Ready to Step In at Running Back
There’s no good side to losing the NFL’s leading rusher for any amount of time due to league suspension, but the Cowboys’ depth at running back behind Ezekiel Elliott features talented, experienced, productive players that have combined for 12,360 rushing yards, 71 rushing TDs, 380 receptions, 3,014 receiving yards, and 5 receiving touchdowns. They’ve also played a combined 254 NFL games.
Darren McFadden, who topped 1,000 rushing yards two years ago for the Cowboys, is healthy after missing 13 games last year with an elbow injury. He’s the presumptive starter in Zeke’s absence. McFadden had a chance to sign with another team in free agency during the offseason, but he wanted to stay in Dallas and re-signed with the Cowboys on a 1-year deal.
McFadden, the former Raiders’ 1st round draft pick, is now entering his 10th NFL season, his third with the Cowboys. Two years ago, he took over for Joseph Randle as the Cowboys’ starter for the final 10 games of the 2015 season and finished 4th among all NFL rushers totaling 1,089 yards, plus 3 rushing TDs. He also caught 40 passes for an additional 328 receiving yards.
For his career, McFadden has started 74 of 102 games. He rushed 1,301 times for 5,423 yards (4.2 average) and 28 rushing TDs. He has 254 career receptions for 2,114 receiving yards and 5 TD catches.
Alfred Morris, who is entering his second season with the Cowboys, was a two-time Pro Bowl player for the Redskins. He topped 1,000 rushing yards in his first three seasons in Washington and set multiple team records. He started 64 of 64 games with the Redskins in his full 4 seasons in the nation’s capital and gained 4,713 rushing yards and scored 29 rushing TDs for the Cowboys’ biggest rival.
Last year with the Cowboys, Morris played in 14 games but was inactive the final 2 games of the regular season (coaches’ decision/inactive). Morris finished his first season with the Cowboys as Zeke’s backup with 69 carries for 243 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs in limited duty.
Overall, Morris has played in 78 NFL games and has 4,956 career rushing yards, 31 rushing TDs, 50 receptions, and 376 receiving yards.
Rod Smith has been battling Morris for the #3 RB spot in training camp this summer. Smith was converted to fullback last year but is now back in his old spot at running back. He played 7 games last year, mainly on special teams and recorded 4 tackles. Yes, he’s the older brother of linebacker Jaylon Smith. But fans should get to know him as an important special teams player for the Cowboys. He is going to get a ton of carries during the preseason.
With Zeke suspended for the start of the 2017 season, if Rod Smith and Alfred Morris stay healthy through camp, they are likely both making the 53-man roster and serving as backups to Darren McFadden.
There’s one other experienced running back on the Cowboys’ depth chart that was added two weeks ago during training camp: Ronnie Hillman. He was signed after rookie RB Jahad Thomas was waived/injured. Hillman is entering his 6th NFL season. He played his first 4 seasons for the Broncos, then split time last year between the Chargers and Vikings.
Hillman has played 56 games (15 starts) and totaled 1,976 rushing yards and 524 receiving yards. He’s also scored 13 career touchdowns.
He’s the long-shot to make the 53-man roster, but if the Cowboys decide to keep 4 running backs, Hillman could stick around Dallas…at least until Zeke returns from suspension.
Once the regular season begins and Zeke serves his suspension, Zeke is placed on the Reserve/Suspended List which opens a spot on the 53-man roster. When Zeke returns from suspension, he will be placed on the 53-man roster and another player will have to be released in order to open a spot for Zeke.