When the Dallas Cowboys signed Alfred Morris in free agency, there was a thought that the hole at the running back position was filled and the Cowboys could go on with the combination of Darren McFadden and Morris taking a majority of the reps, with a little bit of sprinkling from Lance Dunbar as well. But when the 2016 NFL Draft rolled around and the Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott, that logic went out the window.
The common mantra in today's NFL is that running backs are not worthy of first-round picks. However, we saw Todd Gurley transform the St. Louis Rams' offense when he returned from the ACL injury in the middle of the season. The talent on the Rams' offense is not even close to the talent on the Cowboys' offense, so just imagine what Elliott can do in the Cowboys' offense and scheme. Jerry Jones and company knew all too well of what he could do and what this team could do if they rely heavily on the running game. Look no further than the 2014 season when a heavy usage in the running game led to the most success that franchise has had since 2007.
OTAs are the first part of the offseason where coaches and teams can see what they have in their players. At OTAs, players are fighting for their spots, trying to prove themselves to make an NFL 53-man roster, whether that's with the Cowboys or elsewhere. Look at it this way, an OTA is your first job interview. If you can pass your OTAs, you get to your second job interview where the competition is tougher in training camp.
But speaking with the Dallas News, Nate Newton said that the Cowboys are using a different direction with their OTAs.
The guy is smooth. He has no wasted motion. Everything is kind of centered around him. Even when they did team, they did one-on-one, all of this is centered around a running back. It's been a long time since we had a training camp where we could look at a skill position player and say 'Wow, there could be something special about this guy.'
The comments on Elliott are extremely flattering given how many talented skill players have came through Valley Ranch over the years. But the comments are also interesting given that Elliott said a few days ago that OTAs and NFL competition was a bit of a shell-shock. But these comments seem to tell us that he's actually much more comfortable than he may actually feel.
In an offense with Tony Romo, a top-ten quarterback, Dez Bryant, the league leader in receiving touchdowns since 2012 despite playing limited in just nine games last season, an offensive line that features three All-Pros, as well as other receiving weapons like future Hall of Famer Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, it's believed across the league that Elliott will have success at the professional level. But given the point in the offseason and how important it is to the evaluation of many players trying to get jobs - and if you believe Newton's take on things - are the Cowboys wrong to be centering OTAs around Elliott?
The Cowboys have Super Bowl aspirations, let's make that clear. But for that to happen, this offense needs to be at top form all season long. The Cowboys' defense is not full of world-beaters. Asking them to be a top-ten unit in 2016 is simply just unrealistic. The lowest ranked defense to ever win a Super Bowl was the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, winning it with the 19th-ranked defense.
But perhaps the Cowboys' best version of their defense can be their best version of offense by running the football with success and sustaining drives by picking up first down after first down. If that is their hope, then Elliott has to perform at a very high level. But for the Cowboys to get situated and hit the regular season proverbial ground running, no pun intended, Elliott will need to grasp this offense and it makes sense as to why they're already giving him an extended opportunity to learn.
With a team like Dallas, OTAs are obviously important, but this team is already built for success. There are many other teams that lack the talent level the Cowboys have on their roster. Sure upgrades can be made here and there, but each major position is already filled on this roster and while there will be competition for some backup spots across the roster, there shouldn't be a problem with the Cowboys focusing their OTAs on giving Elliott the most opportunities to get acclimated with this offense.