Time travel, at least in fiction, usually has unforeseen consequences.
It could cause problems for the Cowboys, too.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones, along with the other top members of his front office, have built the foundation of this Dallas team on a strong defense and a power running game anchored by this year’s NFL rushing title champion, Ezekiel Elliott.
In doing so, Jones has shown that no matter what words exit his mouth, he wants to return to a similar style that led to the franchise’s three Super Bowl titles in the early to mid-1990’s.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
In essence, Elliott is this team’s Emmitt Smith.
Thus far, that piece of the puzzle has produced mostly successful results. During seasons in which the back plays a full season (he missed six games last season due to an NFL suspension for an alleged domestic violence incident), the team has won the NFC East.
The construction of this roster will certainly be tested against a Rams team that, under head coach Sean McVay, has taken a significantly different approach to team building and style of play.
But beyond this week’s game, there’s one trend that points to the problematic nature of relying so heavily on Zeke.
Simply put, when it comes to that running back position and its value, the game has changed.
In hindsight, it’s hard to argue that Elliott was not worthy of being selected No. 4 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But in “today’s game,” selecting a back in the top 10 of the draft hasn’t really produced championship results.
Since 2000, there have been 23 backs selected in that range of the draft. And just two of them have won Super Bowl rings.
Now, some of those backs have only played in the league for one or two seasons. And teams have won championships by relying primarily on the ground game.
Here’s the list of running backs drafted in the top 10 dating back to 2000.
Players that were on a Super Bowl winner are highlighted in bold. An X indicates a there were zero backs taken in the top 10 during that draft.
2017: Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs, 1,327
2016: Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys, 1,631
2015: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: 1,485
2014: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys 1,845
2013: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles: 1,607
2012: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, 2,097
2011: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars, 1,606
2010: Adrian Foster, Houston Texans, 1,616
2009: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans, 2,006
2008: Adrian Petersen, Minnesota Vikings, 1,760
2007: Ladainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers, 1,474
2006: Ladainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers, 1,815
2005: Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks, 1,880
2004: Curtis Martin, New York Jets, 1,697
2003: Jamal Lewis, Baltimore Ravens, 2,066
2002: Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins, 1,853
2001: Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs, 1,555
2000: Edgerrin James, Indianapolis Colts, 1,709
1999: Edgerrin James Indianapolis Colts, 1,553
1998: Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos, 2,008
1997: Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, 2,053 6.1
1996 Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions, 1,553
Dak Prescott might have the talent to develop into an elite NFL passer. Even if he’s plateaued or even regresses, Jones has said that the quarterback will receive an extension.
The feeling from many, at least as of right now, is that head coach Jason Garrett will receive an extension, as well.
For the moment, let’s set aside who gets paid what in the next few offseasons.
But if the current coach, quarterback and running back are the “plan” for this offense, now and for the foreseeable future, then the team might need to significantly tweak its approach.
In short, the trends suggest the operation needs to continue to move forward, not back.