FRISCO, Texas – I'm going to take a step away from the future for a second and focus on the past.
There's a million other pieces of content you can read to get you ready for Week 6 against the Jaguars. My esteemed colleague Bryan Broaddus breaks down the opposition every single week, and we dissect the matchups on our various podcasts and television shows, as well.
Sorry in advance if I'm beating a dead horse. But as a self-described draft nerd, it's hard to go into a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and not obsess over the 2016 NFL Draft.
For those of us that have the distinct privilege of working inside the Cowboys' facility, it's going to be a vivid memory forever. By the time draft week rolled around, everyone who worked here knew the stakes: the Cowboys were picking fourth, and it was either going to be Ezekiel Elliott or Jalen Ramsey.
Sure, there was some consideration given to Joey Bosa – but not really. The conversation really came down to those dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball, Zeke and Ramsey – and the San Diego Chargers took the extra drama out of it by selection Bosa third overall, anyway.
It was a hot debate among Cowboys coaches, employees and fans. You couldn't have gone wrong either way, but the selection would say something emphatic about the future of the franchise.
So yeah. That's where I'm focusing, as Ramsey comes to AT&T Stadium to try to shut down Elliott and this anemic Dallas offense. Let's play the always fun "what if" game for a second.
1. I can't even adequately wrap my head around all the ways the Cowboys would be different had they opted for Ramsey.
Let's start with the gaping hole at running back that is created when you put Ramsey on this team over Elliott. The Cowboys brought in five running backs to visit during that draft cycle – Elliott, Derrick Henry, C.J. Prosise, Kenyan Drake and Paul Perkins.
Henry seems like the most obvious option. They could've had him at pick No. 34, and I bet he'd be a bowling ball behind this Dallas offensive line. Of course, if they do that, then Jaylon Smith's name never matters here. The Cowboys' linebacker corps would've been an even bigger mess last year. It might even still be a problem, despite the decision to add Leighton Vander Esch.
2. You've also got to consider the quarterback spot in light of a Ramsey pick.
Remember: the Cowboys drafted Zeke to prolong the end of Tony Romo's career. Obviously, it didn't work out that way – but that was the original intent. With Elliott toting the rock 350+ times per season, the hope was that Romo could ride that to four or five more seasons.
Also remember: even after drafting Zeke, the Cowboys tried to trade up for Paxton Lynch in the first round. Without an elite runner on the roster to help Romo, do they try harder to get that deal done, to protect themselves? We've said a million times that perhaps this team could have Ezekiel Elliott and Paxton Lynch instead of Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith and Maliek Collins.
What if instead, they had Jalen Ramsey and Paxton Lynch? What if they used pick No. 135, which would become Dak Prescott, on Paul Perkins, instead?
3. In that vein, how confident do you feel that the Cowboys would have been successful in 2016 without Ezekiel Elliott.
Given that he broke his back during the first hit he took in the preseason, I can't trust that Romo was going to finish that season, regardless. Is Paxton Lynch, whose career in Denver was a flop, going to lead this team to 13 wins without a generational talent at running back?
Even if things fell similarly and Dak was still on this team, would he have been able to pull that off without Zeke? We saw what this offense looked like without Zeke in 2017, and it was not fun. No disrespect to Derrick Henry or Paul Perkins, but I just don't believe the Cowboys reach those lofty heights with Ezekiel Elliott toting the rock.
4. You also can't convince me that Jalen Ramsey would definitely have played cornerback for this team.
It seems silly now, but there was a ton of debate about where Ramsey fit best in the NFL – corner or safety. He might have found his way to corner eventually, but I wonder if Ramsey might have started his career at safety, ala Byron Jones.
And then what happens with Chido Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. The Cowboys drafted them with back-to-back picks to shore up their depleted secondary. They probably don't make both of those picks if Ramsey is on this team. For that matter, they probably aren't picking in those spots – since they probably didn't win 13 games the year before.
Already boasting a premier defensive back in Ramsey, what if the Cowboys selected JuJu Smith Schuster with the No. 60 overall pick? The Steelers took him off the board just two spots after Chido was drafted, and he has averaged five catches for 72 yards per game to this point in his career.
JuJu also has nine touchdowns since the start of the 2017 season. The Cowboys' entire receiver corps has combined for just 12 in that timespan.
