With the draft fast approaching, the Dallas Cowboys have needs all across the board. Over the next two weeks, we will offer up a position-by-position review of the roster and match up the best available in the draft at those positions.
Cap status: McFadden $2.15 million, Morris $1.3 million, Dunbar $987,500, Smith $525,000, Malena $450,000
Best available in draft: Ezekiel Elliott
Position review: After taking over for Joseph Randle as the lead back in the sixth game of the season, McFadden was one of the most productive backs in the NFL. He finished with 1,089 yards and had five 100-yard games. Despite playing in 32 straight games, McFadden will always carry injury questions and has not posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his career.
Morris has three 1,000-yard seasons to his credit but his numbers declined in each of his four seasons with the Washington Redskins. He bottomed out at 751 yards last season. The Cowboys hope he will be rejuvenated behind their top offensive line the way McFadden was a year ago.
Dunbar has a long road back from a torn patellar tendon and torn anterior cruciate ligament. He could start the year on the physically unable to perform list. If healthy, Dunbar is a valuable tool as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Draft need: MEDIUM: A case can be made for Elliott at No. 4 overall but can the Cowboys go that high on a running back? They did not want to pay a premium price last year for DeMarco Murray after he ran for 1,845 yards. They have covered themselves with McFadden and Morris, but they could use a change-of-pace back considering Dunbar’s health.
The running back scene: Elliott is the best runner available. He is a three-down back and could really do for the Cowboys what Murray did in 2014. Teams have devalued runners, but the Cowboys have to ask themselves whether they want to have a great runner behind what is considered a great line and see how things turn out. In what was a down year, they ran for nearly 1,900 yards as a team with McFadden, Randle, Dunbar, Christine Michael and Robert Turbin as their main ball carriers.
Henry won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama and is a downhill back who would fit the Cowboys' scheme, but does he have staying power after so many carries in college? Dixon has a compact frame and might not have the breakaway speed but can handle every aspect of the job.
Prosise was a receiver before moving to running back and has room to grow as a runner. He is still learning that fine line between patient and slow and has to hold onto the ball more but there is upside for him based on his natural ability. Drake played behind some terrific runners at Alabama. He can fly and has good size. His best days might be as a pro.
The best guess: Personal feelings aside on Elliott, I think the Cowboys can start looking for a running back as soon as the second round. Last year I thought they would select a runner and didn’t. This year, I’m in the same boat but I can see the Cowboys looking more for the scatback type in the middle to late rounds to fill Dunbar’s role.