to carry the ball too often, Dak made sure to make his carries count. He carried the football 57 times for 282 yards — averaging nearly five yards per carry. He found the end zone six times in 2016, too.
If the Cowboys implement more running plays for Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack can become even deadlier in 2017.
X-Factor: Rod Smith
Another player on the Dallas Cowboys roster that has a chance to make his presence felt in the rushing attack is Rod Smith.
Smith is entering his third season in the professional ranks. The Ohio State product looks to add another dimension to the Cowboys offense in 2017. According to Todd Archer, Smith has impressed the coaching staff during training camp in Oxnard. He told Archer that he is “comfortable” at running back and that he feels that he “always can do something special”.
“I just feel comfortable being back at running back [after playing fullback last season],” Smith said. “When I get the ball in my hands, I just feel like I always can do something special. Something good can always happen when I get it.”
Smith got his opportunity to showcase his hard work during the Hall of Fame game against Arizona. He rushed for 64 yards on 18 carries and showed glimpses of being a stud for the Cowboys going forward. While Morris’ future is uncertain right now, Smith looks to make a move in the Cowboys’ backfield.
Anytime you have Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, you automatically have one of the most lethal rushing attacks in the game of football. Combine him with Darren McFadden and potentially both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, and you may have the best running back stable in the league. If the Cowboys decide to open the playbook to utilize Dak’s feet, look out.
The Cowboys are ready to run all over the league.
So what say you BTB community, do the Cowboys have the best stable of running backs in the league? Will they lead the league in rushing this year?
*gifs courtesy of NFL and stats gathered from nfl.com