Will the Dallas Cowboys play with just two running backs?

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and running back Tony Pollard (20) Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and running back Tony Pollard (20) Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

By next Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys will cut down their roster to 53-players, which is an annual mandate by the NFL for all teams. That means this Sunday’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars is the final opportunity for fringe players to make their case to be a Cowboy in 2021.

With the start of the NFL regular season less than two weeks away, and the Cowboys preparing for final cuts, speculation about who will make the team’s final roster is abundant. And one position of particular interest is running back.

Both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are locked in at the top of the running back depth chart in Dallas. And off the back of strong performances this summer, running back Rico Dowdle and fullback Sewo Olonilua seemed to be destined for backup roles on the final roster as well.

Unfortunately, both suffered season-ending injuries recently. The Cowboys placed Olonilua on Injured Reserve earlier this month due to a neck injury. Dowdle joined him on that list on Wednesday after suffering a hip injury against the Houston Texans over the weekend.

Here’s how Rob Phillips, DallasCowboys.com Senior Writer, responded to a recent mailbag question about the team possibly opting to carry only two running backs on the final 53-man roster following Dowdle’s injury.

"“It’s certainly possible they only go with two running backs, Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard, on the active roster to start out. Remember, the dynamics of the 53-man roster are a little different now with a 16-man practice squad and the ability to call up two players a week to the game-day roster.”"

The remaining running backs on the roster outside of Elliott and Pollard are both undrafted rookies in JaQuan Hardy out of Tiffin and Brenden Knox from Marshall.

Neither has been particularly impressive in the preseason, and both figured to be candidates for the practice squad prior to Dowdle’s injury. Rookie fullback Nick Ralston could also be a possible consideration here.

But there’s a chance the Cowboys find their third running back during final cuts either on the waiver wire or in free agency. The team appears to be gearing up to makes some moves at the deadline as the front office opened up $6.88 million in salary-cap space on Friday by restructuring Elliott’s contract.

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In the end, the Dallas Cowboys could choose to go with only two running backs on their 53-man roster due to the practice squad rules allowing them to call up one if they need to in a pinch. And that extra roster spot or two could be very useful on other areas of the roster where the team might want to go heavy like at safety, defensive end, or along their offensive line.