Elliott led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards. Prescott had 23 touchdown passes and won 13 games, the second-most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
Elliott and Prescott, however, are not the only impactful members of the Cowboys’ 2016 draft class. Third-round pick Maliek Collins started 14 games at defensive tackle and finished second on the defense with five sacks. Sixth-round cornerback Anthony Brown started nine games and had one interception.
“If you think about the impact of those first four guys who played last year, it was significant as young guys going in, having the impact that they had,” coach Jason Garrett said.
It’s what the Cowboys haven’t seen yet -- from the remaining four players of the 2016 class -- that could sustain the success they had last year into the future.
“I feel like this can be like the team of the future as far as the leaders,” tight end Rico Gathers said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of leaders in this draft class with Dak, Zeke, Anthony, even Jaylon [Smith], who hasn’t played yet. It’s just about just solidifying ourselves on this team and showing everybody, the whole world, the coaching staff, why they drafted us. It’s all about the opportunity.”
After Elliott, Prescott, Collins and Brown, the rest of the class contributed just nine games and two tackles, and they all came from safety Kavon Frazier, a sixth-round pick.
Smith, the Cowboys’ second-round pick, expectedly missed the season as he recovered from a major knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame, but fourth-rounder Charles Tapper, a defensive end, unexpectedly missed the season with a back injury.
Frazier could be in the mix for more playing time this season with turnover at the safety position. Gathers spent the year on the practice squad but has some in management excited about his potential. The only draft pick not remaining with the club is running back Darius Jackson, who was released last season when Darren McFadden returned from an elbow injury.
“I think our draft class is like a very complete draft class,” Frazier said. “You’ve got those big-name players, then a lot of behind-the-scenes players that are looking for their chance to step up. I think all it takes is a shot.”
In Cowboys history, draft classes are held to high standards.
In 1964, the Cowboys selected three Hall of Famers: Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes and Roger Staubach, who was picked in the 10th round. The 1975 class is known as the “Dirty Dozen” because 12 players made the opening-day roster and became stalwarts of Super Bowl teams, with Randy White eventually making the Hall of Fame.
In 1989, the first year of Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, the Cowboys selected Troy Aikman with the No. 1 overall pick and he became the first quarterback to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. While he is in the Hall of Fame, the Cowboys also landed key pieces to their "Team of the '90s" in '89 in Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski and Tony Tolbert.
Of more recent vintage, the 2005 class stands out for its depth. The first pick, DeMarcus Ware, became the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks and is likely a future Hall of Famer, but the Cowboys also received production from Marcus Spears, Kevin Burnett, Marion Barber, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff.
Some recent draft classes are rather thin. Only Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams remain from the 2013 class. Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens are starters from the 2014 class. Byron Jones is the only starter so far from the 2015 class.
The 2016 class has Prescott, Elliott, Collins and Brown, but if the whole class reaches its potential, then it can join some of the great ones in team history.
“Once we hit the field and all come together and me and Jaylon prove what we’re supposed to prove,” Tapper said, “then we’ll talk about the dynasty that is supposed to be built.”