The Dallas Cowboys continue to look for running back depth behind Tony Pollard as they give opportunities to Rico Dowdle, Malik Davis, and sixth-round rookie Deuce Vaughn. Last week gave us our first look at Vaughn and suffice to say, he was impressive. He stood out as the team’s top rusher with eight carries for 50 yards including a 26-yard scamper and a four-yard touchdown run a few plays later.
While the rookie’s roster spot is secure, the team is still trying to figure out what additional players will fill out the running back room. Dowdle looked better than Davis last week. Despite averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, he had a couple of solid runs and a 21-yard reception (we’ll forgive the fumble for now). Davis couldn’t get anything going and only had three yards on four carries.
This week against the Seattle Seahawks, the coaching staff started Dowdle over Davis who started last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. As these two fight for one of the final roster spots, which running back had a better showing? Let’s take a closer look to get a better feel of what these guys have to offer.
Rico Dowdle is finally showing out
Dowdle has always been a player the coaching staff likes and sold as a guy with potential. Awful luck in the health department has severely limited what we’ve been able to see. He only has seven carries at the NFL level for just 24 yards (his rookie season in 2020), and the quality runs in preseason have been sparse. That is until now.
All the things that the coaches have barked at us for the last few years are starting to come to fruition. Dowdle is in great health and you can see the energy he brings to his runs. He’s showing excellent cutting ability out of the backfield and was able to create a little space even when the offensive line didn’t give him much to work with. He showed great burst and strong finishing ability.
Rico Dowdle doing what he does best. Great footwork in the backfield, great vision, and great burst. There weren't a lot of running lanes in this one, but Rico made the most out of what he got. pic.twitter.com/MTGqP84HDC— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2023
Dowdle is a strong player and balance has been an issue for him in the past, but he looked good barreling through the lanes when he had to on Saturday night. The Cowboys are sorely missing a short-yardage power back with the departure of Ezekiel Elliott, but Dowdle is the one player on this roster who has the best chance to deliver some punishment in those situations.
Loved the power shown by Rico Dowdle. Even with nothing open, he'll find a crease, lower that shoulder, and get something out of nothing. In both of these runs, he was first contacted at the line of scrimmage and still grinds out a few yards. It's the little things. pic.twitter.com/YHdMwgObF1— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2023
Another humdrum performance by Malik Davis
There is nothing exciting about how Davis runs the ball. He’s not super shifty, he doesn’t have great speed, and there are times when he isn’t able to create anything on his own. He did have the longest run for the Cowboys with a nice 18-yard run but only averaged two yards per carry over his other seven runs in the game. To be fair, he didn’t have much to work with and did push through whenever he had the chance, but are the Cowboys seeing enough from this second-year player to protect him with a roster spot?
Malik Davis didn't have much to work with, but he showed nifty feet and kept those legs churning in what little lanes he did get. pic.twitter.com/EUTlJPfTxd— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2023
Not only was Dowdle the more impressive runner, but his contribution in pass protection is considerably more noticeable than what Davis has been offering. This again is important considering Zeke was the team’s best blocking running back and that leaves the Cowboys with a void.
One of the biggest separators between Dowdle and Davis in this game was pass protection. Rico is constantly looking for work and welcomes contact whereas Malik is a little more timid, late to arrive, and just doesn't square up to deliver enough pop. pic.twitter.com/8fa9MWApR3— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2023
From what we’ve seen, does this make Dowdle the obvious choice as the better back between the two? Based on just these two preseason games, this battle isn’t close. While Davis has been okay with what he’s given, Dowdle has been the more impressive player. Yes, Dowdle had another costly blunder, this time whiffing on a block on special teams that resulted in a blocked punt. Those things matter, but the entire picture he has been painting is still more pleasing to the eye.
There should no longer be any debate about whether Dowdle makes the team. The coaches love him for a reason and it’s showing up in game film. However, rolling with him does come with serious durability concerns. Serious. Remember, Dowdle has missed time due to injury in six of the last seven seasons dating back to his years in college. Packaging him with Pollard who is a career backup who never had a heavy workload and a rookie whose size brings about trepidation from some is not the most ideal situation.
And speaking of that smol guy, we can’t have a running back article without appreciating Vaughn as he wasted no time finding the endzone on Saturday.
It only took one preseason game for defenses to start respecting Deuce Vaughn. I loved how the Cowboys used play action early, getting the defense to overpursue, and then when they finally gave the ball to Vaughn, just that slight hesitation got them blocked out of the play. pic.twitter.com/jE9QmvaD7A— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 20, 2023
Outside of Vaughn’s 14-yard touchdown run, he rushed the ball another four times for a net of zero yards. Again, there weren’t a lot of running lanes in this one and Vaughn needs some space if we want to see him dance.
Right now, the Cowboys running back group consists of Pollard, Vaughn, and Dowdle with no particular order for the backup guys as they will be used in different fashions. As for Davis, he might earn a spot if the team wants a little insurance, but at the same time, he’s not showing much this preseason that would put his services in high demand. The team may choose to practice squad him and call upon him if Dowdle again suffers another injury. And if something happens and he gets poached from another team, the Cowboys can likely find a comparable replacement in free agency.