Whether or not Ezekiel Elliott appeals and gets his 6-game suspension reduced or not, the Dallas Cowboys are still going to be a team that heavily relies on the running game, only with other players helping take the pressure off quarterback Dak Prescott.
Just before starting his second season in the NFL, Elliott, who was Pro Bowler, first-team All-Pro and offensive rookie of the year in 2016, is suspended for 6 games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Elliott’s ex-girlfriend raised accusations of domestic violences even before his first NFL game, but inconsistencies and conflicting information dropped the case in terms of the Columbus PD. The NFL however punishes players regardless of what authorities decide to do.
With Elliott gone for a few games, the Cowboys lose someone who rushed for 1631 yards, caught for 363 yards and finished with 16 touchdowns. Entering his second season as well, it could mean we’ll see more passing and confidence from the sidelines in Prescott, who was used less and less conservatively as the season went on in 2016. But still, since the Cowboys finished building the offensive line of their dreams and have been maintaining it for a few years, establishing a ground game comes first.
Prescott can run, but the Cowboys didn’t use him too much in that aspect last season, getting 282 yards and 6 touchdowns from him. Some will be reminded of the Cowboys 2015 season, in which they had very little of Tony Romo and were without DeMarco Murray, who left in free agency. The Cowboys did poorly that year (4-12), but their offensive line was good enough to help Darren McFadden rush for 1089 yards and average 4.6 yards a carry. That’s the plan this season too.
The 30-year old McFadden will probably enjoy a lot more touches than he did last season, playing in just 3 games and carrying the ball 24 times for 87 yards. It had a lot to do with an elbow injury and not just Elliott’s success, but there’s no doubt the former Arkansas star gets a big opportunity to show his worth for the Cowboys and to other NFL teams early in the season.
Besides McFadden, the Cowboys have Alfred Morris, who ran the ball 69 times for 243 yards last season. He has 3 1000+ yard seasons in Washington, and his rookie year alongside a rookie quarterback also yielded over 1600 rushing yards. The Elliott suspension takes him off the waiver bubble, although it’s unclear how much time in the backfield he’ll actually get.
It probably depends on what the Cowboys get out of Rod Smith. The 23 year-old fullback-turned-tailback will be #2 on the RB depth chart while Elliott is out, used for short-distance situations. If the Cowboys get the McFadden-Smith tandem working fine while Prescott continues to develop as a playcaller, Morris won’t be used too often, and Elliott’s absence won’t be that devastating as it could have been.