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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.