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Cowboys Rico Dowdle goes from dark horse to leader among backup RB candidates

Can the fourth-year RB prospect finally stay healthy and deliver on his potential?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rico Dowdle has been one of the Cowboys’ unluckiest players in recent years. But with more opportunity at running back than he’s ever seen, the fourth-year prospect is proving why he’s still in Dallas despite ongoing injury issues. Could 2023 finally be the year that the stars align for Dowdle?

Undrafted in 2020, Dowdle was a surprising addition to Dallas’ official roster as the third RB behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. He made it mainly for his special teams work, being a solid kick returner and even better in coverage units, but Dowdle also flashed potential as a ball carrier in the preseason.

All signs had Dowdle cruising for a roster spot again in 2021 before a preseason hip injury put him on season-ending injured reserve. He returned last year and fought off Malik Davis to make the roster again, but only lasted five games before landing on IR again with an ankle injury.

These unfortunate outcomes in the last two years looked like they may be Dowdle’s undoing. Many didn’t expect him to return for another training camp. But the Cowboys offered him a minimal deal. about $1 million with only $100k guaranteed, to come back and compete.

Like he has every year since arriving in Dallas, Dowdle is doing exactly that. And right now, he’s sitting at the number two spot on the team’s first official depth chart of training camp.

Not Malik Davis, who became the shiny, new toy for some after last year. Not Ronald Jones, the veteran who Dallas signed in the offseason to add some experienced depth. Not Deuce Vaughn, who may be the most hyped sixth-round pick in franchise history.

No, it’s Dowdle again. He’s still doing the same “little” things that have helped him stick around this long, like getting praised by Mike McCarthy the other day for his work in pass protection. That much-valued trait of Ezekiel Elliott’s could certainly use a solid replacement, as could Zeke’s work as the short-yardage back. Dowdle best fits that bill as the heaviest of Dallas’ RBs listed at 215 lbs.

With Vaughn feeling a virtual roster lock pretty much since the draft, and nothing in camp so far changing that perception, it’s always felt like a three-way race between Dowdle, Davis, and Jones. But especially now that Jones is missing time with a groin injury and will be out for the first two games of 2023 with a PED suspension, the field seems to be narrowing.

Malik Davis isn’t without his flowers. He’s also been praised by McCarthy for his running and the battle between he and Dowdle still feels right. But despite Davis finishing 2022 on the official roster, he’s now again looking up at Dowdle on the depth chart.

If you weren’t already jazzed to watch these running backs in the preseason, these first two weeks of training camp have made this a marquee feature of the August schedule. Can Rico Dowdle once again stave off Malik Davis and finally put the injury woes behind him? If so, he may become a much bigger part of the Cowboys offense than anyone expected,

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