A reset at running back might look different for the Cowboys 8 years after drafting Ezekiel Elliott

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys had to reset at running back eight years ago, when they drafted Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall and watched him lead the NFL in rushing twice in his first three seasons.

They won't be drafting a running back that high in their first reset at the position since 2016, in part because they don't have a pick until late in the first round April 25. Dallas is at No. 24.

Another part is the Cowboys aren't so sure a dominant back is the way to go, particularly after Elliott's expensive extension in 2019 was never matched by his production.

“You have complementary backs in this league,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said. “It’s become the norm. I see us not just fixing it with one player ... but more than one player.”

In 2016, the Cowboys were coming off a season in which they struggled to replace their lead back from the previous year.

Joseph Randle was the choice after DeMarco Murray left in free agency, and didn't even make it to the end of 2015. Veteran castoff Darren McFadden had to fill the void.

Elliott's replacement in 2023, Tony Pollard, was a much better option, but not the impact player the Cowboys hoped with their 2019 fourth-round pick playing on the $10.1 million franchise tag. Pollard signed with Tennessee in free agency.

McFadden was still around when Dallas drafted Elliott, and had more than 5,000 yards rushing for his career.

At the moment, the four running backs on the Dallas roster who saw the field for the Cowboys last season have 163 carries for 605 yards and four touchdowns combined for their careers.

A reunion with Elliott, who played for New England last season, is possible for Dallas, although the odds got steeper with the free agent signing of journeyman Royce Freeman this week.

The draft should still be in play at running back for the Cowboys, who are coming off a third consecutive 12-win playoff season but have just one postseason victory in that stretch.

Texas' Jonathan Brooks, who is recovering from a major knee injury, is the highest-rated running back in the draft, according to, and the only one among the top 30 prospects.

“We don’t have an established back in the organization right now,” Jones said. “Certainly something that we’ll be looking at there in terms of getting young there again and going again.”


Conventional wisdom has the Cowboys taking an offensive lineman after the free agency departures of eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith to the New York Jets and center Tyler Biadasz to Washington.

Dallas doesn't necessarily have to target a position on the offensive front. Tyler Smith, who filled in for Tyron Smith as a rookie when the elder Smith was hurt in 2022, could go back to left tackle. He played left guard last season.

The Cowboys believe they have some solid internal candidates at center, where T.J. Bass filled in when Biadasz was hurt last season.

Duke's Graham Barton, who spent most of his college career at left tackle, and Jackson Powers-Johnson, the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation's best center with Oregon, show up more than once apiece on mock drafts on


Quarterback has been fertile ground for offseason sports talk shows as it relates to the Cowboys. With Dak Prescott not under contract past 2024 — the same is true for backup Cooper Rush and third-teamer Trey Lance — it makes sense for Dallas to target QB in the draft. It would be a stretch to call it a need.


The Cowboys have two promising young tight ends from the past two drafts in Jake Ferguson (2022 fourth round) and Luke Schoonmaker (2023 second round). They still like 2022 undrafted free agent Peyton Hendershot despite an injury-shortened second season.



Schuyler Dixon, The Associated Press