Re-grading the Dallas Cowboys 2016 draft, seven years later

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone, it’s time for big-time media analysts and local market writers alike to give their instant grades and analysis to decide which teams had the best and worst drafts. As entertaining as it is to give our instant thoughts and opinions on the most recent draft, you cannot accurately assess draft picks until three to four years later. That’s why here at SportDFW, we have decided to review and re-grade the Dallas Cowboys and their recent draft classes, beginning with the 2016 draft.

It wasn’t known then, but the 2016 NFL Draft was the beginning of a new era for the Dallas Cowboys as they were about to see their franchise quarterback of the last decade replaced by a relatively unknown fourth-rounder out of Mississippi State.

Immediately following the 2016 draft, ESPN gave the Dallas Cowboys a C. So let’s rewind and break down each pick almost eight years later, giving Dallas our grade.

Round 1, Pick #4 – Ezekiel Elliott

In today’s day and age, the NFL doesn’t value running backs as they did when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls within five years, but that didn’t stop Jerry Jones from drafting Elliott fourth overall in 2016. For years, Jones would openly state that Zeke was the “straw that stirs the drink,” and the offense went as Elliott went.

It’s easy to see why Jerry thought that way. In Elliott’s first year, he racked up 1,631 rushing yards, the second all-time for a rookie, and 1,994 scrimmage yards. He also finished second for offensive rookie of the year, third in MVP voting, fifth for offensive player of the year, made the Pro Bowl, and was named a member of the All-Pro First Team.

Since his rookie year, Zeke has never quite duplicated his inaugural season efficiency-wise but was amongst the best at his position up through the 2019 season. Elliott captured two rushing titles in his first four seasons, which most likely would have been three if it wasn’t for his off-the-field issues/suspension, and made three Pro Bowls. If this front office had focused on putting more talent around the offense from the beginning of Elliott’s time in Dallas, he likely could have been a focal point to a sixth Lombardi for the Cowboys.

Overall, the selection of Ezekiel Elliot as the fourth overall selection was a success. Although the Dallas Cowboys could have grabbed a better long-term option, such as Jalen Ramsey, we must recognize Elliott’s body of work on the field. Since entering the league, he has the second-most yards, behind Derrick Henry (who went 41 picks later), and the second-most rushing touchdowns. If the front office had addressed the aging offensive weapons before 2018, nobody would care that Zeke was taken fourth overall and made the highest-paid running back, as the Cowboys may have ridden Elliott to their ninth Super Bowl appearance.

Individual Grade: A