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2023 NFL Mock Draft: Mel Kiper has Dallas Cowboys taking a new franchise running back in the first round

The Cowboys are out of the playoffs, so that means it’s time to talk 2023 draft.

Baylor v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The more preferable reality for the Dallas Cowboys this week would have been preparing for an incredibly intense NFC Championship Game on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, but because they fell short to the San Francisco 49ers last week in the Divisional Round, the only things that we really have to focus on right now are how to make this team better for another trip around the sun.

Time will tell exactly how the Cowboys go about re-tooling the roster in the coming months over the course of free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft, but one of the biggest questions surrounding the franchise is how they are going to handle the running back position.

Ezekiel Elliott does not have any guaranteed money on his contract for literally the first time ever in his career, he is reportedly open to a pay cut to stay with the team, and Tony Pollard is a free agent that is coming off of a fractured fibula (he had surgery on Tuesday). The waters are murky and cloudy.

Mel Kiper’s new mock draft has the Dallas Cowboys selecting Texas running back Bijan Robinson in the first round

If the Cowboys choose to move on from even just one of Elliott or Pollard they are going to have to make some sort of addition to their backfield. What goes up must come down and all of that jazz.

This is a team that wants to run the ball and that figures to remain a constant even if there is some sort of turnover at the offensive coordinator spot (Kellen Moore interviewed with the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday).

These are the key questions for the Cowboys running back group as a whole:

  • Will Ezekiel Elliott be back, and if so, what will his restructured deal look like?
  • Will Tony Pollard be back? Would that be on the franchise tag? A different one-year deal as a result of the injury? Maybe a long-term contract is worked out?
  • Would any of the flack that the team has gotten for giving Elliott a long-term deal be a factor in giving Pollard one?
  • If Dallas moves on from one of them will they want to devote a serious resource to keep a duo back there? If so, are the plans different based on which one is back if it is only one?
  • What would the plan be if both Elliott and Pollard are elsewhere in 2023?

The coming months will answer a number of these questions but you can clearly see that there is a world where the Cowboys need a new running back to take serious carries. This is an obvious reality, and one that we are going to see national analysts adjust to when it comes to projections.

This bore itself out in Mel Kiper’s mock draft this week. He has the Cowboys selecting University of Texas running back Bijan Robinson with the 26th overall pick.

26. Dallas Cowboys

Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

This just makes sense, right? Team owner Jerry Jones loves star running backs, going back to his days of drafting Emmitt Smith in Round 1 in 1990, and he repeatedly has said Ezekiel Elliott is the Cowboys’ most important player. Well, Elliott could be a salary-cap casualty this offseason, and Tony Pollard — who made the Pro Bowl this season — broke his left leg in the divisional round and is a free agent. Could Jones and the Cowboys start over and take Robinson, the best back in this class, here? Robinson also is a great pass-catcher, so he’s more than just a between-the-tackles runner. He could also take some of the pressure off quarterback Dak Prescott.

I thought hard about defensive tackle with this pick, with Bryan Bresee (Clemson) and Mazi Smith (Michigan) as two possibilities. Dallas struggled at times stopping the run.

Not to be disrespectful, but this is a load of low-hanging fruit. Referencing Emmitt Smith and talking about how Jerry Jones has cited Ezekiel Elliott as the team’s most important player... there is merit to considering Robinson in the first round but all of these points of narrative are not part of it.

Robinson is clearly the best running back in this class. He piled up over 1,500 rushing yards this past season for the Longhorns and had 20 total touchdowns. Given where he played his college football he is going to be somebody who a lot of Cowboys fans want to see the team draft.

But while the “don’t spend any premium resources on a running back” argument can get a bit loud it also holds logic. Just about all of recent history shows how much production can be obtained by finding running backs later in the draft (or even undrafted free agency for the Malik Davis truthers) and the Cowboys have a lot of needs to address if they want to be playing this week next year.


Would you be happy if the Cowboys took Bijan Robinson in the first round?

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