Cowboys: Is Ezekiel Elliott Better Than Emmitt Smith?

Apr 29, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys number one draft pick Ezekiel Elliott poses for a photo with owner Jerry Jones at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2016; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys number one draft pick Ezekiel Elliott poses for a photo with owner Jerry Jones at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

If Dallas Cowboys all-time great Emmitt Smith is to be believed, special things could be in store for first-round draft pick Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State.

The Dallas Cowboys surprised few with the fourth-overall selection of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday night. Long-term history suggests this was a shrewd move on the part of Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones. At the same time, the recent past also sheds some very positive light on the soon-to-be household name from Alton, Illinois, just a few miles from St. Louis.

On February 6, 2013, I was on an airplane heading from St. Louis to Madrid, Spain to begin what would end up being a three-plus year stay on the Iberian Peninsula, mainly for business, but also for romance and then an unexpected beginning of parenthood. My stay here ends on Monday as I’ll be arriving in Minnesota to return to the radio industry I left in September of 2004.

On the very same day I arrived in Madrid for the long-haul, Elliott was making his own huge decision, one that would also take him far from home to Columbus, Ohio to begin his college football career with the Buckeyes of Ohio State University. While it might not seem like that much of a journey, consider that Elliott’s parents both had athletic history at University of Missouri and that it was assumed for years that Elliott would end up in the Tigers backfield.

According to Elliott himself, making the decision to leave Tigers country for the Buckeyes was the most adult decision he’d ever made, at least to that point.

I would bet a few Euros – or dollars – that Elliott has made a few other big decisions since that fateful announcement back in ’13. Even in the event there hasn’t necessarily been any adult decisions that have been greater since, there’s certainly been plenty of additional growing up for Elliott.

You’re familiar with Elliott’s statistics at this point. You’ve seen his huge runs during the 2015 College Football Playoff tournament that led to a national championship. You already know that he’s a national championship game MVP.

Chances are good that you’ve read all the scouting material available regarding this 5’11” and 225 pound thoroughbred. You’ve seen his interviews and witnessed his boyish smile that resembles that of a child in a grown man’s body. Obviously there’s no question that this young man is primed and ready to learn the ropes from Cowboys running back Darren McFadden, who just recently was trying to revive his career after experiencing the same kind of fanfare that Elliott just had while running for the Arkansas Razorbacks less than a decade ago.

If you’re familiar with former University of Nebraska and St. Louis Rams running back Lawrence Phillips, I’ll simply say that Elliott is the polar opposite where character is concerned.

Elliott had a solid upbringing, one that his father has described publicly as having been sheltered. This might explain part of the innocent smile that Elliott flashes even when discussing past disappointments.

The passion in this player’s heart is undeniable and soon Cowboys Nation will see that translate on the field in the NFL.

Since 1977, the Cowboys have chosen just four running backs in the first round of the annual player selection meeting. In two of those four attempts, the results have been spectacular.

We don’t know a thing about Elliott yet.

Tony Dorsett was chosen with the second-overall selection in the ’77 draft and immediately became a Super Bowl champion at the end of his rookie season. Dorsett would enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994 after rushing for 12,036 yards with the blue star on his helmet. He still ranks as the eighth all-time leading rusher in NFL history.

Exactly 13 years later, the Cowboys would draft their next first-round running back in Emmitt Smith, chosen 17th-overall in the 1990 NFL Draft. Smith would shatter virtually all relevant records for pro running backs while rushing for 17,162 yards for the Cowboys while also breaking the then-rushing record of 16,726 yards set by Chicago Bears great Walter Payton in 2002. Smith would enter the Hall in 2010 while also earning three Super Bowl rings and four single-season rushing titles.

Not sure what Dorsett has to say, but Elliott has expressed an interest in establishing a relationship with him and other Cowboys all-time greats – not a bad idea seeing as how there’s plenty to choose from.

Smith, on the other hand, is already on record as stating that Elliott is better than he was coming out of college at University of Florida, a rather bold statement, but quite likely true. From a physical standpoint, Elliott is both bigger and faster than Smith was and time will tell if he’s stronger – I’ll never forget Smith pushing former Bears defensive tackle William Perry backwards during an NFC Wild Card playoff game at Soldier Field following the 1991 regular season.

In all fairness, let’s let Elliott at least get through a rookie mini-camp before we get too carried away. As former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells once said, “Let’s not put him in Canton just yet.”

Fair enough, right?

Having said that, it’s more than fair to have high expectations for this soon-to-be star that’s going to take hand offs from one of the NFL’s most dynamic quarterbacks in Tony Romo and also run behind perhaps the league’s best offensive line.

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Elliott is already a popular pick for 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year, and rightly so.

But it will be what Elliott does over the next few seasons that will start to establish a legacy that appears to have ‘greatness’ written all over it.