Rico Dowdle's availability heading into the Week 5 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers is currently up in the air. He unfortunately sustained what has been now diagnosed as a hip contusion to the same hip he fractured back in 2021 in the 38-3 victory over the New England Patriots. This injury could prove problematic to the Dallas Cowboys offensive game plan moving forward.
With the cloud of unknown currently encompassing Rico Dowdle's availability on Sunday Night Football against the 49ers, the Cowboys would be wise to prepare as if he won't be available for them. That means they need to figure out who's the best option to replace him as Tony Pollard's primary backup for as long as necessary. The best option might not be a running back at all. It might be their fullback, Hunter Luepke.
No offense to Deuce Vaughn or Malik Davis, who will likely get called up from the practice squad, but the undrafted free agent out of North Dakota State is arguably the best option to fill in for Rico Dowdle if he does indeed miss time. The 6'1", 240-ish pound FB brings something more to the table than either of the other Cowboys backup running backs, especially as it pertains to pass protection.
Rico Dowdle is the best pass protector among all Dallas' running backs, and that includes Tony Pollard. It's an underrated and often underappreciated skill set to have as an RB, but a necessary one as far as protecting the quarterback is concerned. It also just so happens to be an area of strength for Hunter Luepke's, mostly due to his size alone.
Luepke may not be as a skilled as a runner or receiver out of the backfield as either Malik Davis or Deuce Vaughn, but he's not untalented in both of these areas either. He proved that in the preseason against the Los Angeles Raiders when he got the opportunity, piling up 118 total yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries and five receptions. That, of course, was in the preseason, but we've seen enough flashes already to believe he can do more.
To date, No. 40 has primarily been used as a traditional fullback in lead blocking situations. Last week against the Patriots though we did see him get a goal line touchdown after Rico Dowdle was sidelined with his hip injury. It could be those short yardage/goal line situations where Hunter Luepke’s offensive role expands initially, but he does have the skill set to do much more.
As luck would have it, the Cowboys game plan may not even have to change much. Both Rico Dowdle and Hunter Luepke have actually played the same amount of offensive snaps (44) through the first four weeks of the 2023 season. Their offensive roles of course are different, so the game plan may need to be altered just a bit. However, it probably wouldn't have to be as tweaked as much as it would for both Deuce Vaughn and Malik Davis.
All in all, it's going to be really interesting to see how the Dallas Cowboys go about replacing Rico Dowdle if he does indeed have to miss time due to his recent hip injury. Luepke is deserving of more playing time. We will just have to wait and see if Mike McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer agree.