OXNARD, Calif. -- Now that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended six games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, we'll see how valuable he is to the team's success.
Some teams believe successful running backs can be found anywhere, which is why the position has been devalued in the draft over the past few years. Others believe a special running back can make all the difference.
Elliott was a difference-maker in 2016 as Dallas went 13-3. He led the NFL in rushing (1,631 yards, 15 touchdowns) and played in 15 games. He did for the Cowboys last season what DeMarco Murray did for them in 2014.
In 2015, the Cowboys opted not to re-sign Murray, who joined the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in a partnership that soured after one season. The Cowboys gave the keys to the running game to Joseph Randle, who could not handle the pressure and was replaced by Darren McFadden six games into the season.
The Cowboys finished 4-12, but most of that can be put on the quarterback play, with Tony Romo missing 12 games because of a broken left collarbone.
In 1993, the Cowboys saw how valuable a running back could be when they lost their first two games during an Emmitt Smith holdout. Jerry Jones quickly signed Smith and the Cowboys lost only twice the rest of the season on their way to a second consecutive Super Bowl title.
McFadden, who finished fourth in the league in rushing in 2015 with 1,089 yards, will fill in for Elliott for the first six games. He isn't as dynamic as Elliott, but he was able to put up five 100-yard games and two more with at least 90 yards in 2015, and he did it with the aforementioned subpar quarterback play. A broken elbow effectively sidelined him for all of last season. He carried the ball 24 times for 87 yards in three games.
Elliott's suspension also probably gives Alfred Morris a reprieve. With Elliott, the Cowboys probably wouldn't have needed Morris. By the end of the offseason program and into training camp, Rod Smith was getting more work than Morris in practice, which was telling.
Morris had three straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Washington Redskins from 2012 to '14. With the Cowboys last season, he had 69 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns and was inactive for two games.
His experience would seem to make him a keeper with Elliott out. He is better the more carries he gets. If McFadden falters, Morris showed early last season to be a good fit with the Cowboys' offensive line.
Oh yes, the offensive line. That's the Cowboys' strength, with All-Pros Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. La'el Collins is the new right tackle, replacing a retired Doug Free. They are unsettled at left guard, with Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell and Chaz Green competing for the spot.
Still, the Cowboys believe their line will again be among the game's best. Without Elliott, it must be as dominant. If it isn't, then we'll know how valuable Elliott is to the Cowboys' success.