The Cowboys raised some eyebrows when they signed North Dakota State’s Hunter Luepke as a UDFA following the draft. Widely regarded as the top FB in the class, Luepke embarks on the difficult task of convincing Dallas the position still has a place in today’s NFL.
Given Mike McCarthy’s respect for the position over the years in Green Bay, and the current state of the Cowboys running back room, this may not be a difficult hill to climb for the 230-pound rookie.
The Cowboys are embarking into some unfamiliar territory this coming season. For the first time in seven years they don’t have an obvious answer for short-yardage situations.
Since joining the club in 2016, Ezekiel Elliott had nobly served that role (and more) in Dallas. But after the Cowboys and Elliott decided to part ways this past offseason, the all-important task is up for grabs.
Tony Pollard, the unquestioned RB1 in Dallas, isn’t an ideal option. He’s capable and willing to pick up the tough yards but it doesn’t play to his strengths as Pollard is best utilized in space. Besides, his game-breaking ability could be diminished if asked to take on the wear and tear of high-impact, short-yardage runs.
The Cowboys selection of Deuce Vaughn in the draft’s latter rounds did little to help in that regard. At 5-foot-5, 176 pounds, Vaughn offers many of the same things as Pollard and is not seen as a viable solution for short-yardage.
Free-agent signee Ronald Jones could factor into the equation, as could second-year man Malik Davis. But the best option could be that versatile UDFA Dallas signed after the draft.
Luepke isn’t just a traditional FB, he’s also a lead back. He rushed for 1,665 yards and 24 touchdowns throughout his college career, even winning MVP honors in the FCS Championship Game.
While his skillset may not translate to a traditional RB role in the NFL, his stocky build, physical playing style and ball security (only 1 fumble in the last 269 carries) make him an attractive option in short yardage for the Cowboys.
His versatility is noteworthy because it helps him gain a roster spot and makes his responsibilities on any given play less transparent than a standard short-yardage specialist.
Referred to by draft analysts Dane Brugler as “one of the best pass-catching fullback prospects in recent memory,” Luepke averaged 17.6 yards/reception over his career and has played in the backfield, on the line, and in the slot.
Having a player who can be a lead blocker and short yardage runner is valuable enough to earn a roster spot on a McCarthy offense, his ability to play H-back and take on pass-catching roles downfield just adds to his value on the team.
It was important for the Cowboys to find a RB who could take the tough yards off Pollard’s plate this season. Keeping the RB1 fresh is almost as important as converting the short-yardage. Luepke has the potential to offer all that and more.
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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire