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2016 Triplets: Setting Expectations for Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Ezekiel Elliott

Sean Martin

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When quarterback Tony Romo is on the field for the Dallas Cowboys, anything is possible. The team always has a chance with their leader under center, especially when dynamic wide receiver Dez Bryant is right there with him.

Cowboys Nation was cruelly reminded what happens when both players are sidelined together in 2015, which has only added to the hype for 2016 - with both players set to return at full strength.

Of course, an extra jolt of excitement is expected to be provided by rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cowboys to create their modern version of the triplets.

The Triplets. Emmitt Smith. Troy Aikman. Michael Irvin.

Obviously, these three players have a special place in the hearts of every Cowboys' fan, as they delivered three Super Bowl trophies to the organization through the 1990s.

Dallas' modern triplets have a long way to go in cementing a similar legacy of course, but I figured that it would be a fascinating exercise to project the 2016 stats for Elliott, Romo, and Bryant, based on their career paths compared to those of their triplets' counterparts.

Without further adieu, let's dive into the numbers, and more on how they were calculated.

Projecting 2016: RB Ezekiel Elliott

ZekeProjection

A lot is probably going through your head right now, right? Numbers and colors are everwhere, DeAngelo Williams has somehow poked his nose into Cowboys news once again, and Ezekiel Elliott isn't even going to break 1,000 yards in 2016? 

Well, if you've been following any of my other work here at Inside The Star, you know how excited I am to have Elliott on my team, so allow me to explain all of these projections.

Emmitt Smith's rookie season came in 1990, and there's no way to hide that it was not spectacular. You see his numbers there in the top left, which still earned him the 10th highest rushing yard total in the league that year.

Working with Smith's rookie numbers, the next part of this equation called for doing our best to translate those numbers to 2016. To do so, I took the stats of last season's 10th leading rusher, which happened to be Williams.

To further merge the old with the new, you see the averages for how much both backs contributed to their teams when it comes to a percentage of the team's rushing yards and touchdowns. These numbers obviously played the largest role in figuring out Zeke's final projection, but let's pause to remember a few things first.

  • While Williams' percentage of the team's rushing yards is lower due to him starting the season as a backup, Elliott is going to be the undisputed RB1 with the Dallas Cowboys. For further perspective, DeMarco Murray accounted for 78.38% of the Cowboys' rushing yards in 2014, trumping the numbers of both Williams and Smith.
  • Elliott will be doing all of his running behind the best offensive line in football, and as the best scheme fit this offensive front has been able to block for since coming together. Because of this, Elliott's final projections are going to be adjusted at the end of this section. 

ElliottOTA

If Ezekiel Elliott runs for 57.54% of the Cowboys' rushing yards in 2016, and the team rushes for the average that you see above, he will finish with 927 yards. As opposed to trying to make this formula even more complex to get a more suitable number, we're simply going to add 25 yards per game to Ezekiel's production.

This seemed like a fair number when taking into account all of the offensive weapons the Cowboys will feature in 2016. In fact, when you see my projections for Bryant and Romo, you may even be able to make a case for Elliott to put out even more yards and touchdowns than his final projection - which is as follows:

Ezekiel Elliott will rush for 1,327 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016.

Happy now? Awesome! Let's see what the stats for the quarterback of America's Team are going to look like this season.

Cowboys Colts

Projecting 2016: QB Tony Romo

Tony Romo is entering his 11th season as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, which means that his projections will be largely based on the 1999 performance of Troy Aikman.

RomoProjections

Aikman's stats in his second to last season translate, in terms of yards, to the 2015 performance of Oakland Raiders' signal caller Derek Carr. With rookie WR Amari Cooper joining the silver and black this season, Carr had somewhat of a breakout year, which of course helped Romo's projected 2016 numbers.

The formula here is exactly the same as the one used for Elliott, except no curve will be applied.

