As if it hadn’t been said enough already, the Dallas Cowboys are going to run the ball a ton in 2018. When Ezekiel Elliott was forced to sit out six games due to suspension, the Cowboys’ offense faltered, although the absence of Tyron Smith for some of those games also hurt. In the first half of the season, Dallas’ offense was one of the better units in football. Dak Prescott looked as good as his 2016 season. The offense had no issues scoring. But when the suspension came, defenses loaded the box on the Cowboys, putting Prescott in uncomfortable situations with an offensive line that also had issues.
Dallas’ offensive line noticeably took a step back in 2017. although La’el Collins showed down the stretch that he is getting better and better at the right tackle position. At the left guard position, however, there were questions each game. To fix that rather than using stopgap resources at the position, Dallas used a second-round pick on Texas’ Connor Williams. Fortunately for Williams, he will be entering a pretty good situation at left guard in between left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick, two perennial All-Pro players.
All signs have been pointing to Williams being extremely comfortable at the position so far. And while Elliott will be given a huge workload in 2018, the Cowboys are going to be among the league leaders in carries per game. And to keep Elliott fresh, Dallas would be wise to rotate in Rod Smith and rookie Bo Scarbrough.
In the seventh round of the draft, the Cowboys opted to draft one of the more recognizable names in college football. Unfortunately for Scarbrough, he is not entering the league at a time when his strengths would best be suited.
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Scarbrough is a bigger back who struggles to break away from athletic defenders in the box. Scarbrough is at his best when he is given room to operate and get a head start. He runs upright, exposing him to bigger hits.
On top of his running style, Scarbrough has durability concerns that have affected him since high school. Despite his size, Scarbrough is not the most talented pass-blocker. If the Cowboys are unable to improve this trait, defenses will know that the Cowboys will be running the football when Scarbrough steps onto the field.
While Rod Smith was quite efficient when he took over at running back during the suspension, he is better suited in a change-of-pace role, as his pass-catching ability is quite refined. Unlike Smith, Scarbrough is the type of runner who can pick up extra yards simply by using his powerful frame.
The NFL is moving towards a league where running backs are quicker and more athletic, but there is a place for bigger, violent running backs. LeGarrette Blount and Mike Tolbert are examples of that. Scarbrough is another player of this nature that can find a role in the NFL.
If Dallas wants to get back to the playoffs and deliver on their aspirations and expectations of competing for a Super Bowl, it will come down to how well they can run the ball and win the time of possession battle as well as wear down opposing defenses. That was the formula for how the Cowboys succeeded in 2016.
Elliott will play a huge role in Dallas’ effort in getting back to the playoffs. And while it is not common for running backs to be re-signed to second contracts, Elliott is an exception to that. For Dallas to prolong the career lifespan out of Elliott, it would be wise to not overwork the talented 22-year-old. Knowing that, it will be key for Scarbrough and Smith to be worked onto the field where they can add a similar impact without losing the talent and impact Elliott has.
Scarbrough will be a back brought in for specialty situations like short-yardage or goal line. If he hopes to see more reps, he will need to improve his pass-blocking ability so his presence isn’t a definite giveaway of a run. His role may be limited, but the Cowboys would like to rotate him on the field in specialty situations, then hope he can improve his all-around skills enough to become a factor in the regular running back rotation.