When the oddmakers from Bovado released their odds for the 2016 NFL MVP, two other Cowboys made the ranking in addition to Tony Romo, who was listed with 40-1 odds. Ezekiel Elliott (100-1) and Dez Bryant (200-1) also made the list, and while Tony Romo is clearly the most important of the three for the Cowboys' fortunes in 2016, expectations are also high for Elliott and Bryant.
Prior to an injury-marred 2015, Bryant established himself as one of the game's most prolific scoring receivers. In his first six NFL seasons, Bryant has scored 59 touchdowns; no other active NFL player has scored more touchdowns in his first six seasons in the league. On the all-time list, Bryant is ranked sixth all-time behind Jerry Rice (79), Randy Moss (77), Lance Alworth (63), Marvin Harrison (62), and Andre Rison (60) through six seasons. Rice, Alworth, and Harrison are already in the Hall of Fame, Moss will be eligible in 2018. That's excellent company to be in for Bryant.
And Bryant is especially effective inside the 10, as the numbers below show.
Dez Bryant has converted 49% of his targets inside the 10 into TDs. The highest rate for a non-TE over last 16 years pic.twitter.com/yLr6UQOyHA— Fantasy Douche (@FantasyDouche) July 20, 2016
There is little doubt that Bryant will continue to be Tony Romo's go-to receiver and that he'll put up huge numbers in Scott Linehan's offense in 2016.
Ezekiel Elliott on the other hand is an unproven commodity, but a commodity with the highest expectations, as Peter King explained in this morning's MMQB:
"But the most important thing for Dallas to do during camp is get a suit of armor to fit Ezekiel Elliott—because he’d better be ready to carry it an Emmitt-like 375 times this year. Dallas needs to keep its D off the field."
And this is where we collectively have a RB coach Gary Brown appreciation moment: In 2014, DeMarco Murray averaged 4.7 yards per carry. A year later, Darren McFadden averaged 4.6 yards per carry, even if he only became the starter in the sixth game of the season. So what's to keep Elliott from averaging 4.6 yards as well?
Pair that with King's 375-carry prediction and this is what you might expect out of Elliott:
|Player||Rushing Attempts||Rushing Yards||Yards per Attempt|
I hope for Elliott's sake that the Cowboys don't push him that hard, but if the Cowboys' ground game behind the trio of Elliott, McFadden, and Alfred Morris can produce at a steady 4.6 yards per clip, the Cowboys' offense could easily see a return to the form that made them one of the dominant units in the league in 2014.
Even as a rookie (who gets enough touches in every game, but not too much), Elliott would likely be a big help for the entire offense, taking pressure off Romo, allowing the offensive line to beat up some defensive linemen, and probably even making the passing game more effective. Without Elliott, the offense would probably still be able to put up points, but they'd likely be a little more one-dimensional and less dominant in the process.
Losing Bryant would obviously be a big blow, but the Romo-enabled Cowboys of the past have repeatedly shown the ability to compensate when their top wide receivers have missed time due to injury, be it Dez Bryant himself or Miles Austin before him. The Cowboys would simply distribute the balls more evenly among their tight ends, running backs and remaining receivers. The Cowboys would be a lot less exciting, a lot less explosive, and might lack their emotional leader, but they'd probably still be able to put up points.
Over to you: Between Bryant and Elliott, who is more important for the Cowboys' success in 2016? Let us know your thoughts in the attached poll and in the comments section.