IRVING, Texas – Using their highest draft pick in a quarter century, the Cowboys selected the top running back in this year's draft class.
However that might look on paper, though, the Cowboys' front office wanted to make something perfectly clear on Thursday night. Regardless of how many rushing yards and touchdowns Ezekiel Elliott piles up in the coming years, his selection had everything to do with the Dallas defense.
That might sound like faulty logic when considering this club could have drafted any number of defensive stalwarts – headlined by highly-regarded defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Coming from Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, however, it seemed to make perfect sense.
"We don't necessarily subscribe to the fact that this was a pure offensive pick. We think that it could add 10 or 12 plays to the game each week on the offensive side of the ball," Jones said following the first round. "That was one of the things that impressed me about the player."
The philosophy is fairly simple. Elliott, highlighting a running back stable that also includes Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, can help the Cowboys re-establish a dominant ground game. If all goes according to plan, they can control time of possession, take pressure off Tony Romo and create favorable matchups for the likes of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
If it sounds familiar to 2014, it should. Behind the efforts of DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys ground their way to 2,354 total rushing yards, a 12-4 record and a playoff win. Two years later, no one in the organization sounded shy about wanting to re-establish that trend.
"Great runners, and a great running game -- that helps the quarterback, it helps the receivers because you get a lot of run defenses where you get favorable looks outside," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
"Hopefully you possess the ball more. You get more plays on offense, fewer plays on defense, and that allows your defense to play at a higher level. It's similar to how we played a couple years ago, when we ran the ball so effectively – and I thought it had a really positive impact on everybody on our team. We believe Zeke gives us a chance to do that."
None of this means the Cowboys are in denial. It's common knowledge that their top cornerbacks managed an interception in 2015, and their top two pass rushers are expected to serve four-game suspensions at the start of this coming year.
But whereas pass rushers and defensive backs might require a bit of a learning curve, the Cowboys expect no such problem for Elliott.
"You get a back of this level, frankly as a running back, right in the prime of his career, you can literally hit the ground running," Jones said. "You don't have a year or two of acclimation that you might have at other positions."
That simple fact appeared to make the difference in the end. Elliott steps into as favorable a position as he could ever ask for, as he'll line up behind a Pro Bowl quarterback, with a Pro Bowl receiver and a Pro Bowl tight end to create favorable matchups.
If that weren't enough, he'll have four other first-round talents on the Cowboys' offensive line to open his lanes for him.
"They allow us to be physical," Garrett said of his line. "I thought we were a physical running team last year, I thought we did a good job running the football last year. If you add a back like this -- that can only enhance that style of play."
It's somewhat ironic that the Cowboys would make such an investment, given the theatrics of a year ago, when they let Murray walk in free agency after winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
To that end, team executive vice president Stephen Jones let it be known on Thursday: running backs may be devalued, but not seminal talents like Elliott – who won't turn 21 until this summer.
"We actually have done some work and believe that some of their best years, the great ones, are in their first five years," he said. "So you may be getting the best part of the running back in his first five years versus the second contract."
If that's the case, then the Cowboys can expect to receive quite a boost in coming seasons – and not just on the offensive side of the ball.
"I think Ezekiel is about as well-rounded of a back that's come out in many, many, many years," Stephen Jones said. "We've had some great runners come out, but as far as a guy that can run it, catch it block it – he's the full package. That was very intriguing to us."
The Dallas Cowboys selected Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott at number four in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.