Mike Mayock projects Ezekiel Elliott to Dallas Cowboys

Things could break one of three ways for the Dallas Cowboys with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, according to NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock.

But they couldn't break any better for Ezekiel Elliott in Mayock's mock draft.

"A couple years ago DeMarco Murray carried the football 449 times, had 2,200 yards, and this kid Ezekiel Elliott I think is a better football player," Mayock said on NFL Network in tying Elliott to Dallas with the No. 4 pick. "You plug him in there behind an offensive line that's in their prime, and you take a ton of pressure off a 36-year-old Tony Romo."

With two quarterbacks going at the top of the draft and the San Diego Chargers just entering the second year of a first-round investment in RB Melvin Gordon, Elliott can really go no higher than Dallas at No. 4. Mayock said the other two strong considerations for Dallas will be FSU DB Jalen Ramsey and Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, but the Cowboys' glaring need for a defensive end waits at least another round, along with the club's glaring need for Romo's eventual successor.

Here are 10 other things we learned from Mayock's 2016 mock draft:

  1. So you thought the trade action in the top 10 was finished? Of course not. Mayock projects a Baltimore Ravens-Tennessee Titans trade that would give the Titans the best possible outcome: a bevy of extra draft picks from the trade with the Rams with which to build the franchise, plus the player it very well might've targeted when it had the No. 1 pick in the first place: Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Of course, it comes at a cost. Mayock's projected trade ties in the No. 33 overall pick as the price Tennessee would have to pay to move up to No. 6. On balance, the Titans come away with Tunsil (and at a much lower salary than if he were picked No. 1 overall), plus draft help from the Rams that the Titans would never have otherwise had by pulling the trigger for Tunsil at No. 1.
  1. Mayock indicated on a media teleconference last week that some NFL clubs have Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley rated higher than Tunsil. If his mock draft is on target, the San Diego Chargers are among them. He projects the Chargers to take Stanley at No. 3, noting that while Stanley is nearly as good as Tunsil as a pass blocker, "he's a better run-game blocker today than Tunsil." Mayock believes Stanley's ability to run block could, more so than Tunsil, get the tracks greased for second-year RB Melvin Gordon. A month ago, before two trades set up quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to be the top two picks of the draft, Tunsil was expected to be the No. 1 choice. Now, it appears he might not even be the top player chosen at his own position.
  1. Ryan who? The New York Jets hedge their hand in the Ryan Fitzpatrick contract negotiations with Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who slides to the Jets only after Rex Ryan stiffens the Buffalo defense by taking Robert Nkemdiche at No. 19. But Jets fans shouldn't be looking for Lynch miracles in 2016.

"The Jets need to have a plan to bridge at least a year before Paxton is ready to play in the NFL," Mayock said.

Beyond the Fitzpatrick negotiations, what would Lynch landing with the Jets say about Geno Smith's future with the club? Or for that matter, that of Bryce Petty, whom the club just invested a fourth-round pick in last year?

"They've drafted two quarterbacks in the last four drafts, yet they don't have the answer on their roster," Mayock said.

  1. Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman and even Will Fuller have shared time as the subjects in the "first receiver drafted" conversation. While Josh Doctson doesn't last long in anyone's draft scenario, the TCU receiver is first off the board at his position in Mayock's mock, going to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 15 to punctuate Mayock's projected trade with the Tennessee Titans. Another weapon for Joe Flacco? Why not? The Ravens averaged 20.5 points per game last year, 25th in the NFL, and Doctson can add some needed electricity.
  1. The Oakland Raiders land Myles Jack at No. 14, an incredibly strong value if the former UCLA linebacker's knee proves to be a non-issue. With Khalil Mack already one of the NFL's best young defenders in place, The Mack & Jack Show would take the NFL's 11th-ranked defense into the top 10 in 2016. As for the fit, it's a good one.

"Oakland's (defense) has a big hole in the middle. It's a doughnut," Mayock said. So how is that that Jack, arguably a top-five talent, can fall to No. 14?

"What I've been told by almost every team, especially teams in the top 10 ... the longevity of the knee could be an issue," Mayock said. "Will he get to a second contract? But even more troubling is that there could be a second procedure necessary a year or two down the road. With a top 10 pick, typically you don't want to touch that. He's going to slide. I don't know how far."

  1. Call them the Buckeye Five: Elliott, Joey Bosa (No. 8 to Cleveland), Taylor Decker (No. 16 to Detroit), Darron Lee (No. 17 to Atlanta) and Eli Apple (No. 25 to Pittsburgh) are all projected as first-round picks in Mayock's mock, the most from one school. That's one short of the NFL record (Miami Hurricanes, six first-rounders, 2004).
  1. There's certainly been talk that Alabama center Ryan Kelly could slip into the first round, but who would believe the Crimson Tide's three-year starter could be the first Alabama player chosen? Mayock, that's who. He's got the fast-rising Kelly going to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 18, with highly regarded defenders Reggie Ragland, A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed all still on the board. Mayock projects all four to be chosen in a 10-pick stretch from Nos. 18 to No. 27, where the Green Bay Packers pluck Ragland.
  1. The San Francisco 49ers dip their first-round bucket into the Oregon well for the second consecutive year, and at the same position: defensive line. Last year, it was Arik Armstead with the No. 17 overall pick. This year, it's DeForest Buckner at No. 7 overall.
  1. The Arizona Cardinals might be looking to use the No. 29 overall pick on a quarterback to groom behind the aging Carson Palmer. But if they're not, they could be looking to move back in the draft in a deal with a team looking to take one in front of the quarterback-needy Denver Broncos at No. 31.

"Remember, they don't have a second-round pick. I could see them trading back here if somebody is looking to get a quarterback," Mayock said. "If they get stuck, Artie Burns is a conversation piece. I know teams that have third-round grades on him, I know teams that think he could be the best corner in this draft if he grows up and turns into what he can be."

  1. How about a complement to A.J. Green in Cincinnati? Mayock projects Notre Dame's Will Fuller to the Bengals.

"Is he a little bit raw? Yes. Is he a natural hands catcher? No. But he's one of those guys like a Ted Ginn, that's polarizing," Mayock said. "He'll have a couple drops here and there, but he's going to make a bunch of catches."

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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