Cowboys potential signee Ezekiel Elliott (right)

Cowboys potential signee Ezekiel Elliott (right)


Cowboys potential signee Ezekiel Elliott (right)

Almost universally, the view of the Cowboys draft was much the same—they did well to address the trenches, but where was the much-needed running back to take the place of departed Tony Pollard? Recent NFL history shows that you can churn through running backs in the NFL but you can’t churn through a position if you ignore it in the draft.

So, the Cowboys are without a running back, having entered the draft with Rico Dowdle as the starter, and having exited with Dowdle still the starter.

But Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Cowboys, dropped a major hint on what his team will do with the running back spot with a very, very bold statement on a player with whom he is especially familiar: Ezekiel Elliott, who starred for the Cowboys from 2016-22.

“As recent as the end of the year, I saw Zeke play (with the Patriots) and I’ll tell you, he’s good enough to be a starter,” Jones said, according to The Athletic’s Jon Machota.

Cowboys Passed on RB Chance in the Draft

A starter? Well, this raises a few questions, of course. The first: Does Jones’ confidence in Elliott as a starter mean he is about to sign him on to be that starter? According to a report from ESPN, “The Dallas Cowboys have yet to fill their running back need, but the return of Ezekiel Elliott looks more and more likely.”

The second question: Is this why the Cowboys passed on a running back in the NFL draft? The Cowboys had the opportunity to pick a running back late in the third round but in the end, went with linebacker Marist Liufau, passing on the likes of Marshawn Lloyd, Bucky Irving, Ray Davis and Jaylen Wright.

Sure, they needed depth at linebacker, but they need depth at running back far, far more. Unless, that is, they plan to just sign Elliott.

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said it was more about the opportunity to take a back not presenting itself.

“You know I think a lot of times there’s always a question mark of ‘would you really, really, really stick to your board?’” Stephen Jones said, per CBS Sports. “It just felt like every time the situation was there for us to make a pick and do the right thing, it wasn’t a running back.”

Stephen Jones indicated that the Cowboys’ focus on the offensive line—they picked three—makes it easier to plug in any old starter at running back.

“We’ll have opportunities throughout [the offseason] to address this running back situation, and we fell like we’ll get it done. It makes a running back’s job a lot easier when the guys up front are doing their job,” he said.

Ezekiel Elliott Had Poor Starter Numbers in 2023

But the final question is whether Jerry Jones is right about Elliott still being a starter. Certainly, he filled the role for New England last year after Rhamondre Stevenson was injured, but he did so for a 4-13 team. The offensive line for the Patriots was a mess, so it’s not entirely fair to size up Elliott by his numbers in the AFC, but they were spotty, at best.

Elliott played all 17 games and totaled 642 yards, logging a yards per carry average of 3.5. That’s the worst of his career, and consistent with a steady decline from 4.5 yards per carry in 2019, the last time he made the Pro Bowl, down to 3.8 in 2022, his final season in Dallas.

He popped a memorable game in which he had 140 yards in total offense and a touchdown in an upset win over the Steelers, in his first start for the Patriots. But even in that game, he had only 68 rushing yards on 22 carries. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry in five starts.

Maybe a return to Dallas will rejuvenate Elliott, who turns 29 this summer. Maybe a better line will help his production. Fact is, though, that was a starter last season at the end of the year, and he was not a very good one.

Sean Deveney is a veteran sports reporter covering the NBA, NFL and MLB for He has written for Heavy since 2019 and has more than two decades of experience covering the NBA, including 17 years as the lead NBA reporter for the Sporting News. Deveney is the author of 7 nonfiction books, including “Fun City,” “Before Wrigley became Wrigley,” and “Facing Michael Jordan.” More about Sean Deveney

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