The Dallas Cowboys spent the majority of their 2016 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, and I attempted to find roles for that group of 5 players yesterday here on Inside The Star.
However, the pick that we spent all off season talking about at fourth overall was used on a star offensive player in Ezekiel Elliott. While finding Elliott’s role may not be too difficult, Dallas also used a fourth round pick on QB Dak Prescott – their first drafted quarterback since 2009 – and their last two picks of the 6th round on RB Darius Jackson and TE Rico Gathers respectively.
Let’s attempt to find roles for all four of these rookies in 2016:
RB Ezekiel Elliott (Round 1, Pick 4)
As mentioned, finding Elliott’s projected role is not all that hard. Teams do not use a top 5 pick on a running back anymore unless they plan on featuring him heavily in the offense.
For the Cowboys, this plan is even more obvious, because we have seen the success this team has had by relying on their stellar offensive line and running game.
Not only will Elliott help Jason Garrett and the Cowboys try to emulate that 2014 division winning season, but the first round pick will be joined by – at least for now – Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Lance Dunbar.
While I don’t see McFadden taking many snaps away from Elliott, or even making the team depending on the health of the other RBs throughout camp, the name that becomes interesting here is Alfred Morris.
The Cowboys signed Morris to a two year deal late in the off season at a great price, and would be smart to still try to get some value out of the durable and physical back. Zeke Elliott will see the majority of the carries this season for sure, but keep an eye on how Scott Linehan plans on using Alfred Morris as his compliment back.
QB Dak Prescott (Round 4, Pick 135)
The Cowboys absolutely needed to bring in a quarterback with one of their picks in this draft, and they did just that by waiting until the fourth round and selecting Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
The question for Prescott and his role for 2016 is simply where he will sit on the QB depth chart. A healthy Tony Romo sits at #1, but fans were much too recently reminded of how ugly things can get for this team when Romo is sidelined with an injury and the Cowboys turn to their QB2.
Now in 2016, that will either be Prescott or Kellen Moore – who stepped in to start the final 2 games of this past season after replacing Matt Cassel in week 15 against the Jets. Linehan and Dallas value Moore’s experience, particularly in Linehan’s system dating back to Detroit, and are confident that more reps with the starters could develop him into a more serviceable backup.
If this is the case, Dak Prescott will likely be an inactive QB3 throughout 2016. His priority would remain the same, as he tries to soak up as much information about the offense by sitting in the QB room with Romo, Linehan, and Moore – three guys all on the same page for this system.
If Prescott shows enough right away in training camp to earn the trust of these coaches as Romo’s backup, then he will still use 2016 as a learning experience, while mentally preparing to step in to the fire every week if needed.
When this pick was announced, it was certainly surprising to see the Cowboys use another pick in this draft on a running back. However, after a closer look at his film, it appears the Cowboys may have found a durable and more versatile replacement for Lance Dunbar.
Yes, Dunbar is still with the team for this season on a new one-year deal, but he is also not expected to be ready for the start of the season. When he does return to the field, he’s unfortunately at a risk to be re-injured at any point.
This is where Jackson can find his role for 2016 and beyond, taking carries as a change-of-pace back behind Elliott and Morris/McFadden while also catching passes out of the backfield and potentially contributing on special teams as well.
It’s going to be exciting to watch the Cowboys backfield hit training camp later on this summer thanks to guys like Darius Jackson.
TE Rico Gathers (Round 6, Pick 217)
We started this article with Ezekiel Elliott, who was an easy projection for 2016. I’ll conclude with Rico Gathers, who may be the most difficult offensive rookie in the entire league to project.
Most recently a Baylor college basketball player, Gathers has not played football since middle school. Yet, the Cowboys used a pick on the 6’8″ rebound machine with the hope of molding him into the next Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates.
While it doesn’t mean much, Gathers did apparently look very smooth and comfortable during his rookie mini camp, which marked his first time in a football uniform since his early teenage years.
Gathers will look to keep this momentum going into training camp, where he joins a depth chart that features a future Hall of Fame tight end in Jason Witten along with Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, and Geoff Swaim.
Outside of Witten, Escobar is the only other true pass-catching threat at this position for the Cowboys, and even that is a role that he has failed in numerous times. Now dealing with a torn achilles that will leave him out for a significant amount of time, Escobar (in his contract year) leaves the door open for Swaim and Gathers to tap into their potential and add a dimension to the Cowboys offense.
How do you see the Cowboys enhancing their offense with this rookie draft class? Let us know! Leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss this further.