Cowboys would be crazy to draft Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4

Nov 28, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs the ball during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs the ball during the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite the possibility that he may be a great running back in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys would be crazy to draft Ezekiel Elliott with pick No. 4.

As the NFL Draft nears, it appears that the Dallas Cowboys are narrowing their focus to three prospects, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. While all three look to be terrific players, one makes absolutely no sense for the Cowboys at pick No. 4.

Every time the NFL Draft approaches, one or two players seem to become darlings in the eyes of draft gurus. This year, that player is Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Many are speculating that the Cowboys are in love with the thought of drafting the top running back in this year’s class. In fact, Fox Sports Senior National Writer Peter Schrager added fuel to the Elliott to Dallas fire with a tweet earlier today.

There seems to be no debate that Ezekiel Elliot is going to be an excellent running back in the NFL but nonetheless the Dallas Cowboys would be crazy to draft him at pick No.4. The reasons are plentiful.

First of all, running backs are not valued as highly in today’s pass-first NFL as they were in decades past. No running back has been taken with the No. 1 overall pick since 1995 when the Cincinnati Bengals selected Ki-Jana Carter first.

Furthermore, in the last 10 years, only three running backs have been taken in the top four picks. What is interesting to note is that neither Reggie Bush (selected No. 2 overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2006), current Cowboy Darren McFadden (the 2008 No. 4 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders) nor Trent Richardson (pick No. 3 by the Cleveland Browns in 2012) have turned out to be franchise players.

In fact, of the top 5 rushers in the league last season only one (McFadden) was a top five pick in the NFL Draft. Drafting running backs early in the first round has become one of the biggest gambles a team can make.

Next, let’s return to McFadden’s 2015 season. His 1,089 yards were the second-most he has recorded in his career.

Is it wise to assume that McFadden suddenly got better at age 28 or could this improvement be attributed to another factor, say running behind the best offensive line in the NFL?

It is fair to look at running backs as an extension of their offensive lines because so much of the runner’s success depends on the five big men up front. Dallas has used three recent first round picks to build its current offensive line and last season that unit paved the way for McFadden to have his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2010.

McFadden is nothing but an average NFL running back yet he put up one of the best seasons of any running back in the league last season despite the Cowboys having no semblance of a passing attack due to the injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. This is proof that the Dallas Cowboys do not need to have the best runner in the league to have a great running game.

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Also, consider what kind of rushing statistics the Cowboys might put up next year with free agent signee Alfred Morris to help carry the load. He is far more accomplished than any of the running backs the team tried to pair with McFadden in 2015.

Still another reason Dallas should not spend the 4th pick on Ezekiel Elliott is that running backs have the shortest shelf life of any position in the game. Though the actual numbers are up for debate depending on the variables of each study, almost every look at NFL career length shows that running backs have an average career of between three and four years.

This article about former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall notes that his six-year NFL career was almost double the length of the career of the average NFL running back.

Ezekiel Elliott will be 21 when the 2016 season starts. It is more than likely that he could be out of the NFL by age 27 or 28 giving the Cowboys only a handful of years in return for this top-four pick.

Conventional wisdom states that the vast majority of NFL running backs are essentially washed up by the age of 30 but considering how often Dallas runs the ball and how many touches Ezekiel Elliott would get in Dallas, it is hard to imagine that he would give the team nine productive years. He looks like a good player but Dallas cannot assume that he is a physical anomaly like the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson who at age 31 led the NFL in rushing last year, his ninth in the NFL.

Finally, Dallas doesn’t have a gaping hole at running back like it does at defensive end or corner back. McFadden and Morris will be more than capable of providing the team with a solid rushing attack in 2016.

Meanwhile, the team will be without starting defensive ends Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence for the season’s first four games due to both being suspended for positive drug tests.

Likewise, the team is woefully lacking at the corner back position where the starters are Brandon Carr (a marginal player at best) and Orlando Scandrick who is coming back from a torn knee ligament that caused him to miss all of last year. Plus, Scandrick is the only Dallas corner back signed past 2016.

Next: Ramsey believes he's a game changer in Dallas

Many NFL scouts and television talking heads are predicting that Ezekiel Elliott will be the next great running back. The likelihood of those predictions coming true are 50-50 at best but even if he is the next great back, the Dallas Cowboys must go in another direction on Thursday.