FRISCO, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys passed on running back in the NFL draft after moving on from their starter each of the past two seasons.

There was as much talk about one of those former Cowboys — two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott — as there was any of the college prospects throughout draft weekend.

Now the focus shifts to when Elliott might return to the franchise for which he gained 8,262 yards, third-most in club history, in seven seasons before a release in a cost-cutting move after the 2022 season.

“Anytime,” owner Jerry Jones said Saturday night, speaking generally about the positive influence he believed Elliott was after saying a day earlier he thought Elliott was still good enough to be a starter.

“I don’t want to get into that because I’m not sure what all we’re touching on here in terms of the rules,” Jones said. “Bottom line is that he’s a positive.”

Two of Dallas’ top three picks, and three of the eight, were offensive linemen, which was among the biggest needs for the Cowboys after losing two starters this offseason. Running back was another.

“I think a lot of times, there’s always a question mark, will you really, really, really stick to your board?” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said. “It just felt like every time the situation was there for us to make a pick and do the right thing, it wasn’t at running back.”

The Cowboys acknowledged on the opening night of the draft that they had met with Elliott, who played for New England last season, and the 28-year-old’s agent earlier that day.

After Dallas still hadn’t taken a running back on the second day of the draft, Jerry Jones brought up Elliott again.

“There was a long time before a running back was taken, actually in today’s draft,” Jerry Jones said Friday night. “We also are keenly interested in seeing what the future might look like with Zeke.”

Tony Pollard, a 2019 fourth-round pick who replaced Elliott in 2023, didn’t have the impact to match his $10.1 million salary playing on the franchise tag last season. Pollard signed with Tennessee in free agency.

At the moment, the four running backs on the Dallas roster who saw the field for the Cowboys last season have 163 carries for 605 yards and four touchdowns combined for their careers. Dallas added veteran journeyman Royce Freeman earlier this month.

“If you look at the dynamics of the running back room right now, it’s a young group, but they all have upside,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I like our group. You have players that are going to be here two-plus years.”


The Cowboys drafted an offensive lineman in the first round for the fifth time since 2011, getting Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton at No. 29 after trading down five spots.

All four of the other first-rounders made the Pro Bowl at least once, with 23 selections between them. The line is anchored by 2014 first-round Zack Martin, a seven-time All-Pro at right guard.

Cooper Beebe of Kansas State was Dallas’ third-round choice, and Louisiana’s Nathan Thomas was taken in the seventh round.

“This is a year where there are a lot of offensive linemen,” Jerry Jones said. “Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. This was a good year for us to zero in on that offensive line.”


The second-round choice of defensive end Marshawn Kneeland out of Western Michigan prompted comparisons to DeMarcus Lawrence a decade earlier.

The Cowboys didn’t move up to get Kneeland the way they did in 2014 to draft Lawrence out of Boise State with the second pick of the second round, 34th overall. Kneeland went at No. 56.

Lawrence, who is going into his 11th season, doesn’t have an overwhelming number of sacks (58 1/2) but has been durable and dependable, particularly as a run-stopper.

The two are almost the same size, both listed at 6-foot-3 and in the range of 270 pounds.

“The thing that attracted us to D-Law back when he was coming out was the incredible effort that he played with was the same effort that you see on Sundays now still, after as many years as he played,” vice president of personnel Will McClay said.

“When that attracts you, it’s something that you put in your Rolodex and go, ‘If I see that, I know what it looks like and what it can do.’ Just watching (Kneeland) play, he’s bouncing off people and he’s chasing screens down,” McClay said.


Defense was the focus on the middle rounds, with Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau in the third round at 87th overall. Dallas waited 86 picks before getting cornerback Caelen Carson of Wake Forest at No. 174 overall in the fifth round.

Southeast Missouri State receiver Ryan Flournoy went in the sixth round, and 6-3, 346-pound defensive tackle Justin Rogers of Auburn was the final Dallas pick in the seventh round.