Whether you agree or disagree with it, the Dallas Cowboys made very few external moves in free agency this offseason. Most of the moves made by the front office were based on players who were already on the roster. The team chose to re-sign players like Leighton Vander Esch, Dalton Schultz, Malik Hooker, Dorance Armstrong, and more to fill position needs. Many Cowboys fans spent most of February through April waiting for Stephen Jones to fulfill his promise of making continued moves in free agency.
However, the Cowboys did make three external decisions while the rest of the NFL was bolstering their rosters. Those three moves were signing former Steelers WR James Washington, former Falcons DE Dante Fowler Jr., and former Bears fullback Ryan Nall. The first two decisions made sense. With the departures of Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, and Randy Gregory, Dallas had big holes to fill in the receiver and defensive end corps.
The signing of Nall in April seemed a bit odd on the surface. Nall is a great special teams player, but he’s started zero games in his three years in the NFL, and the team already had three running backs on the roster. The former Bear has participated in 33 games and only rushed for 12 yards and totaled 71 receiving yards. Special teams was where he did the most work.
So, how will he help the Cowboys? Why did they bother adding him? For starters, it seems like they prefer him to others who were already on the roster. Earlier this month, the team announced they were releasing fullback Sewo Olonilua. That alone gives Nall a bump up the roster.
How can external signee Ryan Nall make an impact with the Cowboys?
In a recent article by Cowboys reporter David Helman, the writer pointed out some key reasons as to why the front office may have wanted to bring Nall aboard. One thing that Helman discussed was head coach Mike McCarthy’s distinction for using a fullback in his prior offenses:
“This could be an interesting litmus test for the Cowboys’ coaching staff. Mike McCarthy has a bit of a reputation for valuing the fullback role. He employed John Kuhn throughout much of his tenure in Green Bay, helping Kuhn reach three Pro Bowls as a fullback. The Cowboys also made special use of the fullback spot last year, as they famously developed a package for Connor McGovern to serve as a jumbo back.”
However, last year, there were times when offensive coordinator Kellen Moore tended to lean on a tight end or offensive lineman to do the serious blocking. Because of this, Nall needs to prove that his blocking ability is good enough to earn him a spot on the running backs/fullback roster. Special teams’ excellence is a plus, but he will need more than that to keep him on the final roster. So far, he’s already beaten out one former Cowboy in that process.
In college, Nall accrued 2,216 career rushing yards, ranking him ninth in Oregon State football history. Is this going to catapult him above Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, or even Rico Dowdle? Likely not. But if he can combine impressive blocking, backup running back ability, and impactful special teams play, there’s a chance he may become a versatile threat on this roster.