Michael Irvin prayed to God Almighty he would be wrong.
"I said last year when everybody was chirping, 'Oh, you don't need DeMarco [Murray]. You let him go, you let him go,'" Irvin told Ben & Skin on 105.3 The Fan. "I was vocal all the way around about that move. And everybody kind of got on me on Twitter. 'Michael, you don't know what you're talking about.' I said okay and said I hope and pray God please let me be wrong."
The Lord works in mysterious ways, and He let the three-time Super Bowl champion receiver be right as Dallas sputtered to a 4-12 finish with franchise quarterback Tony Romo missing 12 games due to a twice-fractured left collarbone.
For finishing last place in the NFC East and tying for the third-worst record in football, the Cowboys earned the 2016 fourth overall pick "the hard way," as COO Stephen Jones likes to say. Now, the question becomes what Dallas should do with the blue-chip pick.
With the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles trading with Tennessee and Cleveland to move up to number one and number two overall respectively, the consensus is these two teams bereft of quarterback talent will take the top two passing prospects in this class, whether that is Cal's Jared Goff or North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Even though San Diego buffers the two teams and Dallas, mock drafters have the Cowboys taking one of three players: Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, or his teammate in running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Said Irvin: "I have people tell me this Jalen Ramsey kid, he's like Deion Sanders. He's a great corner. I want to talk to you about that. Now, Deion, and I love him to death, went to Atlanta. They don't win anything with Deion Sanders in Atlanta. Because I don't care how great you play corner without somebody on the other side that can score some points, you're just stopping people without scoring points. Points win championships.
"Go get Bosa. Bosa is a bad boy. His brother plays with my son down in Florida. Nick's maybe going to be even better than him. Bosa is a bad boy. But you think Bosa is going to play any better than J.J. Watt? J.J. Watt is a bad man. They're winning nothing in Houston and they got a J.J. Watt."
In 2014, the Cowboys were the fifth-scoring offense in the NFL with 467 thanks to the balanced attack with running back DeMarco Murray taking the heat off Romo. Dallas was able to saddle up Murray, protect their 34-year-old field general coming off two back surgeries, and ride into a home playoff game with a 12-4 record. However, in the ensuing off-season, the front office decided to let Murray test free agency. With Murray signing with the Eagles on a five-year, $42 million deal, Dallas brought in veteran rusher Darren McFadden to join offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's running back by committee with third-year Joseph Randle as the chairman. Ultimately, the committee dissolved into McFadden having absolute power, but Dallas only gave the former Arkansas Razorback 20-plus carries just four times in 2015.
Emmitt Smith, who joined KTCK's BaD Radio from the SMU Athletic Forum, lamented the devaluing of the running back in the millennial game.
"They don't ever give them the chance to [carry 30 times a game]," Smith said. "Period. They really don't. They have taken the ball out of the hands of the running back for various reasons. I don't understand what those reasons are. There must be some statistical data that we're not aware of that they need to share with the public. But at the end of the day, I think the game is actually won between the tackles. Whether that's defense or offense, it's a seven-on-seven game. And that includes the running game. So, my front five versus your front eight or front seven, what's going to happen? That's really where the game is won."
The running game isn't the secret sauce to cooking a championship meal. Let's take a look at the past 10 leaders in rushing yards:
Those 10 teams only have a combined five playoff wins. Compare that to the past 10 leaders in passer rating who have a combined 18 playoff wins. Naturally, the statistics underline how quarterback-driven today's NFL is. But even a franchise quarterback needs protection whether in the physical manifestation of a back picking up a blitz or figuratively as a back carries the ball.
Said Smith: "You have these quarterbacks that have a special skill set at throwing that football. And there are good ones. Aaron Rodgers is one of the few to name. But at the end of the day, it comes down to the team that can run the rock the most effectively and get the play-action going on, bootlegs going on, waggles, all kinds of things to open up the whole entire offense. And right now, they're telling the guys you have to get 100 yards off of 12 carries."
"I'm telling you," Irvin declared. "The Dallas Cowboys have to right here, right now go get Ezekiel Elliot and make all the difference in the world. He is one person that will protect Tony Romo since we are worried about his health. He will protect Tony Romo and he will give us what we need and that is touchdowns."
Dallas added Washington running back Alfred Morris in free agency to complement or replace McFadden. In 2015, according to Irvin, the two had 1,837 yards but only four touchdowns combined.
"Ezekiel Elliot had 23 touchdowns last year. Get the points and then you build the defense. Defense has to be added to someone that can score points in order to win championships."
When the Cowboys last won the NFC East in 2014, Murray provided 13 rushing touchdowns. Dallas went 10-3 when Murray scored at least one rushing touchdown, playoffs included.
One of the chief arguments against taking Elliot with the fourth overall pick is the underachievement of such picks. Since 2002, out of the six running backs taken in the top-5, only one of them made the Pro Bowl: Miami's Ronnie Brown. And Trent Richardson bouncing between teams after the Browns took him with the third overall pick in 2012 really frightened teams to the point teams didn't take running backs in the first round in 2013-14, a feat unseen since 1970.
"I hear people ask me if you would take a running back that high," said Irvin. "Let me ask you: would you take Todd Gurley with the fourth pick? I'm taking him with the first pick. You know what I mean? So, certain guys are worthy of it. You just have to go get them. Was Emmitt Smith worth it? This kid has all that skill set. We're wasting a great offensive line if we don't get the rest of it to make sure that they get to show the people who they are."
The Cowboys would have no problem using their fourth overall pick on Elliot.
"The idea of having a top talent there that you know how much it’s going to be involved and all that goes to it, you know all of that can change what is very obvious, and running backs have been diminished," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in the team's pre-draft presser. "There is another way to look at it. You look at it at what will ultimately be the biggest impact on your team. Just because we didn’t do Murray, just because we have running back by committee, just because we have veterans as we’ve said, doesn’t mean at all that we’re not in the running back business."
The club's only issue would be paying Elliot if he out-performed his contract five years from now, according to Jerry.
"There’s a ton of difference, it’s daylight to dark on putting 50 or 60 million of dollars of resources to put your team together. It’s called cap. It’s a ton of difference to put it on a back that has no carries in the NFL than putting it on one that has five or six years and that’s just life. As much as anything, that factor has diminished the value of running backs, the obvious position it takes a lot of physical wear and tear."