*Editor's Note: With the draft now behind us, the Cowboys seemingly have a full roster for the offseason and training camp. There will likely be changes here and there but this group will mostly be intact when the real competition begins. So over the next two weeks, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will break down some of the pressing position battles to keep an eye on. Today, we start with the running backs.) *
What's the Issue:
Teams don't draft running backs in the Top 5 and expect to ease them into the mix. Ezekiel Elliott was the No. 4 overall pick and should step right into a starting role, despite having veteran backs behind him. The upside on Elliott, who is considered a three-down player, was too strong for the Cowboys to pass on.
Just a full year removed from DeMarco Murray's record-breaking season, the Cowboys tried the by-committee approach last year, and while Joseph Randle proved he wasn't the answer, Darren McFadden came on strong near the end, rushing for 1,089 yards, the fifth-most in the NFL last season.
Now, expect Elliott to handle the role of the every-down back like Murray assumed last year. But he'll have some experienced players behind in the form of McFadden and Alfred Morris, a four-year vet who made two Pro Bowls with the Redskins.
And don't count out Lance Dunbar, who is coming back from a knee injury that probably will sideline him for training camp and the start of the season. The Cowboys also drafted sixth-round pick Darius Jackson from Eastern Michigan.
Typically, the Cowboys will keep just three tailbacks on the roster but for now, there are five running backs in the mix, suggesting it will be an interesting next few months to sort out this position.
Don't Forget About:
Nick Eatman: As strong of a runner as Elliott has proven to be at Ohio State, he got just as much praise for his pass-catching ability. Some Cowboys scouts compared his hands to the best receivers in the draft. So the notion that Elliott can come off the field on third downs for McFadden or even Dunbar, might be premature. Elliott was drafted so high because of his ability to do numerous things, including pass-block.
Rob Phillips: The health and continuity of the offensive line will be a key component for Elliott and the running backs. The line has been remarkably durable the last couple years, but if you remember, Travis Frederick was the only projected starter who didn't miss time in training camp due to injury. As good as this group is with three multiple-time Pro Bowlers, they all need reps together as a five-man unit and time to develop a rhythm with all the running backs, but particularly the featured runner.[embeddedad0]
David Helman: For all the debating we might do about how many running backs the Cowboys carry on their roster, don't forget that it might be a moot point. Lance Dunbar tore both his ACL and his MCL last October, and Cowboys officials have expressed concern that he might not be available in time for training camp. I'm not going to be surprised if Dunbar starts the 2016 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would open a roster spot for a fourth running back – presumably Darius Jackson. The Cowboys carried four running backs in addition to a fullback at time last year, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them do it again. Dunbar's injury might save them from having to make any tough decisions at the outset of the season.