The Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s best team so far this season in large part because they were both wise and fortunate in this year’s NFL draft, using the fourth overall selection on tailback Ezekiel Elliott and landing star quarterback-to-be Dak Prescott in the fourth round.
But in looking at how the Cowboys have become what they are now, it is perhaps even more illustrative to recall what they did in the opening round of the 2014 NFL draft, when owner Jerry Jones had to fight his impulse to make the big-splash move of taking Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 16th overall pick and the team instead went with an offensive lineman from Notre Dame, Zack Martin.
That is among the series of maneuvers made by the Cowboys to bolster their offensive line that is paying huge dividends now, with them on an 11-game winning streak that has improved their NFL-best record to 11-1 after Thursday night’s triumph at Minnesota.
It is a lesson that is clear when studying some of the league’s best and most surprising teams this season: Devoting resources to the offensive line can pay off handsomely. It has worked to make the Cowboys and Oakland Raiders two of the NFL’s elite teams in 2016, and to make the Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins relevant once more as playoff contenders.
“I think every team knows that philosophically you build from the inside out, from front to back,” said former NFL player, scout and front office executive Louis Riddick. “Every scout, GM, coach, team president knows that. But some people really commit resources to it and really believe in it, which Dallas has done, which Miami has done, which Tennessee has done.”
No one has done it better than the Cowboys. They used a first-round pick on left tackle Tyron Smith in 2011. They used a first-rounder on center Travis Frederick in 2013. They went with Martin over Manziel in 2014, with Jones’s son and Cowboys executive Stephen Jones intervening to help keep his father from taking Manziel, and made Martin a starter at guard.
Smith, Martin and Frederick have been selected to a combined seven Pro Bowls, a number that is certain to grow this season, and the Cowboys have an offensive line that could be remembered as one of the sport’s all-time greats. It paved the way for DeMarco Murray…