Hello, angry mob. Welcome.
No, by the way, the headline is not clickbait.
NFL.com named the most indispensable offensive players in the league, placing Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott third on that list. High praise for a running back who has led the league in rushing two of this first three seasons, and is regarded as one of the best backs in all of football. Adam Schein excluded quarterbacks from this list, but he still had an interesting statement about Dak.
The paragraph on Elliott begins like this: “Zeke makes Dak. Never get it twisted.”
This, of course, is the popular fan sentiment around the league. As the national media discusses a contract extension for Dak Prescott, with annual value creeping well into the $30 million range, some other fanbases laugh at the Cowboys for valuing Prescott that high. Or, honestly, for valuing Prescott at all.
But in a league where it's universally agreed upon that quarterback is the most important position, and a league where the best teams consistently have the most prolific passing (not rushing) offenses in the league, and a specific team which has experienced the loss of their starting quarterback mid-season before, Dak Prescott remains undervalued. Underrated. Under-appreciated. All of that.
Prescott's win-loss record as the Cowboys' starting quarterback speaks for itself. His leadership qualities and intangibles speak for themselves. But unfortunately the perception of him around the league is that he is carried by the offensive line and running game.
The fact of the matter is, however, this is simply not true.
After the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper and Prescott was given a legitimate receiving threat on the outside, he completed 71.3% of his passes, threw 14 touchdowns, just 4 interceptions, averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, and won 7 of the 9 games played.
It's true that Prescott struggled during the first three games of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension in 2017, but that was more due to Tyron Smith and Zack Martin being banged up than it was Elliott missing. To be honest, the Cowboys raw rushing numbers didn't look all that different without Elliott for those six games. Sure, his presence matters, but losing him was not the disaster many have interpreted those three games to show.
While perception remains that Prescott is an average quarterback that is carried by his supporting cast, the reality is that he is a good quarterback who was held back by a putrid supporting cast (due to both injury and suspension) for a handful of games in 2017.
Quarterback is more important than running back. It's just the way the sport is. Plus, in general, your passing game means more than your rushing game, and despite the old sayings, your effectiveness on the ground does not correlate strongly to the effectiveness of the play action pass.
This does not mean that Elliott is worthless or that running the football is a waste of time. In fact, I highly value having a quarterback that makes the defense account for all 11 players on offense. In other words, while I do believe that running the football can “matter,” it's also true that QB runs are far more effective and debilitating than traditional running back handoffs.
Dak Prescott brings that rushing threat on every snap.
I'll leave you with this. If Ezekiel Elliott were to miss the 2019 season, the Cowboys could likely find a replacement level running back that could mimic enough of Elliott's production to piece together a useful running game week in and week out.
If Prescott were to go down? The Cowboys offense would likely be a disaster until he returned. That's the nature of the quarterback position in 2019.