Cowboys 2018 offseason priorities by position group: Running back

The next in a series of posts looking at each position group on the Dallas Cowboys roster, and determining just how much of a priority it will be this offseason. (The links to the rest of the series at the bottom)

Position Group – Running back

It was a little chaotic at the running back spot in 2017. Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, which loomed over the team in some way all year, made what should have been a real strength of the team into a productive, but not overwhelming, bunch. 2018 should be different.

The Roster

Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred MorrisRod SmithTrey Williams

The Breakdown

Ezekiel Elliott – It wasn’t like the Cowboys couldn’t run the ball in 2017, as a team they had the second-most rushing yards in the league. They averaged a healthy 4.5 yards per attempt (3rd in the league). They were second in yards per game rushing. It was actually pretty dang good.

But somehow, it never seemed dominating. Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension is obviously the mitigating factor here. Elliott finished first in the league in average rushing yards per game with a healthy 98.3. Second was Todd Gurley at 87. But Gurley was on the field, Zeke sat for six games. Assuming he plays all 16 games next year, and the Cowboys make sure the offensive line remains dominant, then the Cowboys have no worries here. The Cowboys could make more use of Elliott in the passing game, and it’s obvious (to everyone except the Cowboys it seems) they need to use him more around the goal line.

As long as Zeke stays on the field, and the Cowboys decide that they can never go wrong feeding the rock to him, the Cowboys running game will be a strength. Elliott is an elite back, and is easily in the argument for the best in the NFL right now.

Alfred Morris – Morris is a free agent, and the question for Dallas is do they want to re-up with the veteran, or are they content to go with Rod Smith as the primary backup. Morris was pretty good in replacing Elliott during his suspension, and if the passing game been up to par, we’d be talking about how Morris played a key role in keeping the Cowboys afloat in Elliott’s absence. But Morris didn’t score touchdowns like Zeke, and teams didn’t fear that he could hurt him with the big play. He’s not a great pass receiver and is not a player on the special teams. He’s somewhat of a one-trick pony, but he does that trick pretty well.

Rod Smith – The reason the Cowboys might be comfortable in letting Morris go is the play of Rod Smith. In limited action spelling Morris in Zeke’s absence, Smith proved to be a powerful runner with decent vision and patience. He’s also a threat out of the backfield, he can play special teams well, and he’s young and cheap. Sounds like the ideal primary backup to Zeke.

Trey Williams – He’s bounced around the league since 2015, was active for awhile during Zeke’s suspension, and is now on a reserve/future contract. Depending on what Dallas does with Morris, Williams will either compete for the third running back spot, or be a camp body.

Offseason Priority – Low

This position group will revolve around the play of Ezekiel Elliott. If he’s healthy and playing, then no one else is going to see any meaningful action. So the Cowboys can’t spend too much at the position outside of Zeke. Fortunately, they have Rod Smith who is affordable, and looks like a pretty good backup. With financial resources likely going elsewhere, Alfred Morris could have played his last game as a Cowboy. Look for the Cowboys to add a combination of late-round draft pick/UDFA to the mix. They could look at a veteran in free agency, but it they were going that route they would probably look at Morris.