IRVING, Texas – It sounded like a pre-draft smokescreen when Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the running back position wasn't a must. It even sounded insincere when he repeated himself after the first two days of selections.
When Jones finally addressed the media on Saturday night after drafting eight players – none of them ball carriers – it started to sink in. It might not have been the Cowboys' intention, but they made it through 256 selections in the 2015 NFL Draft without taking a running back.
"We would have liked to have drafted a running back, but at the same token, we didn't think at any given time that we should pass at the player that was there, even with the running backs available," Jones said.
Instead, Jones bolstered a variety of other positions. Five of the Cowboys' eight selections play defense, and the three offensive players all play along the offensive line. Despite that, it didn't alter Cowboys coach Jason Garrett's vision of the offense.
"We are going to run the football. Running the football is a really good formula for our football team. I think everybody saw that last year," Garrett said. "It started with us rebuilding the offensive line and being a physical football team."
It's not as if the backfield in Dallas is barren. The Cowboys signed Darren McFadden in free agency, and they signed Lance Dunbar to a restricted free agent tender in addition to retaining Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams.
Following the departure of DeMarco Murray in free agency, however, it's easy to focus in on the question marks around the position – injury history, off-field problems and an overall lack of experience. McFadden is the only one of the foursome that has featured prominently in an offense, and he has only played one 16-game season in his career.
"We know a running back can get hurt and we know they have gotten hurt and his name can be Murray, McFadden, or whoever and they can get hurt," Jones said. "So we didn't think we were compromised because of McFadden's injury, as you know more than we would be if we were sitting here with Murray."
The concern wasn't enough to pull the trigger on a prospect, though. The draft's top two backs, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, were never a realistic option. But the Cowboys had chances at the likes of Tevin Coleman and Duke Johnson, in the second round, as well as David Johnson in the third. Local prospect Jay Ajayi came with serious injury concerns, but could have potentially been drafted in the fourth round.
None of those options were as appealing – and none of the Cowboys' needs were so drastic – as to let the draft board play itself out.
"You've got to play option quarterback to do this thing right," Jones said. "You've got you're fundamental guidelines; you've spent all this work on that draft, you've got to go by your board."
Of course, the story doesn't necessarily end there. Talent business in the NFL is a never-ending task, and team executive vice president Stephen Jones twice referenced LeGarrette Blount – who joined the New England Patriots late last season on their way to a Super Bowl.
"We're going to get to see these guys a lot and at the same time we'll keep our eyes wide open and look if there are opportunities to improve, not just at running back but other positions, and we'll improve the team," he said.
How that plays out remains to be seen. But even if the Cowboys weren't trying to send a message, the 2015 NFL Draft certainly feels like a strong statement about the strength of their running backs.