INDIANAPOLIS– Pick your ball carrier, and there's a good chance that someone, somewhere is campaigning for him to be the next great Cowboys running back.
That's the byproduct of boasting one of the league's youngest, most talented offensive lines – an offensive line that helped Darren McFadden to a 1,089-yard season.
It's also a result of the Cowboys' perilously thin depth chart at running back. McFadden still has one season to play on his original two-year contract, but the options behind him are virtually non-existent. For those wondering, that fact isn't lost on Cowboys executives.
"We do feel like we need another back to go with McFadden," said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones on Tuesday. "Where we get that, whether it's in the draft or whether we do it in free agency -- a lot of different ways you can go there."
That exact ambiguity is going to fuel the conversation among fans and analysts for the foreseeable future. There's no shortage of options for the Cowboys to turn to, whether it be marquee free agents like Lamar Miller and Matt Forte or a high-profile draft pick like Ezekiel Elliot.
Given the talent on the offensive line, anyone placed in this backfield will be expected to have success – and that only makes the speculation more fun. Good luck getting Jones to elaborate on that, though.
During his media session on Tuesday, Jones was asked about the possibility of signing a veteran running back – particularly one who is nearing the oft-discussed age of 30, when ball carriers typically begin to decline.
"You don't ever say never on anything. When you get into an older back then you're talking about what's the commitment," he said. "You know he's probably nearing the end unless he's freaky like Emmitt Smith, who can go many, many years. But you don't ever say never, and sometimes a one-year deal with a guy who's 30 years old might be the right fit for us."
It certainly worked for McFadden, who signed a two-year deal just months ahead of his 28th birthday and churned out one of his best seasons to date. It's easy to imagine that type of production from a back like Forte, who turned 30 in December and has 12,718 career yards from scrimmage.[embeddedad0]
Of course, thanks to their lofty draft status, the Cowboys will have several shots at the other end of the spectrum – a talented rookie who can contribute immediately. Whether it's Elliott or another prospect, like Kenneth Dixon or Devontae Booker, spending a draft pick on a young back would allow the Cowboys to hit the ground running without having to worry as much about development.
"I think you look at backs a little different," Jones said. "Most of the backs that you pick are ready to come in and play right now, unless there is an injury issue like Gurley. But he was still able to come in and be pretty productive even though he missed the first four-to-six games."
The Cowboys would undoubtedly do backflips if a newly-selected draft pick won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, as Todd Gurley did for the Rams last fall. But as long as they procure some added production, it doesn't sound like they'll be too picky about where it comes from.