Punch Drunk Wonderland

The Dallas Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott at #4 and it was a Bad Move

Ezekiel Elliott Dallas Cowboys 2016 NFL Draft

The 2016 NFL Draft kicked off its first round last night, and much of the night fit with much of what experts have expected. Goff went to St. Louis. Wentz wen to Philly. At the fourth pick Dallas was expected to either go with running back Ezekiel Elliott or cornerback Jalen Ramsey. They went with Elliott, and some think it’s a really bad move for the Cowboys.  Granted, Elliott could very well be an NFL star. But, our friends at numberFire have taken a look at why this wasn’t the smartest move for Dallas with the fourth overall selection in the Draft.

Ezekiel Elliott could end up being one of the best running backs in the NFL, and Dallas would still have made the wrong choice in selecting him last night.

NFL front offices are still — objectively — getting it wrong. Rather than spending early-draft selections on truly impactful positions, they’re doing what the Cowboys did last night. They’re taking a running back. With the fourth overall pick.

Fans are excited, and I understand why: we live in a fantasy football world where 1,500 yards from scrimmage is everything at the running back position.

But from a real football standpoint, it was a bad pick. And it’s made worse when you read the Cowboys’ logic as to why they selected Elliott. Here’s something head coach Jason Garrett said after the selection:

“Hopefully you possess the ball more. You get more plays on offense, fewer plays on defense, and that allows your defense to play at a higher level. It’s similar to how we played a couple years ago, when we ran the ball so effectively — and I thought it had a really positive impact on everybody on our team. We believe Zeke gives us a chance to do that.”

This is something that seems like it should be true, but there’s absolutely nothing quantifying whether or not it’s actually true.

The truth is, there’s no correlation — the r-value is 0.10 — between rushing and defensive performance according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. It may seem intuitive that holding the ball would help a defense — and it might to a small degree — but there are plenty of instances where that’s not the case.

I mean, if we want to play the anecdotal game like the Cowboys are doing (their sample size here is “one”, after all), Adrian Peterson‘s teams haven’t always had above-average defenses. Remember Le’Veon Bell‘s breakout season a couple of years ago? That Steeler defense was awful.

Here’s the kicker, though: per NEP, the Cowboys had a better defense last season (19th when adjusted for strength of opponent) than they did in 2014. You know, last year, when they were Tony Romo-less and had Darren McFadden leading the backfield.

The DeMarco Murray Myth

To think DeMarco Murray was the reason for Dallas’ efficiency in 2014 would be like thinking Robert Herjavec is the reason people tune intoShark Tank. Sure, Murray was part of it all, but when you remove him from the equation, things don’t really change.

Take a look at how the Cowboys performed on the ground in 2014 (Murray’s big year that relentlessly gets brought up by the Cowboys’ front office — why did they get rid of him again?) versus 2015:

Adjusted Rush NEP Rank Per Play Rank
2014 13.91 9th 0.03 9th
2015 8.51 9th 0.02 9th

This isn’t some mistake. The Cowboys’ rushing offense relative to the rest of the NFL was nearly identical in 2015 as it was in 2014.

Maybe this is making you second guess Net Expected Points, because there’s no way Dallas ran the ball as effectively last year as they did when Murray had his big breakout campaign.

Well, even the most traditional statistic imaginable — yards per carry — shows the same thing. In 2014, Dallas’ average yards per tote was 4.6. In 2015, it was…4.6.

Continue reading at numberFire.com… (@numberfire)

 

 

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