The Dallas Cowboys could still find Ezekiel Elliott’s replacement.
As suggested by CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo, the Cowboys could be the “best fit” for free agent running back Leonard Fournette. The 28-year-old Fournette is a former No. 4 overall draft pick is coming off of a three-year stint mostly spent as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
DeArdo argues that Fournette would make sense as a complement to starter Tony Pollard and as a replacement for Elliott, the Cowboys’ former starting running back.
“In Dallas, Fournette could return to his Playoff Lenny form while complementing starter Tony Pollard and rookie Deuce Vaughn,” writes DeArdo. “Still just 28, Fournette would give the Cowboys an experienced runner who could help them break their 28-year Super Bowl drought. Like Clowney, Fournette is surely motivated to have a bounce-back season after during a rocky 2022 campaign.”
Why the Cowboys Should Sign Leonard Fournette
The veteran running back is coming off of a down rushing season with the Buccaneers, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. For perspective, that was the worst yards per carry average among the league’s top 46 rushers.
While the efficiency was lacking, it’s worth noting that the low average was more likely due to the Buccaneers’ offensive line than Fournette’s running. Rookie running back Rachaad White — who shared the backfield with Fournette during the second half of the 2022 season — averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.
As Ian Valentino of Pro Football Network notes, Fournette can still contribute as a pass-catcher and short-yardage option.
“The Buccaneers’ offensive line was unable to open any rushing lanes for Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White but it’s also not surprising teams haven’t rushed to sign Fournette,” writes Valentino. “Now 28 and coming out of a loaded draft at the position, we have more clarity on where Fournette can be a solid backup or second-fiddle in a 1A, 1B situation. He can still produce on short-yardage situations and as a pass-catcher.”
If there was one category that Fournette excelled in during the 2022 season, it was as Tom Brady’s safety valve. Due to playing behind a porous offensive line, Brady was forced to get rid of the ball quick very often. Fournette emerged as one of Brady’s favorite targets, catching 73 passes for 523 receiving yards and four touchdowns. His number of receptions and receiving yards actually ranked third among all running backs in those categories.
Cowboys Still Lacking Viable Options Outside of Tony Pollard
Over the course of his career, Fournette has started 61 of his 73 appearances. Among active players, his 1,444 touches ranks 10th and he’s also ranked within the top six in total touches in a single season on two different occasions.
The Cowboys didn’t exactly solve their running back void through the 2023 NFL Draft. In fact, their lone selection at running back was Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn in the sixth round. Vaughn projects more as a specialty back considering his size at 5-foot-5, 176 pounds.
Outside of Pollard and Vaughn, Dallas’ other options at running back are Malik Davis — who has one year of experience — and Ronald Jones, Fournette’s former backup and teammate in Tampa Bay.
Considering Fournette’s experience and versatility, he likely projects as the best replacement for Elliott from the free agency market.