Three seasons later, nobody talks much about the decision the Eagles made to select quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Wentz is "The Franchise" and he’s grown into one of the game's best quarterbacks, even after suffering a season-ending knee injury last December. But there were debates and there was discussion as that ’16 season went along because the Dallas Cowboys were on the way to winning the NFC East behind rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
The question back then was: Would the Eagles have been better served drafting Elliott (who went fourth overall to Dallas) in the first round and Prescott in a later round, getting a two-for-one deal, if you will, instead of taking Wentz?
With Elliott rushing for 1,631 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns, and with Prescott having a great rookie season in which he tossed 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, the Cowboys raced to a 13-3 record and the NFC East title. The Eagles were 7-9 after a 3-0 start and the media went wild with talk that Dallas made out better in the draft dealings.
The thing about evaluating a draft after one season, or even two, is that it’s not always the most accurate barometer of success. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that waiting two or three full seasons is the only accurate measure. And the picture sure has changed in the last couple of years.
Dallas has not had the same kind of success offensively, or from a team perspective. Elliott was suspended last season and played in only 10 games as his numbers plummeted to 983 rushing yards and seven touchdowns scored. Prescott threw 22 touchdown passes last season, not far off from his rookie year, but his interception total skyrocketed to 13. The Cowboys slipped out of the playoff picture after a preseason of hype and huge expectations.
Philadelphia, of course, won Super Bowl LII.
Sunday night features a third season of Wentz for the Eagles and Elliott/Prescott for the Cowboys. The three players are tied together from their draft origins and the conversation is likely to last for many seasons to come. For the Eagles, there is no debate: Once Howie Roseman worked the Eagles’ draft fortunes in 2016 to get to the No. 2 overall spot, the team was taking either Jared Goff (who went No. 1 overall to the Rams) or Wentz. The plan is to keep Wentz an Eagle for a very, very long time. He tossed a franchise-record 33 touchdown passes a season ago before suffering the knee injury in Los Angeles on December 10, and Wentz has returned from the injury looking better than ever as he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions in the six games he’s played. A big second half of the season is ahead for Wentz and the Eagles, who feel a jolt of energy with the acquisition of wide receiver Golden Tate during the bye week.
How about Dallas? At 3-5, the Cowboys had a disappointing first half of the season. They’ll come into Philadelphia on Sunday night a desperate and dangerous football team. Prescott’s numbers aren’t bad – he has 10 touchdown passes and five interceptions – but Dallas is looking for more from a passing game that added wide receiver Amari Cooper in a trade with Oakland a couple of weeks ago. Cooper caught a touchdown pass in his debut on Monday night in a 28-14 loss to Tennessee and he figures to be even more of a focal point in the weeks ahead.
Elliott remains one of the league’s very best running backs. He’s rushed for 680 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and has added 29 receptions for another 226 yards and a score in the passing game. Everything the Cowboys do starts with Elliott and the Eagles know it.
“I think Dak has taken that next step as a passer from the pocket,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “And Elliott, he’s the first priority for every defense. He can do it all. Their offense revolves around him and now they’ve added a weapon in Amari to kind of balance things out. They’re a good offense.”
A rivalry since 1960, the Eagles and Cowboys don’t need more hype. Everyone knows what’s at stake. Everyone knows how Eagles fans feel about Dallas. Everyone knows how much this game means to both teams.
But what hasn’t been discussed much this week is the Wentz vs. Prescott/Elliott angle. A couple of seasons ago, it was a raging debate. Now ... not so much. The Eagles have their quarterback for hopefully the next decade and longer. Dallas, well, it’s still a bit of a work in progress as the Cowboys search for the right pieces to put around the Prescott/Elliott combination.
The shape of the NFC East with Wentz and Prescott takes another turn on Sunday night. The picture, for some, looks quite a bit different than it did in 2016 around this time.