Position Series: Can Elliott Match Rookie Year? Could Draft Produce More Depth?

(Editor's Note: April is here, which means the first wave of free agency has passed and the NFL Draft is just around the corner. DallasCowboys.com's 11-part series analyzes every position on the Cowboys' roster at this point in the offseason: free-agent additions and subtractions, draft possibilities, returning players and question marks. The series continues with running back.)

Roster Holdovers: Let's start with Ezekiel Elliott, who delivered one of the best rookie seasons ever by an NFL running back. His league-best 1,631 rushing yards fell just 177 yards short of Eric Dickerson's 1983 record despite sitting out the regular-season finale with the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed already clinched. Most important, Elliott had exactly the kind of two-way impact the Cowboys hoped from their fourth overall pick: not only was he the fifth rookie since the 1970 merger to lead the league in rushing, he and the Cowboys' fifth-ranked offense helped the defense by often controlling the pace of games.

Behind Elliott is Alfred Morris, who still has one season left on the two-year deal he signed last March. The five-year veteran was productive in limited work as Elliott's primary backup for most of the 2016 season, but he was inactive for three of the final four games (including the divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers) once Darren McFadden returned from an offseason elbow injury. In 14 games, Morris – a former three-time 1,000-yard rusher with the Washington Redskins – had 69 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns, including the deciding score in Week 2 against his former team to help the Cowboys avoid an 0-2 start.

Free Agency Overview: The Cowboys re-signed McFadden to a one-year deal in late March that will keep him in Dallas for a third straight season. McFadden's skill set as a receiver might have been the deciding factor in keeping him active over Morris down the stretch as a complementary backup to Elliott. McFadden has also been productive as a starter when needed; in 2015 he rushed for 1,089 yards and three touchdowns as starter for a little over half the season. Last year he had 24 carries for 87 yards and three catches for 17 yards in only four games following his return from elbow surgery.

The same day the Cowboys re-signed McFadden, fellow backup Lance Dunbar ended a five-year stay in Dallas by signing with the L.A. Rams.

Draft Outlook: It's certainly possible the Cowboys look for a runner in the later rounds of the draft. They drafted a running back last year despite selecting Elliott two days earlier with McFadden and Morris – two highly experienced players – already on the roster. Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick, had promise but was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns in December after the Cowboys needed a roster spot to move McFadden off the Non-Football Injury list. The club has made clear that defense is their priority in this year's draft, but they might see value at running back at some point on draft weekend.

Time To Shine: Can Elliott top last year's historic season as the franchise's all-time rookie rushing leader? The offensive line will see a couple of tweaks; La'el Collins is likely to step back into the starting lineup at left guard for free-agent departure Ronald Leary, and indications are right tackle Doug Free will retire despite no official announcement yet. Elliott's line still features fellow All-Pros Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. The departure of Dunbar, who averaged about 10 snaps per game, might mean even more snaps and perhaps an expanded receiving role for Elliott, who appeared in over 70 percent of the offensive plays last year. Elliott has proven he can be a three-down player, but McFadden and Morris are great options to ensure the second-year back isn't overworked.

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