I love Ezekiel Elliott. In a draft full of great new shiny toys, he's my Little Red Corvette. The thought of watching the running back from Ohio State perform behind the Cowboys offensive line brings me great satisfaction. He will bring things to this offense that wasn't there last year - points, dominating time of possession, and allowing the defense to tee off on quarterbacks who are playing from behind. Basically, all the great things we enjoyed from the 2014 season. I often imagined how good DeMarco Murray would be if he didn't have to swing his arms out so much to reach his top speed. The Cowboys offensive line is great at blocking and Elliott is great at reading the blocks. He is a runner than can exploit the full greatness of the Cowboys big first-round investments in recent years. It's the perfect marriage.
But for many, Zeke is a luxury the Cowboys cannot afford. Running backs aren't valued very high in the draft these days for a handful of reasons, including the wear and tear of the position and the skill-set later-round guys possess. Those are good points and the Cowboys need to be wise on how they use that all-important fourth pick. But there is one thing that gets swept under the rug when it comes to considering a running back in the draft, and that is - a special player can help your team do special things.
Over the last 35 years, there have been four teams that have repeated as Super Bowl Champions.
San Francisco 49ers, 89 & 90
Dallas Cowboys, 92 & 93
Denver Broncos, 97 & 98
New England Patriots, 03 & 04
In those eight championship seasons, all the leading rushers for their respective team have collectively averaged 1,474 yards. A running back that rushes for that many yards isn't that impressive, but keep in mind, that is an eight-year average. These teams that had repeated success in the NFL had a strong running game.
Let's look at how each running back performed during those back-to-back seasons.
Roger Craig, who produced 37 percent of his career total yards as a pass catcher had two 1,000 yards seasons, including a career high 1,502 yards in 1988. Craig isn't a name that is synonymous with great rushing production, but make no mistake about it - the 49ers were heavily invested in him during their Super Bowl wins in the late ‘80s.
When it comes to winning the big game, John Elway was known as the little quarterback that couldn't until Terrell Davis showed up. A strong running game, including a 2,008 yard season from Davis in 1998, helped make the Broncos two-time champions.
I'd talk about how great the Cowboys running back was in the ‘90s, but I wouldn't be breaking any new ground with that one.
The New England Patriots do things a little differently. They are not so reliant on the running game and go through running backs like my wife goes through hair colors - something different for every season. In the last eight years, the Patriots have had six different leading rushers (LaGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Stevan Ridley, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, and Sammy Morris). As great as they've been in those years, they haven't been able to have repeated success since 2004 when Corey Dillion helped out by rushing for 1,635 yards.
All of these champion running backs had career highs in rushing yards during their team's back-to-back Super Bowl hoisting seasons. Well, all except one. Emmitt Smith's 1,713 yards during his 1992 championship season would have been his career high too if he didn't rush for 1,773 yards in 1995, which by the way - was also a championship season.
Over the last eight seasons, the league has witnessed a different Super Bowl Champion and you should see the running back carousel that some of those teams have been through. Yes, the running back position is a rigorous position. Losing time due to injury is something that should be expected, but that shouldn't remove them from the conversation completely. Adrian Peterson is an example. He was blazing through the league when he tore his ACL and MCL in 2011. Many people thought he was done. But what did he do? He turned around and rushed for 2,097 yards the following season. Suffering a tough injury doesn't ruin your career.
Now, Adrian Peterson is a special player. There's a reason he was taken seventh overall in 2007 and there's a reason he's still leading the league in rushing at the age of 30. If you have a chance to get a special player, you pounce on it. The Cowboys have that chance on Thursday.