Tony Romo will throw for 3,462 yards in 2016, completing 60.3% of his passes for 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

With these numbers, Romo's return to the field would see him throw for his 7th highest career yards output, lowest completion percentage, 8th most touchdowns, and 7th fewest interceptions.

When put this way, these numbers certainly don't jump out to anyone, but it does serve as a reminder to Cowboys Nation that expectations for Romo should not be impossibly high. While yes, he is fully rested and healthy, the quarterback is aging and is at some point going to slow down.

I still do believe that there is some great football left in Tony Romo however, and the Cowboys have done everything possible to load up his offense for 2016 and beyond. Outside of Elliott and Bryant being here, and Romo also benefiting greatly from this offensive line, targets like Cole Beasley and Brice Butler will look forward to developing further chemistry with their quarterback and making the Dallas passing attack one of the NFL's most potent.

Any Cowboys fan that understands the full impact that Tony Romo has had on this team over the years knows to look beyond the stats, and this projection (while still being pretty solid), could be an example of that.

This leaves us with one question left to answer, and it is how many of these Tony Romo passing yards and touchdowns will go to Dez Bryant. 

IrvinBryant

2016 Projection: WR Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant is the soul of the Cowboys' offense. It pained the star wideout to never truly be at 100% in 2015, which means scary things for opposing defenses facing a motivated Bryant in 2016.

My own expectations for Dez are sky high this year, but let's see what the projected numbers say. Again, the formula remains unchanged, as we'll merge together the production of a 1994 Michael Irvin and his 2015 equivalent.

DezProjection

Dez Bryant will catch 83 passes in 2016 for 1,276 yards, with 8 of those receptions resulting in touchdowns.

With these numbers, Dez Bryant would have the third highest yardage output of his NFL career on his fourth highest receptions total. The touchdowns number obviously seems low, and while I expect more than 8 balls to be caught by Dez Bryant in the painted rectangle on Sundays, it is still so unknown how the Cowboys will attack in the red zone.

Elliott will of course get his touches, and all of the other weapons mentioned above for QB Tony Romo are going to be vying for targets. Still, it has been far too long since we've seen Romo take a snap and immediately lob a fade to #88, who catches it for a score before his defender could even react.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan certainly understand this, and will be looking to get the ball into Dez Bryant's hands plenty of times this season. Additionally, Bryant is a team player, and if he accounts for just 8 of Romo's projected 24 touchdowns this season (33.3%) and the team is winning, you won't see any complaints.


Projecting future stats in the NFL is incredibly hard. The game we love so much is a constant balancing act between numbers. Should Elliott blow past my projection and take the league by storm as a rookie, it obviously will have an effect on the stats for Romo and Bryant.

If Bryant finds himself poised to prove he is one of the best play makers in the league again this season, the effects it will have on Elliott are relatively unknown, while Romo will receive a big boost.

Make of these numbers what you will, and get ready to watch the Cowboys put up points, points, and more points in 2016! Thank you for reading, and see below how you can contact me with your thoughts on any and all of these projections.

What are your thoughts on the Cowboys new triplets and their projected 2016 stats? Let's talk about it! Comment below to start the discussion, email me at sean.martin@InsideTheStar.com, or tweet to me @ShoreSportsNJ!

Tell us what you think about "2016 Triplets: Setting Expectations for Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Ezekiel Elliott" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Damon B

    July 15, 2016 at 8:21 am

    I think rushing the #'s for Elliott are on the low side… I expect to see closer to 1100 yards and 10-12 TD's, plus another 300+/- receiving yards & 2-3 TD's.

    • Sean Martin

      Sean Martin

      July 15, 2016 at 11:51 am

      My final Elliott projection was 1,327 yards and 12 touchdowns, which is better than what you have him at (when it comes to yards). Thank you for reading, Damon.

