The Cowboys currently have a pretty crowded backfield. With rookie first-rounder Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson, Lance Dunbar and Rod Smith, something’s gotta give.
“It’s our job to try to bring the best players to our team, and everybody understands that, and we make that abundantly clear, and certainly it’s our job to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together,'' coach Jason Garrett said. "So have a guy like Zeke Elliott available to us to draft him, we think that helps our team. But to also have Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar and some of the other guys there, it’s a really healthy running back room, and we’re excited about all those guys.”
Zeke is, obviously, a lock. The Cowboys spent the fourth-overall pick on him with a plan: He's got three-down-back skills and going to get the vast majority of the carries in 2016. So, with Zeke getting 20-plus carries per game, everyone else is battling it out for the two spots behind him. ... Or however many spots Dallas chooses.
"I understand what's expected of me,'' Zeke said on Friday as he appeared on the Valley Ranch practice field for the first time for Cowboys rookie minicamp. "I understand the lineage for the running back position of the Dallas Cowboys."
Elliott did have a slip-up on Friday as fell to the ground in an agility drill during the 90-minute session.
"I told him to slow down a little bit,'' position coach Gary Brown said. "I think it’s being excited, trying to work as hard as you can, trying to show what you can do. And you get a little bit ahead of yourself. I think he will be better tomorrow and better on Sunday.”
Zeke wisely passed on jersey No. 22, opting for 21 rather than following that closely in Emmitt Smith shadow. But he also wisely did his homework before getting to town. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said, “He got a little head start with some information, emailed him and all that stuff so he could have it. He did a great job of getting himself prepared from a mental standpoint, which shows a lot of his preparation that he probably has a good background in. Those are all really good signs. The talent looks obvious to me. Fun to have him. ... He’s a natural.''
So where does this leave The Other Guys?
I’ve been vocal about my belief that McFadden won’t be on this team in 2016 - which is something that many fans have passionately disagreed with me on. After all, McFadden had 1,000 yards last season without the benefit of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to open up the run game. Why would they let DMC go?
First of all, money. Cap wizard KD Drummond tells me that the Cowboys would save $2,050,000 of cap space by releasing McFadden before Week 1.
That's a cheap price for a fine player ... but a nice savings if the item purchased represents excess. So there is some "timing'' involved here ...
Also, as we've illustrated from the start of his career with the Cowboys last spring, McFadden isn’t a scheme fit in Dallas. Think back to Fish's conversations with Travis Frederick on this subject and realize this offensive line is at its best when running a zone-blocking scheme. So it's not, “Why don’t you like McFadden?” That's not it. He's a good player and a good "soldier'' here. As you can see ...
So I do like him. Just not for this team. And not better than the newly-available options.
DMC gained just 3.6 yards per carry on zone runs compared to 7.5 YPC on power/man runs. I want someone with strengths the will complement those of the offensive line - not someone who in a sense holds the O-line back from reaching their full potential.
Let’s take a look at each RB and see how they can beat out McFadden this offseason. Lance Dunbar will most likely start out on PUP so lets take him out of the equation for now. That leaves Morris, Smith and Jackson to compete with DMC. We’ll start with Morris.
Alfred Morris is younger, more durable and a much better scheme fit than McFadden. DMC has just two 1,000-yard seasons in his eight-year career. Morris has three 1,000-yard seasons in his four-year career. In 99 games, DMC has 28 TD’s. Morris has 29 touchdowns in 67 games. That’s two full seasons fewer than DMC yet one more TD. Some might point to McFadden’s blocking/receiving capability but just because Morris wasn’t asked to do those things often in Washington, doesn’t mean he can’t do them.
So if Morris is RB2 then surely DMC can beat out Smith/Jackson for the third spot, right? Not so fast.
Darius Jackson is an athletic freak. He has a 149.4 SPARQ score - which is the third among all RB’s in this class. He’s also in the 98.8 percentile - meaning he’s more athletic that 98.8 percent of NFL RB’s. Jackson is a very good zone RB and he’s also reliable as a receiver out of the backfield.
Then there is Rod Smith - the older brother of second-round draftee Jaylon Smith. Smith also played with Zeke at Ohio State, where he ran the ball 24 times for four TD’s in 2014. Those two guys being on the team could motivate him even more to remain on this squad. Smith is huge for a RB, standing at 6-3” and 231 pounds (as he presently squeezes himself into a shared Valley Ranch locker stall with his brother.) He only got one touch in 2015, when he caught a pass for six yards.
One thing that can alter any plan is injuries, to McFadden or someone else. Not counting that, another thing that could give the kids the edge over DMC is the fact that they would both play special teams. McFadden won’t. Hard to justify a thirrd RB who will rarely get any touches who doesn’t play special teams - especially with a workhorse like Zeke.
There will only be a handful of carries to go around to the other RB’s on offense so it’s a near-necessity that the third guy can play special teams.
If Cowboys management thought McFadden was such a great fit here, then why would they sign a proven ZBS RB in free agency and then draft two more ZBS RB’s - including one with their first round pick? I firmly believe that the Cowboys went into the offseason with every intention of replacing Darren McFadden. ... and that when it's time, we'll see they’ve succeeded.