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Draft Central | 2023

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Plenty of Nuance in First-Round RB Conversation


FRISCO, Texas - There is still plenty of time before the Cowboys make their first-round selection of the 2023 NFL Draft with the No. 26 pick overall, and there is no shortage of avenues they could go. So, with the draft a mere few days away, there are big decisions to be made by the Cowboys' brass.

Of the many topics that Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Jones, and head coach Mike McCarthy broached on Monday afternoon from The Star in Frisco, there was one in particular that is sure to pique the interest of fans - for better or worse - the running back position.

With Ezekiel Elliott no longer donning a star on the side of his helmet after being released in March, the Cowboys said goodbye to their franchise running back of seven seasons after selecting him with the No. 4 overall pick back in 2016. Tony Pollard remains in the fold after signing his franchise tag this offseason but is still recovering from his broken fibula, he sustained in the NFC Divisional round.

They signed a veteran in Ronald Jones, and still have Malik Davis and Rico Dowdle as potential options to fill out the position group. But this year's draft presents plenty of quality running backs that could be had in a number of different rounds, and that includes the first round with the lure of Texas Longhorns' pride and joy in Bijan Robinson amongst others.

There is plenty of debate on whether or not taking a running back in the first round is getting the most "value" out of the position as opposed to taking one in the later rounds that might have just as much success. As the league continues to pivot away from expensive, bell-cow type running backs and into more mixing and matching rotation, teams have begun to devalue the position.

And yes, the shelf life of running backs is something teams are taking into consideration, including the Cowboys. "I do think you have to pay attention to the history and how these backs progress in our league," Stephen Jones said. "How many play at a certain level for five years, how many played at a certain level? When does that curve start to roll over on you if you will in terms of production."

As for when Jerry Jones was asked the same question in terms of the Cowboys' philosophy when taking a first round running back, he also alluded to things like a player's injury history, as well as the Cowboys' current status in the backfield.

"What comes to my mind when we had this conversation is the physicalness and the injury factor," the Cowboys' owner/GM said. "And so, we're dealing with that with Pollard today. And we think Pollard is going to be great. But we also know that can change. It changed in one play against San Francisco. And so, you have to keep that in consideration.

"There's a bunch of nuances that go into this running back conversation."

So, the question becomes, with a draft that is deep and plentiful at the position this year - would the Cowboys use a first-round pick on a running back? Well, maybe... or maybe not. Both Jerry and Stephen Jones said on Monday they would be open to the idea of trading up or trading down in general, not just in terms of a specific player or position.

Though nothing too concrete can be given out with the draft quickly approaching on Thursday as the game of cat and mouse between teams reaches its peak this time of year on the NFL calendar.

But given that they have selected a first round running back in the last 10 years, the Cowboys have shown they are willing to take one if they feel that they are a game-breaking type of player. Though it would have to be in the right circumstances.

"I think you have to pay attention to the history of the running back," Stephen Jones said. "Obviously we made a conscious decision to take Zeke (Elliott)... If you happen to see a back there at the bottom of the first round that is rare and unique and he falls because he's a running back, I would have to think we'd be considering especially if we thought he should have been picked in the top half of the draft.

"But you can also get good running backs, as a lot of teams have shown you, you can get them in the second, third, and fourth round as well. But every situation is unique."


"From Thursday's First-Round party to Friday's Live Music and a Saturday 5K run, celebrate the NFL Draft with us. Join us for Draft Weekend presented by Miller Lite, April 27-29, at The Star in Frisco"

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