5 Running Backs the Dallas Cowboys May Target in the 2013 NFL Draft

Peter MatarazzoContributor IFebruary 26, 2013

5 Running Backs the Dallas Cowboys May Target in the 2013 NFL Draft

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    Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones recently stated that the team would be in the market for a running back this offseason. And with Felix Jones slated for free agency, along with the need to upgrade from Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, it's time to start looking at the options.

    Basically there are two options to choose from: free agency and the draft. In my estimation, if the Cowboys are going to revamp this position correctly, then they need to attack this position from both sources.

    Adding a veteran to the mix would provide experience and insurance while replacing Jones as the primary backup. Drafting a prospect would be the perfect complement to round out the position and provide an upgrade over Dunbar and Tanner.

    Right now it's hard to speculate about the resources available to the Cowboys based on the salary cap situation, so targeting a running back in the draft is becoming more critical.

    Let's look at five prospects the Cowboys may target and how they can bolster this running game.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford

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    Taylor is a 5'9", 215-pound running back that was the engine of the Stanford offense. He is a great all-around back, he has great vision as he seeks out the hole, he's got a compact build and the thing I like about him is that he's not afraid to lower his shoulder and avoid contact.

    Watching his game footage you see a player with a well-rounded skill set who was productive against some pretty elite competition. Taylor could be that ideal No. 2 back as a rookie or he can contribute behind Murray and a veteran for a season as he transitions to the pro game.

    For the Cowboys offense, Taylor could also be a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and use his elusiveness to move the chains and make big plays. As far as the draft is concerned, Taylor could be a nice third-round selection for the Cowboys and a solid addition to the team.

Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State

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    Bell has nice size as a 6'1", 230-pound back, and he led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,793 yards. He always seemed to get less publicity than Wisconsin's Montee Ball, but Bell's game is just as productive. The Cowboys would be fortunate to land Bell in the mid-rounds and he, like Taylor, would be an ideal fit as an immediate contributor.

    There is a lot to like about Bell's game for obvious reasons. He played elite competition and excelled in big games, he's got great play speed and good vision and his downhill style makes him tough to bring down. When you watch his tape it's routine to see him dragging defenders, and that says a lot about his mental approach to the game.

    Jerry Jones better be watching for this kid.

Christine Michael, Texas A&M

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    Michael dealt with injuries the past two seasons, but there is a lot to like about this runner. He's solidly built at 5''11" and 220 pounds, he's physical, he's got nice speed and, like Taylor and Bell, would also be an outstanding No. 2 back.  For the Cowboys, the biggest key is finding that nice complement to DeMarco Murray.

    The downhill, deceptive and adaptable running back is what the Cowboys should be looking for, and this is another fine example. If Michael could stay healthy at the next level, then he's capable of being a three-down back. With Murray's history of injury, finding a young back capable of carrying the load will help sustain the running game.

    Without a running game, say hello to more 8-8 seasons and Tony Romo Houdini impersonations.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon

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    Should the Cowboys want a more top-end speed running back they tried to develop in Felix Jones, then Barner is the guy. Barner is 5'9" and 190 pounds, but think explosiveness, burst, acceleration and fast cuts. He could be the ultimate home run threat who only needs a crack and it's off to the races.

    Durability could be a factor in where he lands in the draft, and for the Cowboys you have to believe that his playmaking ability could catch the eye of Jerry Jones. Another factor in selecting Barner would be his ability in pass protection and picking up blitzers.

    Because Oregon usually dominated their opponents offensively with Chip Kelly's up-tempo style, Barner may have stunted his growth as a complete back. But his upside is huge and so is his talent, which is undeniable. His 321-yard, five-touchdown performance against Monte Kiffin's USC defense was ridiculous in nature, but that's what he can do.

    I don't know if Barner is the right fit for the Cowboys, but if he falls into the laps of this offense, it would be an intriguing proposition.

Jonathan Franklin, UCLA

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    The more I watch Franklin play, the more I like his game and my run on Pac-12 running backs. With a similar build to Taylor and Bell, Franklin really possesses a nice all-around game and uses that change-of-direction type of running style.

    When he gets to the second level and into the open field, you can really see his ability to take it to the house. He really excels by using his instincts, and when you watch the tape it jumps out at you. He runs hard, makes the most of every play by showing patience and he has a high ceiling.

    He had two 200-yard games at UCLA and frequently took over football games for Jim Mora Jr. Franklin is not an elite back and he doesn't possess game-breaking speed, but the Cowboys need to improve their depth at running back and Franklin will be there in the mid-rounds.

    It's hard to imagine Jerry Jones using a second-round pick on a running back, so the mid-rounds are critical in improving this area. Undrafted free agents aren't always the way to fill cracks in the roster, and Phillip Tanner, and his lack of development, is an example of that.

    The Cowboys can't take chances with the health issues and depth issues at running back anymore. By targeting these five players and being opportunistic in the draft and free agency, the running back position should easily improve.

    Let's hope it improves the status quo of mediocrity as well.