Dallas Cowboys Not Lacking In Options When It Comes To Replacing Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys Not Lacking In Options When It Comes To Replacing Ezekiel Elliott

The Dallas Cowboys have no shortage of options when it comes to replacing Ezekiel Elliott. (Photo by … [+] Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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The Dallas Cowboys depth chart at running back may not look great right now, but it’s likely far from a finished product.

As the Cowboys prepare to go through offseason activities, the biggest storyline is how Dallas is going to replace the workload left over from Ezekiel Elliott. The former three-time Pro Bowl running back may have declined in skill and efficiency during his last season with the Cowboys, but he was still their bell-cow, leading the team with 232 rushing attempts during the 2022 season.

In the aftermath of the Elliott era, Dallas enters OTA’s with Tony Pollard as its clear-cut starting running back and three options when it comes to looking for a complement for Pollard — veteran Ronald Jones, second-year back Malik Davis and rookie sixth-round draft choice Deuce Vaughn.

Assuming the Cowboys don’t end up trading for, or signing disgruntled Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, Dallas won’t have any shortage of options in the free agency market. That would be because former Super Bowl champion running back Leonard Fournette and ex-Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt remain on the market.

While Dallas has left the door open on possibly bringing back Elliott, signing Fournette — who is one of the top versatile backs in the league — would be a major upgrade over the former Cowboys starter. Fournette is coming off of a three-year run as Tampa Bay’s starting running back, ranking third in the NFL among all running backs in catches last season.

Furthermore, Fournette has generally been a durable back over the course of his career, having missed just eight games over the past four seasons. Fournette saw a total of 262 touches last season, which exceeded Pollard’s 232 touches and Elliott’s 248 total touches. It also doesn’t hurt that Fournette has experience sharing a backfield with a fellow runner, doing so with Jones and Rachaad White in Tampa Bay.

According to Spotrac, Fournette’s market value is just $2.3 million per season — an absolute bargain considering what he brings to the table.

Meanwhile, Hunt is coming off a rough 2022 season in Cleveland where his playing time took a hit — career-low 42% of the offensive snaps — and where he was the center of trade rumors. However, he averaged a solid 4.2 yards per carry during his four years with the Cleveland Browns and is just a year removed from averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He also has experience sharing a backfield, doing so with Nick Chubb over the past four seasons.

Finding a complementary back for Pollard is key considering the speedy playmaker is coming off of a broken fibula injury. Furthermore, he’s never been a full-time back and his career-high in carries in a single game is just 22 carries. In fact, he’s only had one game where he’s carried the ball more than 19 times.

During the middle of last season, former Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete went public with comments regarding Pollard’s max output in snaps, claiming 30 plays was Pollard’s “max.” The comments came shortly after Pollard had a career-best performance, rushing for 131 yards in a Week 8 win over the Chicago Bears while filling in for Elliott.

“Tony’s obviously a very talented runner and good all-around back, but some guys are race cars,” Peete said. “Some guys are high-quality, expensive sedans and those sedans can go for a long distance at a very high rate, whereas race cars go very fast and quick and run out of gas.”

When looking at resumes for the returning backs, it would appear Jones should be a viable option next to Pollard. However, he barely played last season as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, carrying the ball just 17 times in six games. In fact, after the Chiefs benched former starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City instead went with seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco as its starter for the last half of the regular season and the playoffs.

Jones didn’t even see regular playing time as Pacheco, Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon were all ahead of him on the depth chart.

Meanwhile, Davis did show flashes as a third-string rookie last season, finishing the season with 161 yards on 38 carries (4.2 yards per carry). However, it remains to be seen if the former undrafted free agent can hold up in a role where he shares full-time duties with Pollard.

And lastly, while there are high hopes for the 5-foot-5, 179-pound Vaughn to fill a Swiss Army Knife role for the Cowboys, it may be too much to expect him to fill the role left over by the 6-foot, 228-pound Elliott.

The Cowboys appear to be in no rush to sign another running back. But if it becomes clear sooner rather than later that Dallas needs a viable option outside of Pollard at running back, there are obvious options — and upgrades — in Fournette and Hunt.

And if those options end up being signed sooner rather than later, Elliott could always find his way back to Dallas.

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