I am torn over this selection. I have wanted to see Ezekiel Elliott wearing the star ever since the first time I saw him carry the ball for Ohio State as a freshman. He was the back up to Carlos Hyde that season, and even then it was obvious that he was something special. His back-to-back game changing performances in the first ever college football playoff game and the subsequent National Championship game cemented the deal and made a statement that Ezekiel was the real deal at running back.
A decade ago I would have no issue with this choice, but the game has changed. Today, a running back has to be a "once in a generation player" to justify a top-ten selection. Zeke certainly has that potential, but with an offensive line built with four legitimate first-round caliber players a "once in a lifetime" back is not a necessity. The return on investment is not great enough to justify giving up help at a much-needed position.
Nobody asked me, but I would have went Jalen Ramsey, and lamented the fact that Elliott was not a Dallas Cowboy. The Dallas front office has a different take, and I doubt we will be disappointed. Zeke is a generational running back, and I believe he will be a difference maker for the Cowboys. Let's look at what that difference will be.
Ezekiel Elliot will give the Dallas ground game an edge that has been missing. Even when DeMarco Murray was carrying the ball, Dallas struggled to pound the rock into the end zone. In two seasons as the starter for the Buckeyes Zeke found the end zone 41 times. Having a back that can find paydirt on a consistent basis will open up options for Tony Romo in the red zone. Continuing this will quickly make an impact for Scott Linehan's offense.
It is not just the red zone offense that will benefit, Elliott gained over 1,800 yards in each of his two seasons as the bell cow in Columbus. Backs that gain that kind of yardage allow an offense to control the clock and limit the ability of the other side to do damage of their own. A great back who can milk the clock makes a defense better. Rod Marinelli's charges will undoubtedly feel the impact of Zeke's presence on the gridiron. Ezekiel Elliott is the one player in the draft that will improve his team on both sides of the ball.
Any running back taken in the top ten must be a long-term difference maker. Elliott has shown that he has the durability to go back-to-back seasons as the work horse. There is nothing in his history to indicate that he cannot do just that. He not only needs to be capable of answering the bell game after game; he needs to deliver. In college Zeke did just that. He needs to be able to take over the game, and that is something that Elliot does well. To spend the fourth-overall selection on him, Dallas must feel that their new running back will be able to do this for many years to come.
With Tony Romo entering the twilight years of his career, Ezekiel Elliot will be expected to take a burden off of his quarterback. He will also be counted on to do the same for Romo's successor. The biggest role that Zeke is going to have to fill is to be the guy who insures a successful transition as one passer's skills wane and another's are developed. Jason Garrett and the Dallas front office believe that Elliott is that "once in a lifetime player" who can successfully fill this duty.
There is little doubt in my mind that Dallas went on the clock with both of the two best players in the 2016 draft still on the board. I love the selection, I really do. It was a dream come true in many ways. I also feel that there was no way they could go wrong. Unfortunately, I do not see the difference in the return on investment between Elliot and a second-round back behind the Cowboys offensive line as being enough to justify passing on a Jalen Ramsey. Dallas will never regret drafting Zeke. The man is a beast that we have not seen since Emmitt Smith. I just hope we never lament not taking Ramsey.