In the immediate aftermath of the Dallas Cowboys spending the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft on running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys were criticized by some notable sports media pundits.
Chief among the critics? One Bob Sturm of the Ticket:
Look at it this way: They paid almost nothing for Darren McFadden last year … then took away Tony Romo … then Dez Bryant … then McFadden was not given the ball 11-plus times in a game until mid-October. Without being able to run zone plays with any effectiveness and only starting 10 games with no quarterback threat, he still finished fourth in the league in rushing. Odds are, if he started all 16, he might have won a rushing title. And they paid nothing for him. Does it make sense to pay a fortune to fix that? What needed fixing that couldn’t have been accomplished for far less? In other words, Elliott is great, but you just bought a Maserati while living with your parents. It is a very nice car. But, perhaps we should move out of dad’s house. The argument for a second- or third-round running back was always this: Why not get 80 percent of Ezekiel Elliott for 30 percent of the cost. In the third round, according to the point chart, pick No. 67 is about 14 percent of pick No. 4. Sigh. Keep in mind the total cost of Elliott is going to be about five years/$36 million if they pick up his option (which they better) — in other words, way more than 24-year-old Lamar Miller got from Houston in free agency. So, yeah, he better be Adrian Peterson for this to make sense.
But, they did it. They are going for it. And they got a fine player. I just thought their quest for efficiency was incredibly inefficient. With a 53-man roster in a tight salary capped league, frivolous purchases seldom pay off.
Tim Cowlishaw, the Dallas Morning News heavyweight sportswriter, was initially critical of the pick, too. But he changed his mind:
I was never against taking Elliott for anything related to his skills. At Ohio State, winning the national championship here at AT&T Stadium and then playing at a high level again in 2015, he looked the part as a runner, as a receiver and as a man who finds the end zone (41 times the last two years).
My hesitation was based on the fact that this team can get considerable production from Darren McFadden (1,089 rushing yards in 2015) and presumably Alfred Morris because of the size and strength of this offensive line. Why not fix the defense with that highest pick, now that quarterback has been eliminated by the Rams and Eagles trading up?
The reality is that one player — cornerback Jalen Ramsey or defensive end Joey Bosa — would certainly stand to upgrade the team’s weaker unit. But by how much exactly?
Ramsey was so highly thought of at Florida State that he had just one interception last year. Quarterbacks didn’t throw his way. At least that’s the explanation. As for Bosa, do you have to worry about his one-game suspension at the start of 2015 for refusal to take a drug test?
On this team, with two defensive ends already facing four-game suspensions to start 2016, is the addition of Bosa a toxic idea?
Maybe there are no significant reasons to be concerned about either of these players. But here’s what we know: If Elliott arrives and runs behind this line as he would seem capable of doing — think DeMarco Murray in 2014 — how high a level does this offense reach with the return of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant?
These two boil down the argument quite well.
Why Ezekiel Elliott:
- The defense needs fixing. Suspended pass rushers on a defense that struggled a year ago to get any pressure on the opposing quarterback means the Cowboys could be buried out of the gate.
- The defensive backfield features aserviceable or less-than-serviceable workforce in Brandon Carr (three INTs in each of his first two years in Dallas and NONE the past two seasons), four-year veteran Morris Claiborne (one INT each of his first three seasons in Dallas and none last year), and the “anchor” of the crew Orlando Scandrick (coming off of major knee surgery).
- Even the linebackers are a questionable force, with Sean Lee’s brutal history with season-ending injuries and Rolando McClain’s incessant dust-ups with the rule committee.
- The offensive line is so good that it even resurrected the career of Darren McFadden, who was himself a fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, and is considered a bust, having eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing only once in his career prior to coming to Dallas.
Top five picks do not come along very often and this was a chance to get a difference-maker on the defense for years to come.
That’s the argument.
Why not Ezekiel Elliott:
Reasons to draft him:
- DeMarco Murray. In 2014, behind this offensive line, DeMarco Murray set the Dallas Cowboys single-season rushing record with 1845 yards on from the line of scrimmage. Jones and Co. took plenty of heat last off-season, when they elected not to sign Murray to a massive long-term deal. The thinking was that he was 30 (old for a running back), had a history of injury problems, and just about any NFL-quality running back could be plugged in behind that line and succeed. They were right, but the level of success was not the same. Elliott represents an opportunity to make a long-term investment in a 20 year old with an ever more impressive skill set.
- Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett. Dallas Cowbys history boasts two of the finest running backs to ever grace an NFL field. Each of them helped lead their respective teams to Super Bowl wins. Emmitt remains the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
- The Triplets. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin won three Super Bowls together in the ’90s. Can Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Ezekiel Elliott be Triplets Two (or, Triplets To – whichever)?
- The defense. A ball control offense keeps the defense off the field. Over-expose any defense and eventually fatigue will set in and it will breakdown. The best defense is a clock-eating offense.
It is the official position of SilverAndBlueBlood.com that picking Elliott was the right thing. Bosa was gone to the Chargers and has made some poor decisions off the field. Jalen Ramsey, for all of his athletic prowess and ability to play his position at a high level, is anything but a ballhawk, which this defense needs. He may prove to be a shutdown corner, but does that alone get you as close to a Super Bowl as a dominant running game to complement the Romo-Bryant-Witten passing game?
Time will tell.
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