Dallas Cowboys: Running Back depth a worthwhile investment

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 09: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys kneels in the end zone before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 09: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys kneels in the end zone before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

As the Dallas Cowboys try to improve their team this offseason, one under the radar spot the team may try to address is getting more depth at running back.

In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys once again were one of the best running teams in the National Football League. Behind All-Pro runner Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas finished 10th in the NFL in rushing averaging 122.7 rushing yards per game.

Although 10th in the league doesn’t seem like an eye-opening number, down the stretch of the season Dallas ran the ball much better, and Elliott ran for 85 or more yards six of the final seven games of the Cowboys regular season.

In the first round of the playoffs, Dallas again leaned on their running game to impose their will, and Elliott and the Dallas rushing attack had a very solid day, rushing for 164 total yards and two touchdowns in a 24-22 victory.

Coming into the Rams game in the divisional round, Dallas once again looked to control the game by running the football, and it just did not happen. The Cowboys ran for just 50 total yards as a team, and Elliott ran for just 47 yards on 20 carries, his second-lowest total of the season. On the flip side, their opponent the Los Angeles Rams ran for an incredible total of 273 yards as a team on three touchdowns.

Now the Rams are a very good team, and deservedly so they will be playing for the Super Bowl in Atlanta in two weeks, but the thing that stuck out about the Rams rushing attack is how they went about it. Their star running back Todd Gurley had been dealing with a knee injury, sidelining him the last few weeks of the regular season. There were questions about how much workload Gurley could take on an injured knee, but backup running back C.J. Anderson was more than ready to fill in and take over.

Anderson ran for 123 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns, and the Rams only had to run the ball with Gurley 16 times in the game. Without their best runner at full strength, Los Angeles took the Dallas defense apart to pieces, and consistently gashed them time after time in the running game.

After watching that game and seeing how well the Rams offense executed with their best player, not at 100%, it raises an interesting question if the Cowboys could improve their offense by paring their All-Pro runner Elliott with a more capable backup of his own.

Rod Smith really struggled as Elliott’s backup this season, gaining only 127 yards on 44 carries, a 2.9 yards per attempt average. When Elliott came out of the game, Dallas really was not able to do anything in the running game, but with a better backup running back this could be a very different story next season.

With the current situation, the Cowboys are in cap wise, while they do have a lot of money to spend, with big-name impending free agents in the next few seasons they likely will not be in the market to spend money on a backup running back in free agency. Although this will likely be the case, the draft would be an outstanding place to find a talented runner to pair with Elliott in the backfield next season.

Taking a talented runner like Devin Singletary from FAU or Elijah Holyfield from Georgia in the third or fourth round would be an excellent move, as paired with Elliott the duo would be a backfield that could consistently give opposing defenses fits. If when Elliott came out of the game Dallas could still continue to consistently run the ball for solid gains, it would only help Dallas’s star runner when he came back into the game facing an even more demoralized and gassed defense.

Another benefit of adding a talented backup runner would be the less toll that has to be taken by Elliott. This season the former Ohio State Buckeye led the NFL in rushes at 304 and also led the NFL in total touches at 381. If Dallas is keen on extending Elliott to a new deal after his contract is up, they would be smart to add some talent behind him so they do not run him into the ground after five years.

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Having an All-Pro runner is an outstanding thing, but as the Los Angeles Rams showed paring him with a very capable backup can take you to the next level. Don’t be surprised if the Cowboys follow this mold and go out and get a talented runner to backup Ezekiel Elliott next season.