Cowboys: Time for RB Darius Jackson to Prove Himself

Aug 1, 2016; Irvine, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Darius Jackson (34) carries the ball at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 1, 2016; Irvine, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Darius Jackson (34) carries the ball at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cowboys lesser-acclaimed rookie RB, Darius Jackson, can’t waste time establishing himself on the team.

The 2016 version of the Dallas Cowboys take the field tonight in their first preseason game of the year. For fringe players like running back Darius Jackson, the time to prove his worth  is now.

Despite having a rather large cult following, rookie RB Darius Jackson faces an uphill battle making the final 53-man roster this year. Players like Ezekiel Elliot, Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar all appear to be comfortably situated above him on the depth chart. Since it’s nearly impossible for the Cowboys to keep those four runners AND Jackson, young Darius will need to supplant at least one of them.

Darius Jackson, 6’1” 220lbs, is, what scientists call, an athletic freak. Both powerful and agile, Jackson can beat opponents a number of different ways. He can power through a hole lowering his shoulders to collect the tough yards, or he can simply outmaneuver and burn opponents with his long speed (4.35 second 40 time).

His Eastern Michigan game film shows a diverse collection of running styles. At times he looks like a patient runner that can thrive in a zone blocking scheme (ZBS) like the Dallas Cowboys like to run. At other times he looks like a natural hole-hitting RB suited for a man blocking scheme.

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With his game film, it’s been difficult to tell which is his more natural fit and training camp has done little to clarify the issue. That’s why these first few games in the preseason are so important to a player like Darius Jackson.

For someone stuck on the outside looking in, game action is the best way to distinguish himself from his older and more expensive peers. If he can prove he’s a younger, stronger, and faster version of Darren McFadden, the Cowboys won’t hesitate in making the switch.

Advanced analytics are certainly on Darius Jackson’s side.  His pSPARQ score, which measures speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness relative to other RBs, was 149.4. That made him the third highest rated RB in the entire 2016 NFL Draft.

That doesn’t mean he can play football but it does mean he has more God-given talent than nearly everyone else. The Cowboys have been known to sign athletes because of the potential they bring. Darius Jackson is the perfect example of that.

But as I mentioned before, making the team is far from a done deal. Darius Jackson needs to prove he can run patiently behind this offensive line. Because if Jackson can prove he’s better running behind a ZBS than Darren McFadden, (shouldn’t be hard) then he has a shot.

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Keep in mind, the Cowboys didn’t sign Alfred Morris because of his amazing athletic ability – they signed him because he’s a perfect fit for their running scheme. Since one without the other will not work, Darius Jackson must prove he has both. Additionally, it must be proven in preseason games because they offer real-life game situations.

Next, Darius Jackson needs to show he can pass-protect. There is no faster way to the unemployment line than endangering the Dallas Cowboys most valuable player, Tony Romo. Jackson hasn’t been great in training camp and needs to alleviate fears ASAP.

Trust is an important thing and right now the Cowboys trust Morris, McFadden, Dunbar, and Elliott. Jackson has yet to earn that trust.

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Finally, it’s special teams where Jackson must distinguish himself. RB depth is expected to play a part in special teams and right now, only Lance Dunbar, who plays a very minor role) is contributing. Want to be more valuable than Morris or McFadden? Play coverage on special teams. Return kicks. Do something other than play offense…

Players like Darius Jackson are exactly why we watch preseason football. He has ability to be something special in this league but he’s going to have to earn the opportunity these next few weeks.

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The Cowboys are loaded at RB and won’t be able to keep everyone on their final 53-man roster. The time for Darius Jackson to prove himself is now.