Running Backs The Cowboys Might Target With Adrian Peterson Off The Table


Now that the Minnesota Vikings and their star running back Adrian Peterson have made peace, the Dallas Cowboys must move on from their dream of trading for the Palestine, TX native. Being as Dallas chose not to draft a runner this year, the team continues to look for veteran backs to add to the fold despite the organization’s insistence that it is comfortable with the current running backs on the roster.

The Cowboys’ self-proclaimed depth at running back is tenuous at best, especially with Darren McFadden and Ryan Williams missing time in offseason training activities due to injury (McFadden with a hamstring strain and Williams with swelling in the knee). Both players have a history of injury meaning Dallas might consider bringing in one or more of the following running backs to compete for a spot in the backfield rotation.

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The most intriguing free agent back available is Ben Tate who split time between the Cleveland Browns and the Vikings last season. What makes Tate a viable option is the fact that he is only 27 and has served as a backup for most of his career meaning that he should have plenty left in the tank.

The former Auburn Tiger has a career average of 4.4 yards-per-carry and has the size (5’11”, 217 lbs.) to be a durable back. Tate also has deceptive speed for a man of his size running a 4.34 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine in 2011.

Being a career backup means that Tate is not used to being a lead back in the NFL which makes the situation in Dallas perfect for him. The Cowboys would not ask him to carry the entire load but to be part of the running back committee and Tate’s power and physical running style would add a new element to the Cowboys’ backfield.

Another veteran back still available is Pierre Thomas who has spent his entire 8-year career with the New Orleans Saints. Now 30-years-old, Thomas is at the age when most experts believe that running backs begin to diminish.

Thomas has 818 carries in his career so he should not be counted on be a team’s workhorse. However, Dallas does not need that from him, rather he would be asked to be a stable and reliable second option to spell whomever ends up being the Cowboys’ lead runner.

One concern is Thomas’ health. He has missed at least one game in all but two years of his career including missing five games last season due to shoulder and rib injuries. However, most of the running backs still available are unsigned due in part to some type of injury concern.

The Cowboys might be able to get a decent year of production out of Thomas by using him as a situational back in their rotation. He has NFL experience and could be an option if McFadden or Williams are unable to overcome their injuries.

If the Cowboys want an under-30 running back with some history of NFL success, Knowshon Moreno could be an option. In six seasons in the NFL, Moreno has averaged 602 yards-per-season but if his 2014 season with the Miami Dolphins (in which he played only three games due to injury) is taken out of the equation that averaged jumps to 693 yards-per-season.

Unfortunately, Moreno suffers from the same injury bug as McFadden, Williams and Thomas missing time due to injury in all but two of his NFL seasons. However, when he played a full season in 2013 with the Denver Broncos he gained over 1,000 yards and caught 60 more passes for 538 yards.

Moreno is a versatile back that could do everything asked of a running back in the Dallas offense. Playing in the potent Dallas offense would me that he would not be the focal point of the offense, which is similar to his situation in Denver where the offense revolves around Peyton Manning and the passing game.

The name of Ray Rice is often mentioned when the Dallas running back situation is brought up. However, the Cowboys would be wise to steer clear, not only because of his off field issues but because he has little left to give on the field.

In only six NFL seasons, Rice has carried the ball 1,430 times and caught 369 more passes, an average of 299 touches-per-year. After gaining over 1,000 yards rushing in 4 consecutive seasons (2009 -2012), Rice’s production significantly dropped in 2013 to only 660 yards.

Two years ago (the last time he played a game in the NFL due to the fallout from his domestic violence incident), Rice gained only 3.1 yards per carry down from his career average of 4.5. Backs who average almost 300 touches-per-year have a short shelf life in professional football and even before Rice became a pariah for knocking his then fiancé out cold in a casino elevator, the veteran back was showing concerning signs of decline on the field.

It should also be noted that Dallas did sign former Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk this week. Seastrunk spent his rookie season of 2014 on the practice squads of the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans after being cut by the Washington Redskins: it is likely that this signing is only intended to give Dallas a healthy running back to help the team get through mini-camp with McFadden and Williams injured.

Dallas continues to keep fishing around in the veteran running back market and will do so through training camp. Do not be surprised to see Dallas take a serious look at one of these backs or take a chance on a player that gets cut during training camp but one thing is for certain: despite the rhetoric coming from the team’s front office, the Cowboys are always trying to improve upon their current situation in the backfield.

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