  2. robby valentino

    July 15, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Romo stats. 4080 yards, 34 tds, 9 int Elliott. 1480 yards Dez. 90 cathes. 1350 yars. 14 td's

    • Sean Martin

      Sean Martin

      July 15, 2016 at 11:55 am

      This would give Romo his 5th highest career yardage output, 2nd most touchdowns (tied), and 2nd fewest interceptions (tied). While I would certainly sign up for that, I just don't see it, but I welcome Romo to prove me wrong haha. I like the numbers you chose for Dez, those look pretty good. Thank you for reading and responding.

  3. phuc

    July 15, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    While I agree with the numbers you have with zeke, I have to disagree with romo's numbers. Romo will have over 3800 yards passing and 35+ td's and single digit ints. Let's not forget that while Murray was a good rb, he could not take it to the house like zeke. That's going to open up more passing lanes and help the Cowboys wr's..

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Dallas Cowboys

Top 5 Offseason Priorities for the Dallas Cowboys

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

The 2018 NFL Season has come to an end for the Dallas Cowboys and now the team looks to the offseason to gear up for what should be another run toward the playoffs in 2019. As with every team heading into every offseason, they'll have some difficult decisions to make with some of their own players as well as deciding how they want to attack free agency and the draft.

The Cowboys have drafted really well over the last three seasons in particular, but have had a long track record of success in the Jason Garrett era. How we judge the draft this season should take into account what Amari Cooper has been to this team. He's been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped for when they sent their 2019 first round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for Cooper. The Cowboys, without a first round pick, will have less room for maneuvering around the draft, but as we've seen in the past, they are just as effective in the second round and beyond as they are in the first round.

As we get going in the offseason, let's look at the Dallas Cowboys 5 Most Pressing Priorities.

1. Dealing with DeMarcus Lawrence

The NFL is a passing league. You need players who can throw the ball and catch the ball. On the defensive side of the ball, you must have guys that can get after the passer and cover the receiver.

After moving to the 4-3 defense and the departure of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys struggled to find any pass rushing consistency at the defensive end position. They were led at the position by players like Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, and Benson Mayowa. Finally, the Cowboys selection of DeMarcus Lawrence is paying off has he's had double-digit sacks each of the last two seasons and has been equally effective against the run.

The Cowboys have the option of using the franchise tag on Lawrence again this offseason, which is a possibility as it would prevent other teams from negotiating with the Cowboys best defensive player. While the Cowboys need to continue to build the team through the draft and extend a few players, there isn't a bigger offseason priority than getting DeMarcus Lawrence's deal done.

RJ Ochoa on Twitter

Jason Garrett on soon-to-be free agent DeMarcus Lawrence: He's certainly as big a priority as there is

 

2. Making Big Adjustments to the Offense

There was a lot of consternation yesterday at the comments Jason Garrett made to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth about Scott Linehan's future with the team. It's obviously a possibility that he returns in 2019, but as Stephen Jones mentioned later in the day, it's too early to begin discussing those things as they haven't really began to review the season.

Scott Linehan has been good as an offensive coordinator and he's been a part of Dak Prescott's progression, but there are certain areas of this offense that need to be reworked or shaken up. Whether the Cowboys decide to move on from Linehan or they decide to make adjustments to the scheme, something needs to change. In particular, the team's insistence on using jumbo packages on every short yardage situation has made them predictable.

On 4th and 1 on Saturday, the team went to the Ezekiel Elliott in jumbo formations one too many times. In an era when most of the NFL is attempting to spread things out with 11 and 10 personnel, the Cowboys continue to force two and three tight end formations.

This offseason is just getting started and the Cowboys have a lot of decisions to make about their offense, but none is bigger than figuring out who the play caller is going to be. While the team may be publicly supporting Scott Linehan at the moment, it would be highly unlikely for the team to bring him back for another year.

#DALvsWAS: Michael Gallup Will Play, Value Extends Beyond Passing Game

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

3. Continue Building the Wide Receiver Corp

The Dallas Cowboys began the process of overhauling the wide receiver corp last offseason when they released Dez Bryant, signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, drafted Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson, and traded for Tavon Austin and most importantly Amari Cooper.

