IRVING, Texas -- After a 4-12 finish last season, the Dallas Cowboys' reward was taking Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick Thursday in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Elliott will give the Cowboys the opportunity to recapture the formula that worked so well in 2014, when DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards.
Elliott is the seventh running back the Cowboys have drafted in the first round and the first since Felix Jones in 2008. The only running back the Cowboys drafted higher was Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, the second overall pick in 1977.
"Going into the draft, Dallas was the No. 1 place I wanted to end up at," Elliott said. "It's definitely a dream come true."
Behind an offensive line with three Pro Bowlers, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, the Cowboys hope to regain the running form that led to Tony Romo's best season and a defense that was largely kept off the field and was able to produce turnovers.
In three seasons at Ohio State, Elliott ran for 3,961 yards, the second most in school history. He scored 44 touchdowns, fourth in school history behind Pete Johnson, Keith Byars and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. Elliott helped the Buckeyes win the 2014 national championship.
"Hopefully, I can do the same thing in Dallas: help them win the Super Bowl trophy," Elliott said.
The Cowboys were led by Darren McFadden's 1,089 yards last year and finished with 1,888 yards on the ground as a team. In free agency, the Cowboys signed Alfred Morris, who had three 1,000-yard seasons in the first four years of his career with the Washington Redskins, to a two-year deal.
The Cowboys view Elliott as a three-down back. They were willing to spend a premium draft pick on a running back, despite their unwillingness to spend big on Murray after the 2014 season or get involved in a high-priced free-agency chase this year.
"I think I could be a bell-cow running back," Elliott said. "I think late in the fourth quarter, when we're up a touchdown, no one's going to have to worry about our ability to run that clock out."
The Cowboys believe Elliott can bring big-play ability to their offense and open things up for Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in the passing game. Elliott had 12 runs of more than 50 yards for the Buckeyes and is the only player in school history with three rushes of at least 80 yards.
In the 1990s, the Cowboys rode the Triplets -- Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- to three Super Bowls. In 2014, they rode the Triplets of Romo, Murray and Bryant to within inches of an NFC Championship Game. They now hope the triplets of Romo, Bryant and Elliott can deliver them back to a Super Bowl and as far as possible from a 4-12 finish.