Don’t count ESPN analyst and former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe as an Ezekiel Elliott believer. To be more precise, don’t count him as a believer that the rookie running back from Ohio State will suddenly make the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl contenders.
During an appearance on ESPN’s First Take with Skip Bayless, Sharpe was asked for his opinion on the NFC East. While the Cowboys are the pick of many to bounce back and win a division that doesn’t feature a bona fide powerhouse, Sharpe isn’t exactly seeing it.
“Let me get this right. Greg Hardy, who was one of your best pass rushers, he’s not there anymore and rightfully so. Your two next best pass rushers are going to miss the first four games and that’s provided they haven’t had any more positive drug tests. Defense, which was really, really bad last year, and I don’t think it got any better because the guy you took in the second round, Jaylon Smith, probably won’t play a down this year.
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“But you’re thinking, because you get Tony Romo... here’s a guy who is 34, 35 years of age, coming off his third surgery on a collarbone in the last three years. Last I checked, having played this game before, as you get older you don’t get healthier. So you want me to believe and you want all the people that are watching this show today, because they drafted [Ezekiel] Elliott, now all of the sudden they are the beasts of the East? ...
For the past four years they have been nothing. I’m riding with Eli. I’m going to ride with Eli. Eli Manning and Beckham. I’m going to ride with those two guys. They will have a better record than the Dallas Cowboys.”
It’s difficult to quibble with Sharpe’s points — those things are true — but it’s also not implausible to think the Cowboys can be a much-improved team from last season with the return of a healthy Romo, as well as game-changing wide receiver Dez Bryant.
There’s no doubt if Romo goes down again for a significant portion of the schedule that all bets are off, but if he’s able to remain upright, Dallas at least knows it has a shot in every game it plays. After all, even at 4-12, the Cowboys were in most games last season. And have you seen the 2016 schedule? It’s pretty favorable.
Add that young offensive line and now the No. 4 overall pick in the draft in Elliott (plus Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris in the backfield), and the offense has the potential be among the league leaders in scoring (and time of possession).
And that can only help the defense.
We’ll be sure to clip and save this one from Sharpe and revisit it later in the fall.