Generally, when the Dallas Cowboys have attempted to rebuild a position, they've done it over a few seasons, like they did with the offensive line, the defensive line, and the linebackers.

This offseason, the Cowboys will have a few decisions to make at the wide receiver position. Do they bring back Cole Beasley? What about Tavon Austin? Allen Hurns would have likely been a player the Cowboys could have used in the slot to replace Cole Beasley, but he's hurt and possibly won't be ready for training camp.

On offense, the passing game began to take shape in the second half of the season as Dak Prescott began to get more comfortable with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. They'll make a nice 1-2 punch heading into 2019, but there is still room for adding a player or two. Depending on the type of contract he'd want, it would be great to bring back Cole Beasley. It's become clear that he's not as big of a focal point in the offense since Amari Cooper has emerged, but he's still a good player that can make some big catches for you.

If the team looked to the draft, one player that is high on my list is Oklahoma Wide Receiver Marquise Brown. He's a home run hitter in every stretch of the imagination. With speed for days, he could be the field stretcher that the team has struggled to find. Not only does he have speed, he's an excellent route runner and has excellent hands and spends the offseason training with Steelers Wide Receiver and cousin Antonio Brown.

If the Cowboys wanted to go the free agency route to add a wide receiver, they should look at Jamison Crowder of the Washington Redskins or Adam Humphries of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to fill their slot wide receiver role. If you remember back to the Bucs game, Humphries was giving the Cowboys fits totaling 10 catches on 12 targets for 79 yards. Crowder struggled with injuries this season and had a down year, but that could mean he'd be cheap to sign, which is the way the Dallas Cowboys do free agency.

There are some nice players in the draft and free agency that the Cowboys could look to add to their wide receiver group, but they'll also be getting back Cedric Wilson, their sixth round pick from last season. The team really liked the production that Wilson had at Boise St. and Wilson was playing well in training camp and was pushing for a roster spot before his season ending injury.

Noah Brown is also a player in line to see more snaps moving forward. He's played well when called upon, using his superior blocking to make an impact in the running game while displaying nice route running and hands in the passing game. If Cole Beasley didn't return to the Cowboys this offseason, I could see the Cowboys giving Brown an expanded role on the outside or using him as a big slot receiver, similar to how the Arizona Cardinals use Larry Fitzgerald or how the New Orleans Saints use Michael Thomas. He has the size to be a mismatch for slot corners and the route running to be a mismatch for linebackers. They could also use Brown on the outside, put Cooper in the slot and then when they want to use Brown as a blocker, could motion him in-line.

Wide receiver will be a big question this offseason as teams must have three or four solid receivers to run their offense. The Cowboys have some players that could be given expanded roles, but should continue to add to the position through the draft.

4. Safety

Most of 2018 was spent discussing the possibility of trading for Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas, and I imagine that much of this offseason will be spent discussing him again. If you got tired of Earl Thomas talk last year, get ready, it's about to pick up.

Earl Thomas will be a free agent this offseason, so he'll be free to sign with any team he chooses and he's made it known that he'd like to play for the Dallas Cowboys. There are several question marks when it comes to Earl Thomas that the Cowboys will have to consider.

When will he be ready to go? What kind of money will he demand? Has health become a concern?

All legitimate questions for a player that will be coming off a broken leg suffered this season. He should be ready for offseason training as there have been videos posted to his Instagram showing him running stadiums. If he's ready to roll by free agency and is able to pass his physical, I bet they take another long look at adding him to the roster.

They have another free agent option that they can look into though in New York Giants Safety Landon Collins. He's a different type of safety than Earl Thomas, but Collins is a player. He's more of a "box" or strong safety that you could use to play the Jeff Heath role, which would leave Xavier Woods playing the free safety spot.

5. Defensive Tackle

Antwaun Woods, Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Caraun Reid, and Daniel Ross played well for the Dallas Cowboys defense, but as we saw on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams, they were lacking as a group. In Woods, Collins, and Crawford, you feel good with what you have as you approach free agency and the draft, but they need to add a player that can help them with their interior pass rush.