5. This "what if" isn't going to lose steam any time soon. Zeke figures to once again be in the mix for the NFL rushing crown, and I'm comfortable penciling Ramsey into an All-Pro cornerback slot, right now in October.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: there's a much better chance that Jalen Ramsey plays at a high level for longer than Ezekiel Elliott. Charles Woodson played a decade of high caliber ball at corner – and then he moved to safety to finish out his Hall of Fame career. You can do those types of things when you're playing in the defensive backfield, where there's less wear and tear.
Nearing the midpoint of his third NFL season, Zeke is still just 23 years old. He's probably not going to be as durable as the best cornerbacks, but I don't think he's going to slow down any time soon.
Let's just assume the Cowboys can get eight seasons of truly top-notch, All-Pro-type play out of their star running back. That would mean he signs another contract in Dallas and plays five or six more seasons at the top of his position. That seems fairly doable.
The question is always going to be: what do the Cowboys do with him during that window? If Dallas wins another Super Bowl with Ezekiel Elliott fueling its offense, no one is going to care at all if Jalen Ramsey plays eight more years than him. If the Cowboys have no hardware to show for Elliott's ability, and they have to watch Ramsey play at a high level for 15 more years, it's going to be a different story.
This argument won't be over any time in the foreseeable future – and certainly not after this game against Jacksonville, no matter what happens.
6. I hope I'm not screaming into the void here, but I sincerely hope we see the Cowboys continue to tighten their receiver rotation this week.
To this point in the season, if you asked me to point out two consistent players among this receiver corps, I'd probably lean toward Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns – although you wouldn't know it based on the output.
Beasley was targeted just three times in last week's loss to Houston, and he didn't pull in his first catch until overtime. Hurns has seemingly made positive things happen when he's been targeted, it's just that it doesn't happen often. The former Jacksonville Jaguar caught his only target for a three-yard touchdown last week. In Week 4 against Detroit, he managed just three catches for 30 yards – but two of those came on critical fourth quarter scoring drives.
For the season, Hurns has been targeted a measly 17 times, catching eight balls for 84 yards. That's despite tying Beasley for the team lead in snaps at 191.
For comparison's sake, Deonte Thompson and Michael Gallup have played 146 snaps and 143 snaps, respectively. Thompson has been targeted 16 times, while Gallup has been targeted 15 times. To put it plainly, the results haven't been as consistent. Thompson and Gallup have both made nice grabs this season, but they've also been part of some disastrous plays that have led to Dallas turnovers.
Simply put, I'm not sure Beasley is going to succeed the way he should until the Cowboys can identify a reliable weapon on the outside. It certainly looks like opponents are keying on taking him away, and it's working to this point.
So far this year, the Cowboys have four different receivers playing roughly 50 percent of the snaps or more, with Tavon Austin playing about 30 percent of the time.
Last season, Dez Bryant easily led the way by playing 84 percent of the Cowboys' snaps. Behind him, Terrance Williams clocked in at 66 percent with Beasley behind him at 58 percent. Noah Brown, Brice Butler and Ryan Switzer all played a role – to a minimal extent.
If this "receiver by committee" idea was producing, I obviously wouldn't be saying anything. That's the nature of football. But it isn't to this point. Perhaps it's time to identify your best three and see what they can do with an extended run?
7. My great shame continues. I'm pretty good at picking Cowboy games, as I'm 4-1 on the season in assessing how their game is going to go. Everywhere else, it's a train wreck.
I think my problem is that I'm having a hard time letting go of my preseason evaluations of teams. I still think of the Falcons as a very good team, despite their 1-4 record. I still think of the Packers as a juggernaut, when they look like anything but. For some reason, I think the Broncos are a good team. I've got to learn to let go and trust what I'm seeing on the field.
Undaunted, I press on.
Eagles (-2.5) over GIANTS
ATLANTA (-3.5) over Tampa Bay
CINCINNATI (-2.5) over Pittsburgh
BROWNS (+1) over Chargers
Seahawks (-3) over Raiders (LONDON)
Bears (-3) over DOLPHINS
VIKINGS (-10) over Cardinals
JETS (-2.5) over Colts
Panthers (+1) over REDSKINS
TEXANS (-10.5) over Bills
Rams (-7) over BRONCOS
TITANS (+2.5) over Ravens
Chiefs (+3.5) over PATRIOTS
PACKERS (-9.5) over 49ers
LAST WEEK: 5-10
THIS SEASON: 27-47-3