“With the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select Ezekiel Elliott!” In just one sentence, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking on behalf of Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys, changed the landscape of the NFL for years to come. Prior to the draft, the Cowboys’ offense, when healthy, was already a top 10 unit that featured QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant, and the free agent addition of RB Alfred Morris to pair with Darren McFadden, who was coming off a 1,000+ rushing yards effort in 2015, looked to be just another improvement. Yet, the drafting of Elliott immediately took this offense from very good to great.
The offensive line in Dallas, comprised of the NFL’s best left tackle (Tyron Smith), best right guard (Zack Martin), and second best center (Travis Frederick), as well as the frighteningly athletic and powerful La’el Collins at left guard and the grizzled veteran Doug Free at right tackle, is easily the best offensive line in the league right now. In 2014, the unit helped RB DeMarco Murray rack up 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, and gave the Cowboys confidence that any back could perform well in their offense. Ultimately they were right, as the aforementioned McFadden put up 1,089 rushing yards and led the team to having the 9th best rushing attack in the league.
While McFadden had decent numbers in 2015, it was evident that their ground game is better with a top level talent taking handoffs. Murray was arguably one of those top level talents (you know, before Chip Kelly utterly deconstructed him into a low-budget version of Trent Richardson), but Elliott is lightyears ahead of Murray already. In fact, some have even said he has the potential to be the next Adrian Peterson. Yes, Elliott looks to have a great rookie year, but will he be MVP great?
Sure, no rookie has ever won the MVP award, although Cam Newton made a very strong case in 2011. Yet, a main reason for that is due to the fact that most of the top rookies in any given year are taken by teams who are just plain bad. The Cowboys were plain bad in 2015, but it was because of injuries to valuable players. Elliott has the unique situation of joining a team that, on paper, is ready to compete for a Super Bowl right away. Top five draft picks aren’t usually taken by teams like this.
Elliott’s high talent will pair with the best group of blockers in the NFL and a passing attack that is efficient and hard to disrupt. He also won’t have an issue with carries. Elliott is the far and away favorite to start in the backfield, and with McFadden’s recent elbow injury keeping him out until the middle of training camp, Elliott should only see an increase in usage. And if the minicamps from last week are anything to go by, Elliott is already building chemistry with Romo, which seems to indicate that Elliott will play a large role in the receiving game as well. Based on all of these factors, I feel confident in making an all-too-early prediction on Elliott’s stats this year:
386 attempts, 2,002 yards, 16 touchdowns, 5.1 yards per carry | 62 receptions, 537 yards, 2 touchdowns, 8.66 yards per reception
It’ll definitely be difficult for Elliott to win the highest of all awards in his rookie year, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. All of the pieces are falling into place. All he has to do now is go out and play.
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