Examining Cowboys’ decision to bypass running backs in the draft in favor of Ezekiel Elliott and Marist Liufau

How much, if any, did Ezekiel Elliott’s availability on the open market prior to the 2024 NFL Draft have on the Dallas Cowboys’ decision-making? An argument could be made it significantly impacted Dallas’ selections and a counterargument could easily explain why each player was drafted in each round. Today though, we are going to explore the former.

It’s no secret the Dallas Cowboys touched base with Zeke and his representatives prior to the 2024 NFL Draft getting underway. By doing so, they knew he had an interest in returning to Dallas. That at the very least presented them with a Plan B, which quickly could’ve turned into their Plan A once things started unfold in each round.

But when and where could Ezekiel Elliott’s availability possibly started to have an impact on the Cowboys decision-making? Round one? Not a chance. As much as they seemed to like RB Jonathan Brooks, drafting him in round one would’ve been a huge reach. What about round two? That definitely seems more likely, so let’s start there.

Round 2, Pick 56

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By the time the Cowboys were on the clock at No. 56 they had already seen RB Jonathan Brooks get drafted by the Carolina Panthers 10 picks earlier at No. 46. With him gone the next RB they had shown the most interest in was Trey Benson, but he was considered a reach here considering he was Dane Brugler’s 81st overall ranked player in his Top 100. So instead of reaching on an RB, they stuck to their board and drafted Marshawn Kneeland.

We can’t really fault the Dallas Cowboys here. Sticking to their board and drafting someone they had ranked higher at a position of need was the right decision. In fact, it looks as if they received tremendous value here. Kneeland was considered a fringe first-round prospect and was Brugler’s 32nd ranked player in his Top 100. Because of that, we’ll concede the Cowboys were correct to bypass the RB position in the second round.

Round 3, Pick 73 (from Detroit Lions)

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By the time the Cowboys were on the clock again at No. 73, Trey Benson had already been drafted by the Arizona Cardinals earlier in the third round with the 66th overall pick. With only Jonathan Brooks and Trey Benson off the board, Dallas still had their pick of all of the available running backs for them with the first of their two third-round draft picks.

Again though, it looks as if they stuck to their draft board and selected their top ranked player at a position of need by drafting the versatile offensive lineman Cooper Beebe. This is another pick that seemed to carry significant value. He was Brugler’s 38th overall ranked player in his Top 100 and someone who should start immediately for Dallas. So again, we will concede the Cowboys were correct to bypass the RB position again here.

Round 3, Pick 87

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Between the Cowboys selection of Cooper Beebe and when they are on the clock again at No. 87 only one RB was drafted, Blake Corum. He went 83rd overall to the Los Angeles Rams, still leaving several running backs worthy of being selected here. Instead, Dallas pulls off arguably the biggest shocker by not only bypassing the RB position once again, but selecting LB Marist Liufau out of Notre Dame.

Drafting Marist Liufau at No. 87 was considered a pretty significant reach by the Cowboys. He was expected to be a mid-to-late Day 3 selection and was given a fifth-sixth round draft grade by Dane Brugler. This is where knowing of Ezekiel Elliott’s availability on the open market most likely impacted the Cowboys decision-making and potentially cost them their running back of the future.

By knowing they could just bring back Zeke via free agency they bypassed RBs Jaylen Wright, MarShawn Lloyd, both of whom Dallas had an interest in, or Braelon Allen, and even Audric Estime who were all projected as Top 100 picks according to Dane Brugler. They instead decided to draft the Notre Dame LB, who they must’ve believed wouldn’t have lasted to No. 174 when they were on the clock again.

That seems to be the most logical reasoning as to why the Cowboys continued to bypass the RB position despite the obvious need to replace Tony Pollard. And, who’s to say this wasn’t the right way to go. A total of nine LBs were drafted before the Cowboys No. 174 pick and Liufau very well could’ve been one of them.

Had the Cowboys known how things would’ve played out though, it’s reasonable to believe they might have done things different, drafting a RB at No. 87 instead of Marist Liufau. By waiting, they could have their pick of Curtis Jacobs – who somehow when undrafted to the Chiefs – and Jaylan Ford. Both received pre-draft interest from the Cowboys and were ranked higher according to Brugler.

Only time will tell if the Cowboys made the right decision. It does stand to reason though Ezekiel Elliott’s availability for them via free agency had at least some impact on the decision-making. How much though may or may not ever be known. All we can do is trust the Cowboys brass and hope everything works out.


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