For the first time since 2016, the Cowboys will have a starting running back in Week 1 not named Ezekiel Elliott.
The Zeke era in Dallas is over, as Jerry Jones elected to let the running back walk in free agency, paving the way for Tony Pollard to officially lead the backfield after he broke out last season and eventually overtook Elliott as the team’s starting option.
So with Elliott now in New England, Pollard is the starting running back in a room that also includes fourth-year back Rico Dowdle, rookie Deuce Vaughn and veteran Super Bowl champion Ronald Jones.
The Cowboys have Super Bowl aspirations and expectations yet again, but playing in a tough NFC East is not going to make things easy in Jerry World. Strong running back play paired with Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and the passing game is going to be crucial for Dallas this season.
Here is what to know about the Cowboys’ running back depth chart without Elliott.
Cowboys RB depth chart
1. Tony Pollard
Pollard is the clear-cut No. 1 running back for the Cowboys, getting his first full season as the Dallas starter. He’s coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2022 where he rushed for a career-high 1,007 yards with nine touchdowns. Pollard also had 39 receptions for 371 yards and three scores.
Dallas used the franchise tag on Pollard this offseason, which carries a cap hit of $10.9 million. The Memphis product enters his fifth season in the league with much heavier expectations now that Elliott is gone and he has full control of the backfield.
2. Rico Dowdle
After four years with the organization, Dowdle is finally healthy and ready to be the backup to Pollard. Dowdle signed with the Cowboys in 2020 after going undrafted, acting as the third-string running back behind Elliott and Pollard.
Injuries have kept Dowdle mostly off the field the last three seasons. In total, the South Carolina product has just 20 games of NFL experience, 15 of which came during his rookie season in 2020. He made five appearances in 2022, but did not get a single touch. Dowdle is fairly inexperienced, but the Cowboys have liked what they have seen so far to make him the No. 2 running back.
3. Deuce Vaughn
Don’t tell Vaughn that he’s too small for anything. The 5-foot-5 sixth-round pick out of Kansas State made the Cowboys roster and is slated as the No. 3 running back on the depth chart for Dallas.
Vaughn totaled 1,558 rushing yards in college last season with nine touchdowns, also adding 348 receiving yards, and finished his three-year Kansas State career with 3.604 rushing yards, the second most in school history. He may not see a ton of action to start, but the spark plug caught eyes during training camp.
4. Ronald Jones
The veteran Jones rounds out the running back room for Dallas. After spending four years with the Buccaneers and one year with the Chiefs, the 26-year-old signed a one-year deal this offseason with the Cowboys. He played just six games in 2022, rushing for 70 yards on 17 attempts with a single TD.
Fans won’t be seeing the sixth-year RB the first two weeks of the season. In addition to battling a groin injury, Jones was the recipient of a two-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Unless injuries hit the backfield, don’t expect to see much from Jones in 2023.