The decision to spend the very valuable fourth pick of the draft on Ezekiel Elliott continues to be much analyzed.
A highly-efficient running game not only piles up yards and points, but it also wears down opposing defenses and reduces the wear on Dallas' own defense, limiting the number of drives and plays they have to be on the field. The 2014 Cowboys finished third in time of possession and, consequently, the defense faced the fifth-fewest number of plays that season. A consistent ground game means Romo, now 36 and coming off a season in which he missed 12 games, doesn't have to be the focal point of the offense. The Cowboys need their signal-caller healthy throughout the year.
The counter-argument is that the Cowboys run game was already excellent in 2014 with Murray, a fine back but not an elite talent, and very good in 2015 with retreads like McFadden and Randle. Even without Romo and Bryant for much of the season, the Cowboys finished 10th in time of possession in 2015 and their plays per drive remained virtually the same as in 2014 (5.82 vs 5.83).
Although Elliott is regarded as a high-character individual as well as a superb talent, he did draw some fire for his critical remarks about the play calling in Ohio State's 17-14 loss to Michigan State, where he hardly saw the field. He admitted afterwards that he made a real error.
"I look back on it as a mistake, but definitely a growing opportunity," Elliott said. "I'm glad I made that mistake early in my career."
Let's not put any more pressure on the rookie, folks.
In a vacuum, it's easy to dismiss Elliott as a classic Jerry Jones pick -- all sizzle, no steak -- but Elliott is in the perfect position to succeed. As a great runner and elite blocker, Elliott has the tools to play on every down and should feast behind Dallas' stout offensive line. He's in the right place at the right time, and sometimes that's all a draft prospect needs to shine.
Overall, running backs haven't had a high hit rate in the first round, and there are plenty of reasons for teams and fans to be skeptical. However, we could be looking at a new golden age of running backs -- depending on how much the most recent first-round running backs produce next season.
Although Elliott is unquestionably the big story for the Cowboys as far as rookies who will play this year, the real value of the draft class will be determined by the contributions of the rest of the group, especially the mid round selections. Dallas thinks they got some real value in those, including Charles Tapper.
Tapper's one thing that they said that Oklahoma's defensive scheme where he was playing didn't really suit his speed and ability to get to the quarterback. He had seven sacks last year, but they really ask their defensive ends to hang back a little bit more and not put that pass rush on. They want you to drop back in coverage and play a little more run. That's not what he'll be asked to do here
Tapper's preferred sport in high school was basketball. He might not have made it to the Cowboys if not for a choice he faced his junior year that really didn't work out so well, before he blossomed his senior year.
Tapper's mother, Rhonda, gave him two options before his junior year. She told him he could get a job or play football.
"I said, 'Play football, get cut and get right back to basketball season,'" Tapper said of his plan. "It didn't work out like that. Riding the bench and getting embarrassed. The girls in the crowd were laughing at me. It didn't work out for me."
Elliott and Tapper are extremely sure of making the roster, but UDFA Andy Jones is in a much more tenuous position. Coming from a small school, he has a big challenge ahead of him, despite getting the biggest UDFA bonus of any Dallas signee. It was a little thing that drove home to him that he was in a different world now.
Appropriately, it was a small detail, likely overlooked by most of the incoming players, that made an impression on him at Valley Ranch.
"I looked at the towels and they had my number on it," said Jones, who was assigned No. 81. "I was like 'Oh my gosh, my towel has my number.'"
Jones played college ball at Jacksonville, a member of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League that competes in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision.
But, you know, he's just a puppet.
The players were supposed to count, "one, two, three, one," followed by "one, two, three, two," and so on until they reached five.
A perturbed Garrett, doing his best drill sergeant impersonation, quickly stopped the drill because too many players weren't in sync. He loudly reprimanded the rookies, making them restart.
Of course, no matter how the rookies do, the season for Dallas likely hinges on the health of Tony Romo, who had surgery two months ago on his clavicle, and was expected to take up to eight weeks to recover.
Well, Romo didn't need the full eight weeks and, by all accounts, he's expected to be a full participant when the club begins its offseason practices late this month with organized team activities.
In fact, Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said that Romo hasn't been limited at all in recent weeks as he's been taking part in the Cowboys' offseason workouts at Valley Ranch.
Todd Archer brings back his "five wonders" posts, and makes a case that having Sean Lee recovering from his own (reportedly minor) surgery is actually to everyone's benefit.
Recovering from a scope to his knee will give the coaches and medical staff plenty of reason to hold him back. The goal is make sure Lee is ready for 16 games in the regular season and possibly the playoffs. There is no question Lee will know all that he needs to know about the defense and about the opposition. Keeping him fresh in the offseason would be a smart move.
The Cowboys are looking to find more pass rush this year. Benson Mayowa thinks he can help, and tells people to look at his relative lack of production so far in his career through a different lens.
"In two years I played 30 percent of the plays," he said. "That's nothing. That's two years, plus my rookie year, that's probably 700 plays for my career. I know I've got my best football ahead of me because there's opportunity. If you take opportunity, that's how you shine. And you run with it. That's what I'm trying to do."
Another player that Dallas is looking to for some pressure on the QB is David Irving, and his snap count last year is an interesting thing to consider as well.
Irving would contribute immediately; registering 14 quarterback pressures, 13 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and one pass deflection in only 199 defensive snaps (18.8%).
Since we are looking at defensive lineman, it is wise not to forget the role, or roles, Tyrone Crawford can fill for the team.
Having Tyrone Crawford healthy is vital as he is one of the few who have demonstrated the ability to be difference makers on the defensive front. Because of the suspensions to Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, it appears the Cowboys are strongly considering opening the season with Crawford demonstrating his positional versatility by filling defensive end in the month those two pieces are missing.
Second year safety Byron Jones isn't just a very athletic football player. He is a good son.
Byron Jones is a man of his word. He promised his mom that, after starting his NFL career, he would return to campus and earn his degree in economics.
On Mother's Day, he fulfilled that promise, taking part in graduation ceremonies.
In addition to the personnel moves the Cowboys made in free agency and the draft, they also made a change with the assignments of the coaching staff, adding the duties of passing defense coordinator to that of linebacker coach Matt Eberflus. His new responsibilities involve better coordination between the front seven and the secondary, but it may also be a move made with future plans in mind.
Giving Eberflus additional duties can also benefit the club down the road. The Cowboys see Eberflus as a potential defensive coordinator candidate and giving him more input into the defensive secondary will help prepare him for that role when -- or if -- that comes into play.
Circle this one on the calendar.
Dallas (Week 6 at Green Bay): The NFC East again looks like a four-team race to mediocrity to me, so I can't go with a division game getting the headline treatment in Dallas this year. But a trip to Green Bay is always noteworthy for Jerry's guys, given that Lambeau Field has haunted the Cowboys since roughly the Ice Bowl unfolded. Injury-depleted Dallas lost there last year in Week 14, lost there in 2014's NFC Divisional Round (see Dez Bryant, catch, no-catch), and lost a shootout to the Packers at AT&T Stadium in 2013. Tony Romo's Cowboys have beaten Aaron Rodgers's Packers just once, in 2008, and that makes their Week 6 game in Green Bay an opportunity to settle some old scores.