Even though running back could be a problem for Dallas down the line, the team doesn’t need to address the position early in the draft. That has nothing to do with the Cowboys and everything to do with the nature of running backs.
Namely, running backs are notoriously difficult to evaluate because they’re so dependent on their teammates for success. NFL teams are horribly inefficient at identifying running back talent, with late-round backs—particularly those from small schools—offering way more value than early-round selections.
With the running back market being more or less random, it doesn’t make much sense to pay up for one. If you can basically get in the fifth round what you could grab in the second, why not just wait?
There are still some key ways to identify breakout backs—indicators a lot of NFL teams are overlooking. They are:
- Explosiveness (40-yard dash and broad jump)
- Weight (more specifically, body-mass index)
- Pass-catching ability
The 40-yard dash is the best predictor of success for running backs. For so long, teams have sought speed in wide receivers when they should be seeking it in backs. Note that the broad jump is also a really good proxy for explosiveness, while the short shuttle is the most overrated measurable.
Do running backs really need to be “quicker than fast”? The numbers don’t suggest so.
Note that outside of the generic “pass-catching ability,” you won’t find many college stats on here. While college stats are important and underutilized by NFL teams at a lot of positions, they don’t matter for running backs because, again, they’re so dependent on their teammates for production. Actually, the fact that NFL teams have generally emphasized college stats in backs is a major reason that inefficiency exists in the marketplace.
With those characteristics in mind, let’s take a look at my top four mid- to late-round running back prospects whom Dallas should consider.