The month of April couldn’t have come quicker for most Dallas Cowboys fans. After a disappointing loss in the first round of the playoffs and a less than satisfying start to free agency, Dallas fans can turn their attention to an area where America’s Team has typically excelled over the past decade, as the Dallas Cowboys draft classes have largely been successful.
The NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and the Cowboys are wrapping up evaluations and hosting potential targets with each of their nine selections in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. The pressure will be on Will McClay and the Joneses to put this team in a position to be the first repeat winner the NFC East has seen since the Eagles won four straight from 2001-04.
However, after an offseason that started with more departures than additions, a strong draft haul has never been more crucial. Let’s take a look at the Dallas Cowboys draft targets at each position, starting at running back in this article.
Dallas Cowboys Draft Targets: Running Back
In an offseason where just about everyone on the offense has taken criticism, and two players (Amari Cooper, La’el Collins) were ousted for cap purposes, many Cowboys fans have pointed out Ezekiel Elliott as their most overpaid, underperforming player. It certainly didn’t help matters when Jalen Ramsey recently came out about how Dallas promised they’d draft him with the same pick they used on Elliott.
Hindsight is 20/20. The Cowboys had a sound argument about how a player like Elliott could benefit the entire team more than Ramsey, considering how this offense dominated the time of possession in prior years thanks to the running game. Yes, it stinks that Elliott flamed out as fast as he did, and the six-year extension they gave him following his holdout just adds salt to the wound. Some can point out that he was still the seventh-leading rusher in football last year, but he’s not paid to barely break 1,000 yards in a 17-game season.
He claimed to enter 2021 in the “best shape” he’d been in since college and hoped it would make him as explosive as ever. However, he broke just three of his 237 carries for more than 20 yards and one for more than 40. That’s simply not explosive. Blame the offensive line if you want, but Tony Pollard outdid both those numbers on 100 fewer carries. Having said all that, Elliott isn’t going anywhere until after this season when his contract will mimic that of Cooper’s and Collins’ prior to their departures.
Where the Cowboys could look to add help
With Elliott likely to be cut or have his contract restructured ala Demarcus Lawrence, and Pollard’s contract expiring after the 2022 season, it would make sense that adding a running back fits into the five-year plan. Still, with both in the fold for this season, Dallas doesn’t have to address it in this year’s draft unless someone they love falls in their lap.
It’s highly unlikely that the Cowboys use a top-100 pick on a running back, but if the right guy fell to any of their day-three picks, I believe they’d consider it. Still, I could see them passing as well.
Rico Dowdle has shown flashes of being a capable NFL runner, and while a hip injury spoiled his 2021 campaign. If he’s fully healthy going into the offseason program, Dallas could wait until after the draft to bring in a running back or two.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
Isaiah Spiller is the highest-ranked running back the Dallas Cowboys plan to bring in on a visit to The Star. That list also includes Baylor’s Abram Smith, Florida’s Malik Davis and Oklahoma State’s L.D. Brown. What makes Spiller intriguing is his big-play ability while he was in College Station.
He’s not an exceptional athlete, but the balance he plays with allows him to change direction with ease to avoid defenders. There will be concerns about his long speed after an underwhelming performance at his Pro Day, but his game speed was not an issue on tape.
Spiller ran for nearly 3,000 yards in three seasons as an Aggie, averaging 5.5 yards a tout. He also caught 74 passes in 35 career games, displaying his versatility. With an uncertain future at the position, a versatile back is a valuable piece, and if his poor testing drops him to day three, the Cowboys would be a good fit.
Abram Smith, Baylor
Abram Smith is another back that Dallas is bringing in for a visit and should be an option on day three. He’s a physical runner that plays with good balance and vision. His lateral quickness isn’t great, but he shows good one-cut ability, and he’s fearless once he gets moving downhill.
At Baylor, he only had just one year of production, which comes with its positives and negatives. Only 269 career carries means he should still have plenty of tread on the tires, but he did suffer the second of two career knee injuries during his time in Waco.
He’s a capable player on special teams and could also be groomed into a competent pass protector. Both are qualities that teams covet in a reserve runner and would give him a chance to push for the third running back role out of training camp.
Ty Chandler, North Carolina
Ty Chandler is a guy who played four years at Tennessee before having a breakout season at North Carolina. He’s got excellent quickness and speed, though I wish he were a bit more physical. He’s on the lean side as a running back, but it helps him maximize his athleticism which shows up in multiple areas.
While he only had 73 catches spread over five seasons, there are flashes of him being a capable route runner out of the backfield with dependable hands. Chandler can also be a dangerous option as a kick returner. Given the choice of bulking up and losing that big-play ability or staying lean, I’d prioritize his exceptional athleticism.
While he may not be able to play an every-down role, there is no doubt Dallas can use a back with his kind of big-play ability. He could be an option late on day three, and if he goes undrafted, Chandler’s phone will ring early and often with offers.
Keaontay Ingram, USC
Keaontay Ingram is another versatile option, though he’s more physical than Chandler. He plays with very good contact balance and shows flashes of being a physical finisher. Still, he shows the lateral ability to make players miss and separate as a route runner and plays with an aggressive mindset as a runner to force defenders into making quick decisions.
I like the patience he displays as a runner, and he shows a knack for setting up blocks as well. However, there were stretches during his time at Texas and USC where I wish he would have been more decisive and physical.
Still, he’s got the power to handle pass protection and special teams assignments, and he’s also a dependable receiver. Like Chandler, he could hear his name called late on day three or could be a priority free agent. Either way, Dallas should consider bringing him in to compete for a backup role.