For the first time in recent memory, the Cowboys are expected to take a committee approach at running back. For years, Dallas has preferred the workhorse and dual models at the position. Ezekiel Elliott was the bell cow for the first half of his career and with the arrival of Tony Pollard, the Dallas RBs started working as a tandem.
With Elliott now in New England and Pollard slated to be the unquestioned RB1, the Cowboys are forced to take a different approach in 2023.
Pollard is expected to take on bigger workload, but he’s never surpassed 200 carries in his career. To remain explosive, he’ll need other RBs to help carry the load.
Who carries the load behind him is a matter of debate heading into the new season. The RB room consists of two rookies and a 25-year-old with seven total carries to his name. There’s no clear answer to replace Elliott in the duo format, so the Cowboys will likely use a full committee approach.
Such a strategy allows the Cowboys to play to their specific players’ strength and let their young runners do what they do best. Deuce Vaughn dropped jaws in the preseason but he’s extraordinarily undersized and may not be able to contribute much in pass-protection or short-yardage runs.
Hunter Luepke looked like a capable runner but seemed best suited to be the short-yardage runner and third down specialist (good in pass-protection and receiving). Rico Dowdle appears to have the most well-rounded skillset behind Pollard but he has an injury history longer than a ballpark bathroom line. Dallas also doesn’t want to overwork this top special teams player.
Taking a committee approach at running back isn’t without its drawbacks, either. While it lets the Cowboys focus their guys on their best tasks, it also tends to tip their hand to opponents.
If Vaughn enters the game on 3rd-and-2, the defense can probably surmise he’s not going to be pounding the ball up the middle. They’ll know to look for the pass and cover the edge and flat.
Similarly, if Luepke enters on 3rd-and-2, they will be more inclined to protect the middle and become less concerned with a run bouncing outside.
The Cowboys will have to find a way to play to their various players’ strengths without tipping their hand in regard to their play call.
Ideally, Pollard would handle 80% of the duties since he can do it all effectively. But that’s probably not a realistic expectation for Pollard since they want him fresh and explosive for all 17+ weeks of the season.
They need a committee but can’t be transparent in how they use it.