The Dallas Cowboys ended a quiet off-season Thursday by getting the most exciting and arguably impact-ready player in the NFL Draft in Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.
A Cowboys team, coming off a 4-12 season with needs galore on defense, had a chance to take the highest-rated defensive player in the draft in Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Instead, they went with Elliott, who called it a dream come true to come to Dallas, run behind the league’s best offensive line and join quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant in an updated version of the famed Triplets.
“You know, going into the draft, Dallas was the No. 1 place I wanted to end up, and it’s a dream come true,” Elliott said. “I think I can be a bell cow running back. I think we can be a three-headed monster [of Bryant and Romo].”
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That’s what the Cowboys were thinking as well and much more in making Elliott the team’s highest pick for a running back since Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett went second overall in 1977.
The only other running back to be selected by the Cowboys in the top 20 picks of the NFL Draft was Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher at 17, in 1990.
“I’m glad to see my named ranked up there with those guys,” Elliott said. “I don’t think anybody can expect more out of me than I expect out of myself. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m a competitor. This is not a burden. I thrive best in hard situations, situations of pressure.”
The burden he has now is to deliver as promised and relieve some of the burden off Romo while helping the Cowboys return to the run-dominant, ball-control unit it was in 2014, when it finished 12-4 behind league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray.
The Cowboys didn’t think Murray was worth the money, allowing him to walk in free agency last off-season.
Darren McFadden led the Cowboys in rushing last year with 1,089 yards and the team signed former Washington Redskins workhorse Alfred Morris in free agency.
They [running backs] get devalued when you don’t have one. That devalue thing is overblown.
Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown, after Dallas selected Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall
But the Cowboys believe Elliott is a transcendent player, who could have an immediate impact as an every-down back. He has the speed to take it the distance as well as the savvy and smarts to be a threat on passing downs as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
“He’s the most complete back that I’ve been able to scout in eight years doing this,” Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown said. “When you have talented runners, you take them where you need to take them. The running backs are making a comeback.
“They get devalued when you don’t have one. That devalue thing is overblown.”
Elliott ran for 3,961 yards, the second most in school history, and 44 touchdowns in three seasons at Ohio State. Elliott helped the Buckeyes win the 2014 national championship.
Behind an offensive line that includes three Pro Bowlers in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin, Elliott is expected to become a big-play threat.
Romo had his best season in 2014 when the Cowboys had a running game to take pressure off him and help keep the defense off the field.
It was also the formula they used to win three Super Bowls in the 1990s when Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Smith and Michael Irvin led the way.
The Cowboys are banking on the new version of the Triplets or three-headed monster, as Elliott called them, to have a similar impact and bring the glory days back to Dallas.
“When they first told me, on my first phone call, I kind of lost it, I dropped my phone and almost burst into tears, but I ended up holding it together, went around the table and hugged my family,” Elliott said. “They called back. I started talking to Mr. Jones and they’re excited for me to come down.”
We love Jalen Ramsey. We feel [Ezekiel Elliott’s] impact is going to be significant.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett
After defensive end Joey Bosa, who had been linked to the Cowboys in mock drafts, went to San Diego with the third pick, Dallas had Ramsey and Elliott in front of them.
“We love Jalen Ramsey,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We just felt Ezekiel Elliott was the kind of player we wanted to bring to the football team. We feel his impact is going to be significant.”
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Rounds 2-3: 6 p.m. today; Rounds 4-7: 11 a.m. Saturday.
TV: ESPN and NFL Network