The Cowboys took a big step forward as a team when they committed to running the ball in 2014. The loss of DeMarco Murray will sting a bit, but there are several talented runners in the draft that are capable of running behind an offensive line that is responsible for the bulk of the team's success.
Running a primarily zone-based attack, the Cowboys should look for a decisive "one cut and go" back. Melvin Gordon is probably the best fit for the Cowboys and Todd Gurley is an elite runner, but there's a good chance both will be gone at pick No. 27.
Jay Ajayi, Boise State
Ht. 5116, Wt. 221, Arm: 32”, Hand: 10”, Bench: 19
40 yd: 4.57, 10 yd.: 1.60, 3 Cone: 7.10, Vertical: 39”, Broad: 10’1”
The London-born Ajayi is familiar with North Texas, attending Frisco Liberty High School before heading to Idaho. He's the best running back — and possibly best player — Boise has had, and he broke the school record for rushing touchdowns and rushing and all-purpose yardage last season.
- Strengths: With his frame, willingness in pass protection and good catching ability, he can be a three-down runner. Excellent balance. Patience and vision project him as a good zone runner. Explodes through contact. Good spin move. Decent breakaway speed.
- Weaknesses: Ajayi ran mostly behind man blocking. An eagerness to bounce runs outside will be counterproductive in zone. Ball security issues (carried with inside arm).
Like Gurley, Ajayi might require some time to be most effective in a zone scheme. Like Gordon, he flashes unreal balance and agility to help create yards. He's not an elite prospect, but he's a good mesh of the top two runners.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Ht. 5110, Wt. 206, Arm: 32”, Hand: 8 5/8”, Bench: 22
40 yd: 4.35, 10 yd.: -, 3 Cone: -, Vertical: -”, Broad: -”*
Indiana is not known for their football prowess, but Coleman might be the most dynamic runner in this year's draft. He was unable to show off his speed at the NFL Combine, but he ran a 4.35 40 at his pro day Wednesday, which matched the speed he showed on tape.
- Strengths: He's a home run threat with breakaway speed. Very good in space. Good receiver. Doesn't shy away from contact. Falls forward. Willing in pass protection.
- Weaknesses: He's kind of redundant with Darren McFadden on the roster. Not great between the tackles. Runs tall. Not as powerful as other runners in this class.
Coleman is close to what a lot of people thought Jamaal Charles was as a prospect. He's probably the fastest running back in the draft and is the closest thing to DeMarco Murray — minus the violent style — as a runner. He's not far behind Gordon as a prospect and a solid second-round value.
TJ Yeldon, Alabama
Ht. 6012, Wt. 226, Arm: 31 5/8”, Hand: 9”, Bench: 22
40 yd: 4.61, 10 yd.: 1.63, 3 Cone: 7.19, Vertical: 36”, Broad: 9’9”
Alabama has become a running back factory during the last few years, but their prospects have achieved varying levels of success. T.J. Yeldon is the latest feature runner to make the jump, but he's a different type of back from his predecessors.
- Strengths: Ideal running style for a zone runner. Experience in zone schemes. Decisive and skinny through lanes. Gets what's blocked. Decent in pass protection. Falls forward. Shifty.
- Weaknesses: He doesn't create a lot of yardage as his blockers did most of the work. High cut. Only decent athlete.
In terms of style and experience, Yeldon is the best fit for the Cowboys's scheme. He won't be an elite running back, but he should be very productive behind the Cowboys' offensive line at the cost of only a second-round pick.
Despite the devaluation of running backs in the NFL, the top two will likely be gone when the Cowboys pick at No. 27. The good news for Dallas, though, is that the position is one of the strengths of this year's draft class.
Dallas might have to move up in the second round to get Ajayi or Coleman, but there are enough talented runners in this class that they can afford to hope Yeldon falls.