<
>

Is it worth asking a year later -- Ezekiel Elliott or Jalen Ramsey?

Ezekiel Elliott was a game-changing draft pick for the Cowboys last year. Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports

On the Tuesday before the 2016 NFL Draft, I stood at a podium inside ESPN’s newest building and pronounced to the world that the Dallas Cowboys would take Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey with the fourth overall pick.

Bill Polian immediately mocked my mock selection of Ramsey and said I should have selected Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Polian turned out to be correct, although in fairness the "pick" was made before our appearance and I had subsequently had to fall on the sword and stick with Ramsey.

Elliott was a terrific pick for the Cowboys, leading the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards. He became the heartbeat of the Cowboys' offense the way DeMarco Murray was the heartbeat in 2014 when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards.

But as the Cowboys get ready for this year's draft, the question of what they did and did not do in the first round of last year's draft needs to be asked again: Elliott or Ramsey?

A strong case can be made, again, for Ramsey, the Florida State cornerback who went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the fifth overall pick.

Part of my reasoning last year for taking Ramsey in the NFL Nation mock draft was not just what was best for 2016 but what was best for 2017, 2018 and beyond.

The Cowboys went into last year knowing Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox were going into the final years of their contracts. They knew there was a very real possibility they would not re-sign any of them before, during or after the 2016 season, leaving them with a hole on their roster in 2017.

Ramsey was the best defensive back in the draft. Some saw him as a future safety because of his range. Others saw him as a lock-down cornerback.

He was consistently tested by other teams and answered the questions more often than not. He started every game and had 65 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. He played 445 snaps at left cornerback and 359 snaps at right cornerback. He played some in the slot.

He has the look of a future Pro Bowl cornerback for years to come.

The Cowboys saw Carr sign with the Baltimore Ravens. They saw Claiborne sign with the New York Jets. They saw Church sign with the Jaguars. They saw Wilcox sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They enter this week's draft needing defensive back help, even with the signing of veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll II. At safety they believe Jeff Heath is ready to step into a starting role next to Byron Jones.

The Cowboys had 12 cornerbacks and four safeties among their non-local visitors to The Star leading up to this year's draft. Marlon Humphrey, Gareon Conley, Kevin King, Adoree' Jackson and Tre'Davious White are cornerbacks that could be worth picking at No. 28 who visited the Cowboys. The four safeties -- Obi Melifonwu, Tedric Thompson, Marcus Williams and Xavier Woods -- are considered second-, third-, or fourth-round selections.

Will any of those cornerbacks or safeties be as good as Ramsey?

Perhaps, but the odds say the fourth pick in the draft will be better than the 28th pick. It's not a fool-proof notion, obviously, but you would go with the high-first rounder over the low-first rounder more often than not.

Part of the reason why the Cowboys chose Elliott was the effect he would have on their defense. The better he was, the better the Cowboys would hold on to the ball and the less the defense would be on the field. In 2016, it was a strategy that worked very well.

Elliott has the look of a transcendent player. He changed the Cowboys' modus operandi last season. He made the big plays. He picked up the dirty yards. He helped make everyone's job, from Dak Prescott, to the line and, yes, to the defense, easier.

The Cowboys did the right thing in selecting Elliott last year, but had they picked Ramsey a year ago it wouldn't have been the wrong thing.