Organized team activities are all but a thing of the past for the Dallas Cowboys this year. One of the biggest headlines (outside of the play-calling mess) was the fact that starting running back DeMarco Murray missed a total of four OTA sessions because of hamstring issues. Same old song right Cowboys Nation? That coupled with the thumb injury rookie running back Joseph Randle is recovering from, and you have a great deal of question marks in the Cowboys’ backfield.
Last off-season Dallas’ prized first-round pick Morris Claiborne was in a similar situation Randle is in. Recovering from and injury and missing physical reps is damaging to a rookie’s progression, and because of this we can’t expect Randle to have a huge impact right out of the gate.
So just a quick catch-up here. Dallas’ first-string back is injury magnet and their projected second-string back is a rookie who’s progress has been stunted. You can see why the third string back is going to be critical this year, and probably for the foreseeable future.
Currently on the roster outside of Murray and Randle are second-year back Lance Dunbar, third-year back Phillip Tanner, and rookie free agent Kendial Lawrence. Both Tanner and Dunbar were on the roster last year and Lawrence is a loner shot to make the team. He will most likely end up on the practice squad if he makes a big enough impression throughout the off-season and preseason.
The free agent pool is very slim and is probably not even worth talking about. The only player that could even be serviceable is former New York Giants’ running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Even then, Dallas already have a back that has ample injury concerns in Murray and he has less wear on him. Needless to say this move would not be smart or even worth the price of paper the garbage contract would be printed on. Moving on.
So out of Dunbar and Tanner, who takes the next step forward and provides the support Dallas will undoubtedly need this coming season when/if Murray is unable to go?
Dunbar is more of a “skat back” style running back. He’s smaller than tanner at 5’8″ 191 lbs. I don’t see him being able to hold up for a long stretch if Murray or Randle are out. He provides the electric play-making ability any team in the NFL is looking for, and in spite of his size he’s been know to pound it up the middle. Realistically his services would be better utilized on the outside and in the return game.
Tanner on the other hand is built to carry the load. At 5’10″ 217 lbs. he has a low center of gravity and ample enough mass to pound it inside. Before this year’s OTAs kicked off we only really saw that side of him. He would take the ball, find a hole, and run until contact. Now reports have come out this year that is worth keeping an eye on for the third-string spot.
Realistically, unless Lawrence makes a huge splash in training camp, or the Cowboys are able to pick up another quality back off waivers you’ll most likely see both Tanner and Dunbar on the opening week’s roster. Which one makes the biggest impact remains to be seen.