The late season accolades are starting to roll in, and they are continuing the remarkable story of the two super-rookies for the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott represent the first time two Dallas rookies have been named to the Pro Bowl in franchise history, which is just one more record in a long list they have been instrumental in setting. The first eleven-game win streak, the first time the team has put up nine 400+ yard games offensively, plus a whole Santa’s bag of individual marks. It is all evidence in the case that they may represent the two best draft picks taken together in the team’s history. And that is not just a homer opinion. At NFL.com, Bucky Brooks did a do-over of the 2016 draft. This was the name he would have sent in with the firs-overall selection.
1. LOS ANGELES RAMS
Pick: Jared Goff
Do-over: Dak Prescott
Who knew that Prescott would play at a historic level as a rookie starter? If the Rams had known, they might've pulled the trigger on the ex-Mississippi State star with the first pick.
He also has the Cowboys standing pat with Elliott at number four, which is pretty obvious given the way he has played. That means that, in his view at least, that the Cowboys have two of the top-four overall talents in this year’s class. The rest of the NFL media seems to agree, given that both Elliott and Prescott are seen as being among the leaders for league MVP this year.
But this is a credit to more than just the superb talent that Dak and Zeke have brought to the table. The truth is, that table was set perfectly for both of them. That was evident early in the season, as was covered in regards to Prescott here at BTB back in October. And Sport Illustrated agrees, in their recent look at which teams give the best chance to succeed for their quarterback. This was always assumed to be the case for Elliott, of course, as the Cowboys offensive line was the main reason the team saw him as worthy of the fourth overall selection.
That is the bigger story here. The success of the Cowboys this year goes much deeper than hitting it so big in the draft. It has been built on a years’ long acquisition of top talent. OCC detailed the incredible collection of Pro Bowl talent the front office has brought together, particularly in the Jason Garrett regime. That trio of offensive line stars is the real foundation for this year. Add in some very good receivers, the under-recognized Sean Lee, an underrated secondary, and some emerging defensive linemen, and now the Cowboys are one of the most balanced teams entering the playoffs. And you have to add in the job the coaching staff has done this year putting their players in a position to thrive.
And it must not be forgotten that the brain trust for Dallas made what seemed to be a somewhat risky decision after the debacle that was 2015. They judged that the core of the team was solid, and it was mostly the failure to have a workable plan for the loss of Tony Romo that led to things falling apart last season. They sought to fix that issue, first with Elliott to take pressure off the quarterback position in winning games. A better backup for Romo was also a priority, although the way Prescott was finally selected was one of the greatest strokes of pure good fortune ever. And they kept the coaching staff almost entirely intact, believing that with a couple of better tools in their kit, they could deliver a successful season.
So far, they have been exactly right. With the notable failure to figure out how to get a win when the New York Giants are lined up across from them, the Cowboys have carved a swath through their competition. The myriad records that have fallen, and ones such as the rookie rushing record, season quarterback rating, and team wins in a year that are still threatened, are just a result of the way this team has been constructed to succeed. It is not completely irrelevant that much of the NFL is having something of a down year, with fewer really elite teams at the top, but that takes nothing away from the fact that Dallas is clearly in that elite class now, no matter how small it may be compared to past seasons.
Continuity has also been a subject discussed here, and that is worth bringing up again as we enter the season of coaching change for the NFL. Going back to Brooks’ article, it is certainly arguable that Prescott would not have made much difference for the Rams if they had taken him first overall. He still would have been playing for Jeff Fisher, and while he might have made enough difference for Fisher to be able to continue his quest to lose more games than any other coach in NFL history, Fisher certainly demonstrated very little ability to develop a rookie quarterback with Jared Goff. It is hard to imagine Prescott doing nearly as well on any other team. Of course, part of his success was because of the tragic circumstances surrounding Romo. Had that preseason injury not occurred, Prescott might be what he was expected to be, a backup/developmental quarterback. Had Romo remained healthy (always a major question), we would no doubt be debating just how much upside Prescott actually has this offseason, instead of enjoying the warm and fuzzy knowledge he is the quarterback of the future as well as right now.
The Cowboys are still driving full-speed ahead for the biggest prize of all, but what they have done already is simply phenomenal. Rookies are just not supposed to come in and take over the league, but that is what Dak and Zeke have done. Together, they are the biggest story in the NFL this year, and one of the biggest the league has even seen in its long history. But they are just the most visible part of the story. It takes a team to win in the NFL, and the Cowboys are now one of the two most successful teams in the league, tied with the powerhouse New England Patriots for the best overall record.
It makes the still pervasive sense of worry about just how far this team can go, and the lingering arguments about whether they handled the starting quarterback position, so strange. This team is not only winning now, it is set up for a long stretch of success. Things can go wrong, of course, but right now, just about every indicator is pointing up for Dallas.
The table was perfectly set, but it all came together when Elliott and Prescott were drafted. Part was smart decisions by the personnel staff, and there was also a large measure of luck, especially with Prescott. Still, this was a draft for the ages. We should take a little time to enjoy just how well it has turned out.