The hits just keep coming for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line as they now prepare to be without their best pass rusher. DeMarcus Lawrence is likely to be facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse program. So, for everyone counting at home that puts the Cowboys down two starters that they expected to have in week one against the New York Giants. We're but a week away from the draft, so naturally, many folks are seeing a black hole along the defensive line and penciling in Joey Bosa.
That would be the wrong way to look at it as Bosa has his own concerns that follow him into the NFL. In any case, if the Cowboys are all-in for Jalen Ramsey, this shouldn't change their pick. Load up on the defensive backs and hope they can hang on until the troops roll back in week five. However, what this does possibly do is raise the question about the catalytic running back that, barring any unforeseen circumstance, should be staring them in the face at four.
The Cowboys won 12 regular season games in 2014 behind a dynamic rushing attack and it really helped their defense out quite a bit. Of course, they lost in the divisional round because they had absolutely no pass rush. This situation may be a little different. They will eventually get two pass rushers back that they believe can make a difference for them in 2016. They currently have a defensive line that consists of Jack Crawford, Cedric Thornton, Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, and Benson Mayowa. Is this enough? Not likely. So does this make a bigger case for Ezekiel Elliott, you bet your pants it does.
Due to the devaluation of the position, it's really hard for folks to get behind taking a running back as high as fourth overall. However, it's about time that folks find a way to swallow that notion. Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden can get the job done, but is that good enough? Not for me. If they end up taking Ezekiel Elliott, we'll know exactly how they feel about him. It would certainly make a ton of sense.
Before we start riling up the Elliott naysayers, understand that he's a completely different back than the ones on this roster. I don't know if there is a player that makes this team immediately better in the way Elliott does on the day after the draft. Pro Football Focus wrote a column over a month ago on Elliott and called him the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. They added this little bit:
Though it’s always nice to see RB prospects who are home-run hitters, on a down-to-down basis Elliott’s ability to grind an extra yard or two out of every play may be far more important. When you add that to his ability as a blocker both in the run and pass game you get a player who is more accomplished and polished than most running backs that have come into the league in the last decade or so.
Elliott is a throwback to an era when running backs were complete focal points of the offense rather than just interesting complementary pieces to a passing attack.
That right there is enough to get this offensive line excited and possibly some salivation from the coaches. Elliott is the real deal, but it's what Urban Meyer said that really put it into perspective:
"[Elliott's] the best player I've ever coached without the ball in his hand," Meyer said. "Think about that for a minute."
Then there was a respected ESPN Analyst in Louis Riddick, who "went out on a limb" to suggest that the Cowboys really admire Zeke:
"I would probably go pass rush -- I don't think they're gonna go pass rush. I would consider taking a quarterback -- I don't think they'll take a quarterback. I think -- I've kind of been out on a limb on this, Jalen -- I think they're gonna take Ezekiel Elliott. I think they see Emmitt Smith. I think they say he's 1,500 yards on offense as a running back for the next -- for at least his first contract. That'll help Tony Romo out as much as anything. That'll get that offense really humming. They'll try and fix the defense. They'll try and do some things in the top part of the second round, third round, as far as trying to address that, but I think that's the player they're gonna get."
I don't know if they truly believe they see Emmitt Smith, but he's not far off his mark when talking about how Elliott helps the team. If Dallas is really about helping out Romo as much as they constantly say they are, Riddick could be exactly on the money.
No player in this draft helps out Romo more immediately than Ezekiel Elliott. Romo's best year as a passer also came in 2014 as we are all aware. A year in which the offense averaged nearly 30 points a game and were second to only Super Bowl particpants Seattle Seahawks in rushing yards. A year where Tony Romo dominated the statistics in passer rating, third down percentage, and QBR. Having a dominant rushing attack was a huge part of that. Just read these words from our very own Joey Ickes, a guy who watches a ton of film, folks.
Ezekiel Elliott is the type of rare running back prospect that defies the "positional value" arguments typically made to dispute the theory of drafting runners early. He will walk into the locker room of the team that drafts him as one of their best offensive weapons, and will improve that team's running game on day one. He will fit in either a zone or gap running scheme, and will be a productive player.
If he is selected by the Cowboys he would combine with the offensive line to give them the premier running game in the NFL, and would be the absolute front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. His ability to play all three downs, convert short yardage runs, and finish drives with touchdowns would provide a lift for the entire team, and help cover up several of the weaknesses on the roster as currently constructed.
There are those out there that will point at DeMarco Murray not being a special back, 2015 may give those some more ammunition. That's true and Murray had 1,895 yards and set franchise records behind this offensive line. In Murray's defense, he's a better back than what Morris or McFadden are. So it all goes back to what I wrote many weeks ago, why aspire to be good when you can be great?
Think about what a dynamic runner like Elliott could do for the Cowboys in 2016. This is all coming from a guy who is on the Ramsey train. I'm fine if that's where Dallas goes at four. However, Elliott has earned his spot in the argument and very well could win it come next Thursday. The best defense in 2014 was the Cowboys' offense as it allowed the defense to be fresh and force a whopping 31 turnovers. If Dallas goes Elliott on day one, we'll know that this offense will ditch being a decent running team and leap back into rushing dominance.