The 2023 NFL Draft is speeding towards the Cowboys and that means it's almost time to make franchise-altering decisions, and you can bet [another] might be at the RB position
FRISCO, Texas — As free agency wanes in the NFL, mock draft season is in full effect and, quiet as it's kept, everyone knows exactly what the Dallas Cowboys will do with the 26th-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft; except for the Cowboys themselves. That is to say we can all only have fun speculating until the event gets underway in Kansas City on Thursday, April 27, but what is known is where this team is in need of an upgrade.
They did a masterful job in free agency with making sure they don't enter this year's draft in dire straits at any position, but that doesn't mean they're all set across the board.
So as we launch the inaugural edition of "Fast Forward", we do so by keying in on the running back position to see where things stand and what prospects could make an immediate impact for Dallas — for there are several.
Tony Pollard — There will be no drawn-out drama, or any at all, regarding the status of Pollard for next season. The veteran running back has officially signed his franchise tag and, at a fully guaranteed $10.1 million, it means he'll be in uniform when the Cowboys take the field in September; though both sides hope it's under the first year of a multi-year deal. With Ezekiel Elliott released, it's Pollard's throne in Dallas, unequivocally, and all eyes will be on him in 2023.
Ronald Jones — The release of Elliott was followed by the signing of Ronald Jones in free agency to complement Pollard. That is the plan, at least, because it's still unknown what the Cowboys will or will not do at the position in the 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City. With a name like Bijan Robinson on the table, and other very capable prospects, adding a two-time Super Bowl winner in Jones provides both draft insurance and a proven back ready for RB2 duties.
Rico Dowdle, Malik Davis — Dowdle returns on a one-year deal in 2023 with the goal of finishing the fight against Davis, having had the lead on the rookie in last year's training camp for the role of RB3 behind Elliott and Pollard. A season-ending injury ended that battle for Dowdle and thrust Davis into the spotlight behind the dynamic duo, and he did not disappoint, which means Dowdle (a longtime team favorite) has his work cut out for him this summer.
Top 2023 Prospects:
Bijan Robinson, Texas — This may come as a shock to you, but Robinson is the consensus No. 1 player in this year's pool of running back prospects. That's just in case you haven't heard, ya'know? Where many try their best to do one thing well, Robinson does it all: blocking, running, receiving, elusiveness, speed, high-motor, power, etc.; and it's no wonder RB-needy teams are drooling all over him. In no world do I envision him available at No. 26, but as I wrote in the pre-Draft edition of the "Science Lab", if he’s still out there at No. 19, get on the phone and deal.
Best Fit (Post-Day 1):
Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama — For me, there's too much meaningful depth at the RB position in this year's draft to sell out on buying at No. 26, unless it's Bijan Robinson defying every odd and actually still being available. But for those who wonder what other young prospect might at least be in the conversation for a late-round grab in the first, I present Gibbs, the Alabama starter who isn't an all-around specimen like Robinson but who would be a dynamic complement to Pollard as a lightning-quick change-of-pace back who can also catch out of the backfield. I'd be more apt to trade down to grab him in the early second-round though, grabbing another pick in the process (that is if you're hellbent on drafting RB first) but I doubt this scenario unfolds.
Zach Charbonnet, UCLA — Did someone order the bruiser with extra cheese? If so, your order is ready when it comes to Charbonnet — a downhill back who delivers punishing power to would-be tacklers. I'd look toward a Day 2, Round 2 grab on the former Bruin and there's not much wondering about what a tandem with Pollard would look like because, well, Elliott already showed you. This is in no way to say Charbonnet has earned the comp to when Elliott was in his prime, but it is to say the archetype for Dallas would be fairly similar in that Pollard could continue to be The Sword while Charbonnet brings The Sledgehammer. Charbonnet is a closed-fisted punch to the face of any defensive line.
Devon Achane, Texas A&M — From a scouting standpoint, I'm on record as labeling Achane as my RB draft crush outside of Robinson, and it's not hard to tell why. He's basically everything you'd look for in a player like Gibbs, but you could likely get incredible value for him if you hold your horses and wait for Day 2 (Round 3). Sure, Achane is about an inch smaller than Gibbs and roughly 10 pounds lighter, but I wouldn't let the absence of a couple of patty melts deter me from what his film shows: a high-ceiling RB2 who, dare I say it, might be shiftier than even Pollard and, as such, could give defenses fits and, by the way, he'd also be injury insurance for KaVontae Turpin in the return game.
Honorable mention: Tank Bigsby (Auburn)