The Dallas Cowboys had all the top running backs in for visits a year ago, but Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman and others didn’t fall their way. So the Cowboys didn’t draft a running back despite the obvious need after DeMarco Murray’s departure to Philadelphia.
“We were after a running back,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “It’s just you know it didn’t fall that way for us. It’s always easy to say after the fact, ‘Well, that guy you could have picked him, because he was still on the board rather than [third-round tackle] Chaz Green, or you could have picked this guy.’ That’s easy in hindsight. But we did have backs that we were targeting who just weren’t there when we were ready to pick.”
The Cowboys thought they could get Thomas Rawls as an undrafted rookie free agent. Rawls signed with the Seattle Seahawks and rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns on 147 carries.
“We thought we had a heck of a chance to get him,” Jones said. “If you want to hindsight yourself to death: Should we have used one of those sevenths on him? Probably so. We liked him, but we really thought we could get him.”
After having eight tailbacks on their 53-player roster at one point or another last season, the Cowboys hope to draft a back to go with veteran Darren McFadden this season. But, like last year, there are no guarantees.
The Cowboys aren’t likely to use the fourth overall choice on Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, the only running back rated as a first-rounder, and he will be long gone by the time they draft in the second. Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Utah’s Devontae Booker, Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon and Notre Dame’s C.J. Procise are in the next tier.
Owner Jerry Jones, an Arkansas product, drafted Arkansas running back Felix Jones in the first round in 2008 and signed Arkansas’ McFadden, a first-round choice of the Raiders in ‘08, as a free agent in 2015. Arkansas has a pair of running backs -- Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams -- projected in the mid-rounds this year.
“A lot of these things are priorities,” Jones said. “A lot of times you can’t always get your priorities taken care of through the draft. That’s why you have free agency. I’ve said it many times: There’s a lot of things that go into player acquisition. You only have so many draft picks, so we’re not going to be able to take care of a young quarterback, a pass rusher, a corner, a running back – I mean you can’t take care of all of those guys with supposedly starter-type players. You can’t get it all done in the draft.”
The Cowboys put their faith in their offensive line last year when Murray, the league’s leading rusher in 2014, signed with the Eagles. They still had a 1,000-yard rusher as McFadden rushed for 1,089 yards.
McFadden, though, will turn 29 before the start of next season and has an injury history. The Cowboys hope to ease his load this year.