Much of the pass rush that the Cowboys received this season came from their defensive ends and linebackers. The tackles were good, but inconsistent in their ability to collapse the pocket and not allow any room for opposing quarterbacks to step into.

This is a draft that is deep on defense and the Cowboys will have a chance to add to their defensive tackle spot with their second round pick. With Rod Marinelli likely returning to the Dallas Cowboys next offseason, we know his ability to find diamonds in the rough. I wouldn't be surprised if they go practice squad diving again this offseason and find a player that can have a significant impact like David Irving did in 2017 and Antwaun Woods did in 2018.

It's unlikely that David Irving will be back and Tyrone Crawford could be a cap casualty if the Cowboys no longer want to carry his $10 million cap number.

The Cowboys are likely to bring back DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory is still under contract, as well as Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. They are pretty solid at defensive end, but could still add a player to compete with Taco and Armstrong. Defensive tackle though, is a place where they need to make a move to upgrade the position. The defense was really good last season, but needs to look for ways to improve heading into 2019.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Dallas Cowboys will do as they always do this offseason as they approach the roster; sign inexpensive veterans with the hope that they outperform their contracts and attempt to draft well yet again. It's a formula that has worked for them and there's no reason to think it won't continue moving forward.



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Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign OL Coach Marc Colombo Through 2019

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign OL Coach Marc Colombo Through 2019

Hiring six new positional coaches and a special teams coordinator prior to the 2018-19 season, the Dallas Cowboys saw plenty of success with this turnover - rebounding from a 3-5 start to reach the Divisional Round before having their season end at the LA Rams. At arguably their most important position, the Cowboys admitted to hiring the wrong fit when Paul Alexander was fired mid-season. Very fortunately, Alexander's assistant was ready to step up and become one of the most respected coaches on the staff, with former Cowboys Tackle Marc Colombo receiving a new contract as OL Coach through next season.

The team announced that Colombo would return on Tuesday. The day prior, Head Coach Jason Garrett said he expects Center Travis Frederick to be ready for the entirety of the offseason program. The two-time 1st Team All-Pro missed the entire season dealing with Gillian-Barre Syndrome.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Source: Cowboys have signed offensive line coach Marc Colombo to a new contract

There's still work to be done this offseason for the Cowboys to maintain their usual standard on the offensive line. Just days removed from the end of the season, in which the Cowboys became the first playoff squad since 1988 to start all players under the age of 30, the Dallas OL is in great position and should remain an overwhelming strength under Colombo.

With Joe Looney set to return to a backup role and Xavier Su'a-Filo under contract, even the Cowboys depth up front is built up nicely well before free agency or the Draft. Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin are the Cowboys offensive linemen with expiring contracts.

The Cowboys averaged 136.9 rush yards per game under Alexander, who introduced an unfamiliar scheme to established veterans like Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. Alexander's time as the Cowboys OL Coach also stunted the growth of rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, who finished the season strong once returning to the starting lineup.

The Cowboys allowed 56 sacks this season, 23 of which (41%) came in the six games under Alexander. Colombo had served as Alexander's assistant, believed to be a candidate to run his own OL room at some point.

When that opportunity came sooner than expected, the Cowboys brought back former offensive line coach Hudson Houck to assist Colombo.

A projected starting lineup of Smith, Williams, Frederick, Martin, and La'el Collins is what Colombo and Houck will have to look forward to when the Cowboys offense takes the field in 2019 - along with rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and fourth-year Quarterback Dak Prescott.

Colombo described himself as the "luckiest guy on the planet," when asked about his opportunity to continue coaching with his former team.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign OL Coach Marc Colombo Through 2019" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Next Day Rant: Cowboys Drafting LB Vander Esch Looks Pretty Smart Now

Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.

After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx

The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.

Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.

But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.

Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.

The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.

Tell me what you think about "Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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