With Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys can be picky at running back

The Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots are more necessary to fill than others.


What they have: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Keith Smith, Rod Smith

What they need: With Elliott, the Cowboys have a bell-cow running back capable of handling 20-plus carries each week and being a force in the passing game as well. McFadden is the ultimate insurance policy and can also work as a third-down back. Two years ago he was fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,089 yards.

Morris is a better back with the more carries he gets, and that won’t happen unless there is injury. He is not a reliable pass-catcher either. He could become trade bait over the summer should another team need a veteran fit.

Keith Smith and Rod Smith split the fullback duties early last year before Keith Smith became the full-timer. He is a solid lead blocker. Rod Smith can do more with the ball in his hands. Both players can be core special-teamers.

What’s missing? Not much, honestly. They lost Lance Dunbar in free agency, and he is more of a change-of-pace back, which is what they lack right now. Do the Cowboys use draft capital on a runner who would not be a lock to make the roster or be third on the depth chart at best and a possible game-day inactive?

The Cowboys were not afraid to give Elliott a lot of work last year, and his work this year could increase, especially as a third-down back. Too often he came off the field in favor of Dunbar. Let Elliott’s 83-yard screen reception for a touchdown stand as a sign of the big-play element he can bring to the passing game.

Best fit: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma. To be clear, the Cowboys will not pick Mixon. I’m not sure he would be on their draft board at all, but skill-wise there is no doubt he fits what the Cowboys like to do with their runners. He can get to the second level in a hurry, and he is skilled as a pass-catcher as well. He scored 15 touchdowns last season. But again, to be clear, he will not be a Cowboy.

Late-round possibilities: San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, North Carolina’s T.J. Logan, North Carolina A&T’s Tarik Cohen. Pumphrey was productive over his career, breaking a lot of Marshall Faulk’s records. He is small (180 pounds) but doesn’t seem to take a lot of big hits. Logan can be an effective return man, which is something the Cowboys want out of their backup runners. He is also pretty adept out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. Cohen plays like he is in a video game. He can start and stop with ease. He makes people miss. It will take a vision from a coaching staff to find the right way to use him.

Feeling a draft: This is a deep running back group, but the Cowboys won’t take a look at a runner in the first two days of the draft, and they might way until late in the third day. They had the perfect back to develop last year in Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick, but they lost him to waivers when they made room for McFadden off the non-football injury list. It’s a move they regret at the moment, but they can find a back who can offer the same potential as Jackson on the third day.