The running back position is not necessarily a need for the Cowboys this offseason, as Dallas will have superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott for a full season this upcoming fall. Still, it would be wise for the front office and coaching staff to target some backs for depth purposes, as well as to help make the offense a little bit more dynamic. While Elliott is a top-3 running back in the NFL, having a quality running back behind him would be smart.
Veteran running back Alfred Morris is set to hit the free agency market, and there hasn’t been any clear indications that the Cowboys are going to bring him back. Rod Smith is a fan-favorite and looked impressive at times, but the staff likely wants to add another back to the stable, even if it’s just a scat back that can help in the passing game for Dak Prescott or a change-of-pace ball-carrier to spell Zeke.
The Cowboys don’t need a star like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, or USC’s Ronald Johes since Zeke is already in the fold, but there is a lot of talent in this class. With that said, here are five under-the-radar running backs for the Dallas Cowboys to consider this April.
Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State Wolf Pack
Jaylen Samuels was one of the more dynamic players in all of college football during his collegiate career for North Carolina State. Able to play running back, while also having the ability to line up at wide receiver, H-Back, and tight end, Samuels was a matchup nightmare each and every Saturday during college football season.
It’s unclear if the Cowboys are willing to add a back on day two of the draft, but if they are, Samuels would be a great choice to add more versatility to this team. The do-it-all star rushed for 1,103 yards and 28 touchdowns during his career in Raleigh, including a career-high 12 scores this past season.
As a receiver, Samuels was even more productive — catching 202 passes for 1,855 yards, and 19 touchdowns during his four-year career for the Wolf Pack. His explosive and dynamic ability was constantly put to display, as Samuels averaged 7.7 yards per touch — 9.2 yards as a receiver/tight end and 6.1 yards on the ground.
A mismatch chess piece, Samuels (I expect) will ultimately be leveraged by an innovative play caller as an early-down H-back (fullback and slot receiver) with the flexibility to move across the formation and a third-down halfback with the ability to run and catch out of the backfield. If he also turns into a short-yardage rusher with a proclivity for scoring touchdowns, he might become the NFL’s most valuable non-workhorse back as a discounted version of David Johnson.
Man, would I love to see Samuels wearing the silver and blue.
John Kelly, Tennessee Volunteers
Led by coach Butch Jones, Tennessee was one of college football’s biggest disappointments in 2017. The Vols posted their worst record in school history (4-8) and were embarrassed by rivals Alabama and Georgia.
The one bright spot, though, was running back John Kelly. Kelly, 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, rushed for 778 yards as a junior in 2017. He averaged over four yards per rush and scored nine touchdowns on the ground.
Kelly will likely run a 40 in the mid-4.5 range. While he may be too small to carry the load as an every down back, Kelly has the talent and the skill-set to be a contributor as a rotational player and in the passing game — he caught 37 passes for over eight yards per catch this past fall.
Look at Tenn RB John Kelly create, especially on contact, versus Florida.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) February 22, 2018
The former Tennessee back could be an interesting day three choice, possibly being a candidate to be what Lance Dunbar was supposed to be for this offense.
Justin Jackson, Northwestern Wildcats
Justin Jackson had one of the best collegiate careers by a running back in recent memory. The four-star running back and Illinois native opted to stay home and play for the Wildcats — and he certainly left his mark on the program in Chicago.
Jackson eclipsed one-thousand yards every single season during his collegiate career. As a freshman, Jackson burst onto the scene by rushing for 1,187 yards and ten touchdowns. He continued to back that up and prove that it wasn’t a fluke, as he went onto rush for 1,418 yards, 1,524 yards, and 1,311 yards over the next three seasons. He rushed for a total of 41 touchdowns with a career average of 4.8 ypc.
To begin tonight’s tape watch was Justin Jackson. Kid has some ability to change direction on a cut. It kept popping up in all of the film. But this run was just eye popping. #dynasty #rookies pic.twitter.com/dpKa0JQmPD— LeviAndrew FF (@LeviAndrewFF) February 21, 2018
Not impressive enough? Check out what he did as a receiver: catching 122 passes for 858 yards during his collegiate career in the Windy City, including 44 catches for 276 yards as a senior.
Jackson is a dynamic athlete that can not only hit the homerun play on the ground, but has also proven to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield. He is currently projected to be fifth or sixth-round pick according to NFLDraftScout.com, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone grabs him earlier than that.
Darrell Williams, LSU Tigers
LSU is known for producing quality running backs. Leonard Fournette is the headliner, but Alfred Blue (Houston Texans), Stevan Ridley (Pittsburgh Steelers), and Terrence Magee (Atlanta Falcons) also wore the purple and gold during their college days.
This draft cycle features two more LSU backs: Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams. Guice is regarded as one of the elite running backs in a deep and talented class. He may be the first back off of the board after Saquon Barkley this April. Williams, on the other hand, has fallen a little bit off of the radar.
I like Darrel Williams fam pic.twitter.com/Jgiolr9QAM— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) February 21, 2018
The 6-foot-1, 229 pound power back rushed for a career-high 820 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017. He isn’t a burner by an stretch, but his power and hard-nose running ability makes him an intriguing choice late in the back. Imagine defenses having to defend Zeke and then being forced to slow down Williams in short-yardage and goal line situations.
This was by far my favorite run of the day. Darrel Williams is among the best power backs in this class. Barreling ahead as it takes a group of defenders to wrestle him down. Yards after contact! pic.twitter.com/2vLtjt0phc— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValenciaBF) January 30, 2018
Chase Edmonds, Fordham Rams
The only FCS level running back on this list is Fordham’s Chase Edmonds. Edmonds had a remarkable career in New York, rushing for just under 6,000 yards in his four-year career for the Rams. In addition to his eye-popping rushing yardage, Edmonds averaged over six yards per carry and found the end zone nearly 70 times.
Edmonds emerged as star in Joe Moorhead’s innovative offense. Moorhead, Fordham’s head coach from 2012-2015, is the mastermind of the most creative offense in college football. The former Fordham head coach was in charge of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley as the Penn State Nittany Lions offensive coordinator for the past two seasons, before accepting the head coaching position for the Mississippi St. Bulldogs.
Edmonds became a threat to score each time he touched the ball in the RPO-based scheme. As a freshman, the 5-foot-9, 210 pound back rushed for 1,838 yards (!) and 23 scores, while averaging 6.3 ypc. In 2015, Edmonds totaled 1,648 on a 6.6 average while scoring 20 times. His junior season saw 1,799 yards, a career-high 7.0 ypc average, and 19 touchdowns. Before injuries, Edmonds was set to break the FCS rushing record. Unfortunately, the talented back suffered with ankle and hamstring injuries in 2017, totaling 577 yards and five touchdowns in seven games. When healthy, Edmonds is a superstar.
Edmonds is a nuisance in the training room and No. 22 on the field. He stands 5-foot-9, weighs in at 210 pounds and needs to gain 1,160 rushing yards to break the Football Championship Series career mark of former Georgia Southern tailback Adrian Peterson (the one-time Chicago Bear, not the former NFL MVP). To date, Edmonds holds Fordham’s rushing-yard records for a game (359), season (1,838) and career (5,400). He is the reason NFL scouts regularly commute to the Rose Hill campus. Twenty teams have already sent representatives through the gate. They gauge growth on and off the field, taking note of bona fides on iPads or in moleskin notebooks. Last season, he picked up 163.5 yards per game on the ground to lead the FCS. Scouts try to reconcile his track record with his potential as a professional.