There has been quite a bit made over Mike McCarthy’s quotes at the NFL Combine. “I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense,” he told reporters in March. But whether the Dallas Cowboys will actually become more run-heavy in 2023 remains a mystery for now. We’ll all find out for sure in September when they finally take the field in a regular-season game.
Dallas Cowboys RB Depth Chart
Running the ball more is not the answer. When the Cowboys’ win probability was between 20-80%, their first-down passing rate ranked 26th in the NFL. They ran the ball more often on first down in 2022 than they passed it.
Their 0.136 dropback EPA on first down ranked eighth in those instances. Their -0.056 rushing EPA ranked 14th. Not only were the Cowboys better at passing on early downs relative to their rushing attack, but the actual value dwarfed their run game.
McCarthy cited turnovers and resting the defenses as reasons to run the ball more. But Dallas was first in 2021 and second in 2022 in turnover differential.
Public declarations in March mean nothing, particularly when half of what was said isn’t rooted in any sort of reality. But when Pollard is not on the field, who will be receiving the snaps in his place?
Tony Pollard is coming off a serious lower-leg fracture a season ago. However, bones heal, and there is far less to worry about in the long term with a fracture than a ligament tear.
Pollard has been one of the most elusive and explosive runners in the NFL since 2020, although it’s been in a relatively light role compared to the league’s other elite runners.
Which Cowboys’ RBs Will Win Snaps in 2023?
After deciding to part ways with Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys have been busy on the running back front. They added Hunter Luepke as an undrafted free agent, showing the world they may be reimplementing the fullback to the run game in 2023. They also added Ronald Jones on a one-year, $1.5 million deal and drafted Deuce Vaughn in Round 6.
That is in addition to Malik Davis and Rico Dowdle, each of whom has their fans within the organization and Cowboys media. In other words, the Cowboys have options on the RB depth chart.
There will be some very interesting decisions on the final cutdown days and who will land on the practice squad. There are three legitimate tight ends who will make the roster, and Dallas has done a lot of work with Sean McKeon throughout the past few seasons as well. Add in the possibility of a fullback, and things get really interesting at RB.
Jones struggled to get on the field for the Chiefs a season ago behind rookie seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco — and for good reason. Pacheco stole the starting job and never relinquished it. But Jones is still only 26 with under 600 career touches. If he can provide some big-play juice, he could very well end up being the secondary option to Pollard.
Vaughn has the most hype in the group. However, he is a size outlier who will have to be an exception to the rule, just as his mentor Darren Sproles once was, if he’s going to be a successful NFL player.
“I got to meet Darren my sophomore year at Kansas State, and he’s been someone that’s been in my corner ever since,” Vaughn said. “Any time I can be in the same sentence as a guy like Darren Sproles, a guy that played 15 years in this league, top five in all-purpose yards in this league at my size, that’s something I take seriously every single day. I’ve been trying to pick his brain going into this rookie camp and going into OTAs about what I can do to give myself an edge.”
It’s the first time in a long time that Dallas’ depth chart at the position is not relatively set in stone. During an offseason where the Cowboys made a few key moves to improve at wide receiver and cornerback, they also gave themselves plenty of options at the RB position for the 2023 NFL season.