“With the third pick in the 2016 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers select Joey Bosa. Defensive end, Ohio State.”
As the commissioner welcomed Bosa to the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys were on the clock, and they used every second they had. For 10 minutes, fans of America’s team held their collective breath. All over twitter, Cowboys nation publically made their wish. Some wanted Ezekiel Elliott, the electric running back out of Ohio State. Others wanted to bolster the secondary by adding the athletic defensive back Jalen Ramsey out of Florida State.
Elliott fans got their wish. Ramsey fans were crushed.
The stud running back from Ohio State will join the crowded backfield in Dallas that already has Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, and recently signed Alfred Morris. Make no mistake though, the lead back in that committee will be Ezekiel Elliott.
In fact, as crowded as that backfield sounds, it really isn’t.
Lance Dunbar’s season ended in early October last season due to a torn ACL. There is a very good possibility he begins the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he completes his rehab. Even when healthy, Dunbar is a change-of-pace back; far from the “bell cow running back” Elliott described himself as in a conference call last night with the Dallas media.
Darren McFadden turned in a very solid year last season, especially considering he wasn’t given the full opportunity from week 1. However, his injury history can’t be ignored and it’s not a stretch to imagine him playing 8-10 games this season. In fact, with the Elliott pick, McFadden may not even be a lock to make the final 53-man roster, even though owner Jerry Jones said he is “very much in the picture.”
Alfred Morris was signed almost exactly a month ago from the Washington Redskins and though he may be a valuable asset, his production has tailed off quite a bit the last few years so there is no guarantee.
The pick also makes sense when looking to the long term. McFadden, who was the last running back to be selected with the fourth overall pick, will be 29 years old at the start of next season and is in the final year of his contract. Morris is only under contract for two years. Elliott is expected to man the backfield for the next five years at least.
Having veteran company in the backfield right now will also help Elliott get acclimated to the NFL game and allow him to split carries so he doesn’t get run into the ground.
Elliott was the one player that was available that could help the team on offense with their running game and passing game, and the defense. The running game help is pretty self-explanatory. You put a talented athlete like Elliott behind the best offensive line in football, great things will happen. But that will also open up the passing game because of how much the defense will have to respect the backfield.
The play-action will be a lot more effective and receivers and tight ends will have more one-on-one matchups as the defense loads the box to stop the run. If they choose to cover the receivers, Elliott can shred them on the ground.
The defensive help Elliott provides is fairly simple; it keeps them off the field as Elliott pushes for first down yardage other runners might not get. No matter how bad a defense is, they can’t give up points if they aren’t on the field. This is a formula that worked to perfection in 2014 when the Cowboys finished second in the NFL in time of possession, controlling the ball for 32:22 minutes per game.
Aside from the help Elliott provides the offense and defense, there is one player on the team who benefits the most: Tony Romo.
The obvious thing here is Elliott’s solid pass protection ability. The stats however, tell an even bigger story. Arguably Romo’s best season of his career came in 2014, when he threw for 3,705 yards and 34 touchdowns. It also happens to be the only season in his career that he averaged less than 30 attempts per game because he was turning around and handing the ball to DeMarco Murray 392 times.
Over the course of his career, the Cowboys are 37-11 when Romo throws fewer than 30 passes in a game as opposed to 41-38 when he throws more than 30 passes. Elliott will play a factor in trying to keep that number under 30.
Since their dynasty in the nineties, the best season the Cowboys have had was in 2014 when they earned the division crown, won a playoff game, and were a controversial no catch call away from advancing to the NFC Championship game. In that season, the team had a running back they could trust who led the league in rushing. With the fourth overall pick last night, they believe they have found that guy once again.
Follow Saad on Twitter @SaadYousuf126 for more insights as the NFL Draft resumes over the weekend.