Since it was first given out in 1967, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award has always had a single winner. In all that time, perhaps no two players have made a better case for there to be co-winners than the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott’s 1631 rushing yards is the third-highest total for a rookie season in NFL history. He accomplished this in just 15 games. Eric Dickerson’s record of 1808 yards was in 16 games, as was George Rogers’ second-place mark of 1674 yards. Elliott would have almost certainly moved past Rogers had he played against the Eagles last Sunday.
Prescott set a new NFL rookie record with his 104.9 passer rating. He tied Ben Roethlisberger with 13 wins, the most ever by a rookie quarterback. He threw fewer interceptions (per pass attempt) than any rookie QB ever.
The debate about who deserves the award more between Elliott and Prescott seems to be split down the middle. It has a strong “chicken and the egg” element to it; who makes life easier for who?
Does Elliott’s dominant running make things easier for the passing game, keeping guys close to the box and allowing for some deadly play-action passes? Yes.
Does Prescott’s efficient, turnover-avoiding play help sustain drives and give Elliott more opportunities to rack up yards and score touchdowns? Yes.
Ezekiel Elliott’s numbers are more about flash and production while Dak Prescott’s are about efficiency and precision. Both were equally impressive when compared to the rookies who’ve come before them. Both were key reasons that the Dallas Cowboys went from 4-12 to 13-3 in just one season.
Given the flash, the style, and the Salvation Army kettle bell, it can be easy to get a little more swept off your feet by Elliott. He is a superstar and entertainer. He will probably sell more merchandise over his career than Dak Prescott. But his story isn’t nearly as compelling.
Elliott is the running back who got taken with the fourth-overall pick and joined one of the best offensive lines in NFL history. He was expected to be great. The ideas that he could challenge Dickerson’s rookie record, or even DeMarco Murray’s team record from 2014, were floated from the minute he was drafted.
Prescott came from the other end of the expectation spectrum. He was the 135th pick, taken at the end of the fourth round with a compensatory selection. He was taken after Dallas tried to move up for Paxton Lynch in the first round and Connor Cook at the start of the fourth. Seven quarterbacks were drafted before Prescott.
Prescott was the third quarterback behind Tony Romo and Kellen Moore during training camp. A broken ankle took Moore out of the equation and allow Dak to shine in the backup role. Romo was then injured in the third preseason game. Prescott went from QB3 to QB1 in just a few weeks and only a few Sundays before the regular season opener.
The rest, as they say, is history. It also made history for these rookies and the Dallas Cowboys. Given all of this, why shouldn’t the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award make a little more?
There is a precedent for this. In 1980, the Defensive ROTY Award was given to two linebackers from the Atlanta Falcons; Buddy Curry and Al Richardson. The Falcons were the top seed in the NFC that season, the same position that the Cowboys enjoy in 2016.
Team accomplishment is why, more than any reason, I feel the award should go to both players. The Cowboys tied a franchise record for wins despite circumstances that usually leaves teams in the gutter. The story of this season is bigger than what any one player did; both rookies performed and, more importantly, led the team to unexpected success.
The ROTY Awards are decided by ballots from a 50-man panel of Associated Press members. The odds that a perfect tie will come from those ballots are slim. Unfortunately, just one of Ezekiel Elliott or Dak Prescott will likely come away with the award.
Personally, I think awards should be about more than just a sum of votes. I think they should be part of a greater narrative; part of the ending to a wonderful sports story. The story of the 2016 Cowboys involves Dak and Zeke equally and neither is more or less deserving of every available accolade.
If the award is given by writers then they should understand this better than anybody. Give the story the right ending.