Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones’ 1990s nostalgia could extend Cowboys Super Bowl drought, major trends show

Players to watch: Cowboys vs. Rams

Clarence Hill gives you his five players to watch as the Cowboys take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
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Clarence Hill gives you his five players to watch as the Cowboys take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

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.

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.

2018: Giants: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants, No. 2 overall
2017: Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 34; Christian McCaffery, Carolina Panthers, No. 8 overall; Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings, No. 9 overall
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, No. 4 overall
2015: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams, No. 10 overall
2014: X
2013: X
2012: Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts, No. 3 overall
2011: X
2010: C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills, No. 9 overall
2009: X
2008: Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders, No. 4 overall
2007: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings, no. 7 overall
2006: Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints, No. 2 overall
2005: Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins, No. 2 overall; Cedric Benson, Chicago Bears, No. 4 overall; Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, No. 5 overall
2004: X
2003: X
2002: X
2001: LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers, No. 5 overall
2000: Jamal Lewis (5), Baltimore Ravens, No. 5 overall; Thomas Jones, Arizona Cardinas, No. 7
1999: Edgerrin James, Indiapolis Colts, No. 4 overall; Ricky Williams, New Orleans Saints, No. 5 overall
1998: Curtis Ennis, Chicago Bears, No. 5 overall; Fred Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 9 overall
1997: X
1996: Lawrence Phillips, St. Louis Rams, No. 6 overall; Tim Biakabutuka, Carolina Panthers, No. 8 overall

Smith’s incredible rushing totals during the franchise’s dynastic run is almost certainly a part of the Cowboys’ thought process. And that’s understandable.

From 1991 to 1995 Smith won an astounding four out of a possible five NFL rushing titles. By the end of that five-season run, Dallas had captured three Super Bowls.

However, due to his tremendous successes, it’s easy to forget that Smith was not taken in the top 10 (he went No. 17 overall in the 1990 NFL Draft).

Fast-forward less than a decade after the Cowboys’ last title, and you’ll see a very, very different game. One that, thanks to the evolution of offenses and rule changes designed to help quarterbacks, NFL has moved away from the bell-cow back.

Here is the list of the rushing title winners dating back 2000 (per pro-football-reference.com). Out of the 23 winners, only Denver Broncos star Terrell Davis was part of a championship squad during the same season.

2018: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, 1,434

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.

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