The Dallas Cowboys will likely enter their first preseason game on Thursday against the San Diego Chargers with an undrafted rookie as their starting running back. It’s a far cry from the running back by committee America’s Team promised would fill the void left by the exodus of the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014 and former starter, DeMarco Murray. The reason? The injury bug.
On Monday, running back Joseph Randle strained his oblique. Although it only kept him sidelined for that single practice session, expect the Cowboys to play it safe with him come Thursday. If Randle does play, it will likely not be for long. As for Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar, both are sidelined, nursing injuries. McFadden is dealing with his second hamstring injury this offseason, while Dunbar hurt his ankle. Both are expected back very soon, possibly even by this weekend.
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Their absence has opened the door for young running backs like rookie Gus Johnson and Lache Seastrunk to prove they deserve more playing time and possibly a spot on the final roster or practice squad. The Cowboys have also been using veteran fullback Tyler Clutts as a primary running back as well. All three should see plenty of playing time this Thursday against the Chargers.
The fact that so many of their top running backs are dealing with injuries highlights this group’s biggest problem. On top of the fact none of them have proven themselves to be reliable producers yet, being sidelined due to injury is a label a player like McFadden is trying to shake. Dunbar is quickly earning a fragile tag as well. Staying healthy could be this unit’s biggest obstacle in 2015.
Once the Cowboys get everyone back and playing in these preseason games, apparently those in charge will then decide if they have the right players in the backfield or not. If the answer is the latter, Dallas will likely turn to free agency to find a solution. Although a gem of a player could be released between now and then, as NFL franchises begin to whittle down their rosters, the Cowboys will likely have to choose between the three top free agents available.
Jackson just turned 32 years old. And his last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons were just lackluster enough to prove he doesn’t have very much left in the tank, if anything as a workhorse back. But his 12 touchdown total the last two years does show a knack for short yardage success. And Jackson does have a history with current Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
CJ2K is coming off a lone season with the New York Jets where he wasn’t able to hit the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the first time in his roller coaster of a seven-year career. Johnson is also recovering from a gunshot wound in the shoulder he suffered in a random drive-by shooting earlier this offseason. But he’s likely to be the fastest of the three and it appears the Arizona Cardinals have offered the 29-year old a deal already, which he’s reportedly mulling over.
Rice is still in the prime of his career, which was an impressive one while with the Baltimore Ravens. But he is a public relations nightmare waiting to happen due to the domestic violence incident he was involved in last year. The 28-year old running back also recorded a career low in yards per carry average (3.1) his final year in Baltimore. Despite the negatives, the Cleveland Browns announced publicly this week that they have considered signing Rice, who has lined up opposite of them twice a year as a former member of their divisional rival.
Here’s today poll question: If the Dallas Cowboys had to sign one of these three free agent running backs today, which one would you want them to choose? Place your vote in the poll and feel free to explain your choice in the comment section below.