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State of the Cowboys roster: How do you feel about the running backs?

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How strong is the Cowboys depth chart at running back?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

[In this series, we’ll take a look at the additions and subtractions at every position on the Dallas Cowboys roster. We’ll compare where the Cowboys were to where they currently sit and ask the ultimate question - did the Cowboys improve or not? In other words, do you feel better about the state of the roster going into the 2019 season?]

RUNNING BACKS

2018 Season 2019 Season
Ezekiel Elliott Ezekiel Elliott
Rod Smith Darius Jackson
Darius Jackson FB Jamize Olawale
FB Jamize Olawale Jordan Chunn
Jordan Chunn - PS Tony Pollard - 4th Round Pick
Mike Weber - 6th Round Pick

2018 PRODUCTION

2018 Production GP ATTEMPTS RUSH YD Y/ATT TARG REC REC YD YD/SCRIM TOTAL TD FUM
Ezekiel Elliott* 15 304 1434 4.7 95 77 567 2001 9 6
Rod Smith 16 44 127 2.9 12 9 60 187 1 -
FB Jamize Olawale 16 - - - 4 2 13 13 - -
Darius Jackson 2 6 16 2.7 1 - - 16 - -

* League Leader in Rushing

The value of the running back position has depreciated in today’s NFL but there are still teams such as the Cowboys that put a premium value on the position. The Cowboys are a team that likes to control the pace of the game and play bully-ball up front. With three perennial All-Pro linemen in the primes of their careers, the Cowboys doubled down on running the football when they added Ezekiel Elliott to the equation a few years back.

Elliott has led the league in rushing two out of the three seasons he’s been in the NFL and his value to the Cowboys has skyrocketed. The Cowboys possess one of, if not, the most elite rushing attacks in the entire league and it’s practically been a one-man show since Elliott’s come aboard.

Last season’s end result continued a strong tradition of Jason Garrett’s philosophy of ground and pound football. However, with the many lineup changes to the offensive line, Zeke had to work even harder to take home the rushing title. Elliott was hit behind the line almost twice as much in 2018 and had more negative runs by a mile compared to his first two seasons in the league. The Cowboys didn’t get much help behind Zeke either last season and that’s precisely why Rod Smith was not brought back to be RB2 in 2019.

Though the argument against a heavy-run philosophy in the modern game has validity, it’s still a fundamental aspect of any strong offense. Some teams have generational greats at quarterback like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers to entrust completely with their entire offensive gameplan. Most teams, such as the Cowboy, are most successful with a balanced offensive attack and that’s not meant to be a knock on Dak Prescott. One of the bigger issues taken with the Cowboys is less about the philosophy itself and more on the creative side of things.

This offseason, the Cowboys made changes to the hierarchy of their offensive coaching staff and are focused on adapting more creativity in the gameplan. Even if the Cowboys offense is schematically the same under Jason Garrett, there are many ways to add freshness. Though unproven, Kellen Moore’s promotion to offensive coordinator received the stamp of approval by just about every major contributor on the Cowboys offense. Moore has been pretty vocal about the importance of having a multitude of ways to achieve your offensive goals without overhauling the entire playbook. One area Moore seems focused on is putting more emphasis on speed and elusiveness.

When constructing the running back depth chart behind their lead dog, Ezekiel Elliott, you can see Moore’s vision take shape. Darius Jackson may not have the power of a Rod Smith but he does have that extra gear. Fourth-round pick Tony Pollard is not only quick and elusive but he’s a viable threat in the passing attack. The enthusiasm that Moore showed on draft day would suggest he has a planned role for Pollard. Mike Weber is built for a heavy workload in the event the Cowboys were to be without Ezekiel Elliott for any extended time. Jamize Olawale has traits and abilities to contribute much more than he did in 2018. Jordan Chunn is a likely candidate for the practice squad unless he can prove valuable on special teams.

Conclusion: This is still very much the Ezekiel Elliott show but you have to credit the approach to add a variety of talents behind him. When you have a do-it-all talent like Zeke, it’s important to maximize potential behind him by finding guys that can make an impact on limited snaps. That’s been something that the Cowboys haven’t done so well. When Zeke has come off the field in the past, the Cowboys typically find themselves behind the chains. It will be up to the coaches to devise a plan to get the most out of the rest of this running back stable.