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2018 Cowboys: Projecting Ezekiel Elliott’s Production

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys offense looks very different in 2018 than it did at the beginning of the 2017 season. Gone are mainstays Dez Bryant (released) and Jason Witten (retired), and there's been some minor turnover on the offensive line with Jonathan Cooper replaced by 2018 second round pick Connor Williams.

Another Williams, Terrance, may soon be given his walking papers if the league deems a suspension is in order -- if only because the Dallas Cowboys can get some cap relief through a release in that case.

While there have been a few changes, the most important pieces remain. The dominant offensive line, Quarterback Dak Prescott, and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

Today, let's look at what a season could look like for Ezekiel Elliott in 2018.

Looking Back

Before you can look forward, it's important to look back.

Though prior production does not predict future success, in the case of Ezekiel Elliott, because of his age and durability, we can use his past production to extrapolate what he could do looking forward.

In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards and recorded 1,994 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. That while playing only 15 games -- the team sat most of its starters in the week 17 finale because they had already locked up home field advantage. 

At Elliott's 108.7 rushing yards per game, had he played in the week 17 contest against the Eagles, it's possible that his rushing total looks even more impressive as it would hit 1,738 rushing yards. He would have been well over 2,100 total yards on the season.

In the earlier game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Elliott rushed for 96 yards and had four receptions for 52 yards.

His totals are already impressive before you factor the 16th game into his 2016 stats.

In 2017, Elliott, after being railroaded by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, had to sit out six games. In the ten games he played he rushed for 983 yards, seven touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. This includes the nightmare at Mile High in which Elliott only rushed for eight yards on nine carries. It was a pitiful performance from the team all around.

If we extrapolate Elliott's numbers from the ten games he played for a 16-game season, we're looking at 1,579 rushing yards, 11.2 touchdowns, 430 receiving yards on 41 receptions, and three touchdown receptions.

The touchdown numbers aren't as impressive as his 2016 season, but the total yardage is almost right on par with his 2016 numbers; the Broncos game included.

In 2016, Elliott had a better yards per carry number (5.1) than he did in 2017 (4.1), but he saw an increase in targets per game from 2.43 in 2016 to 3.8 in 2017. The Dallas Cowboys figured they needed to use him more in the passing game as his receptions per game also increased from 2.1 to 2.6.

It's clear that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best three running backs in the NFL. Of that there is no doubt. He's right up there with Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and David Johnson. Each are great in their own right and each are a ton of fun to watch on Sundays.

So, based on his first two seasons in the league, what can we expect in 2018?

First we should look at how the changes on the offensive side of the ball could impact Elliott and the running game.

Subtractions

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Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten (Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite how we might feel about their performances in 2017, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are losses. Even though they didn't perform as well as their reputations might suggest, they were threats that defenses had to account for in the passing game, which made things easier for the running game.

Both were on the radar of defensive coordinators and both were effective blockers in the running game.

The Cowboys will be relying on tight ends who have very little experience in the NFL. Aside from Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns, the wide receiver group is lacking experience as well. Williams, at the moment, is no guarantee to be on the week one 53-man roster.

It's possible that the team could be better in the passing game because they have more receivers who are good at creating separation and getting open, but we'll have to see.

Opposing defensive coordinators are going to line up to stop the run and make the passing game beat them.

But that has always been the case. For 24 games, Dak Prescott rose to the challenge and beat defenses. Only the final eight games of 2017, when without Elliott and tackle Tyron Smith did the Dallas Cowboys struggle on offense.

Additions

The biggest addition to the Dallas Cowboys offense has to be second round pick Connor Williams. Jonathan Cooper was a good player for the team last year, but Williams is definitely an upgrade.

Williams moves over from tackle at the University of Texas to guard for the Dallas Cowboys. He has the power and physicality to play on the interior as well as good athleticism and agility to work to the outside and second level.

Williams next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick will be tremendous in the run game, and Dallas' starting five on the offensive line is arguably the best it's been since the early 90's.

Fullback Jamize Olawale, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, is a nice addition to the team. He's a versatile player who can catch the ball out of the backfield or take some carries on running plays. He's an experienced lead blocker who should help open holes for Elliott when the team is in jumbo or goal line formations.

Tavon Austin, who the team acquired during the draft for a sixth round pick, adds a speed and big play element that will keep teams on their toes when Austin is on the field. How exactly they plan to deploy Austin or what his snap count will be remains to be seen. There is no questioning that when he's on the field he takes pressure off of Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

The team drafted Dalton Schultz in the fifth round in 2018 and, while he's not Jason Witten, he's an experienced blocker in a pro-style offense that saw Stanford rush for 200 yards a game. Bryce Love, Stanford's lead runner ran for more than 2,100 yards and was a finalist for the Heisman in 2017. Schultz is Bryan Broaddus' favorite to be the starting tight end when training camp breaks in late August.

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

I believe that will be Dalton Schultz. https://t.co/Ejml7i0pcR

Allen Hurns was the biggest free agent addition to the team. Though he's had injury issues, he's been a fine wide receiver in the NFL. In 2016, he put together his best season as he totaled more than 1,000 yards and had eight touchdown receptions. He'll likely start along with Cole Beasley in 11-personnel formations and has a similar ability to get open that Beasley does.

That being said, he isn't Dez Bryant.

Ezekiel Elliott's Suspension A Blessing In Disguise? 1

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Putting it All Together - Rushing Total

We won't know exactly what kind of effect the roster churn will have on the overall productivity of the running game until we start playing games, but at the moment, I believe the losses and gains will balance themselves out.

Add in the year-three progression of Dak Prescott and I think the offense gives us reason to be optimistic for 2018.

For Ezekiel Elliott, we can look at his two-year totals and get a pretty good idea of what he'll do in year three.

Over two years, Elliott is averaging 22.6 carries a game, which would put him at about 361 carries over a 16 game season. That would be 49 more than his 2016 total and 25 fewer than his 2017 pace.

Seems reasonable to expect Elliott will see that many carries a game.

Let's say he gets the 361 carries that he's averaged (with his 2017 pace included) over two seasons in the NFL at his career yards per carry average (4.6), that would put him at 1,660 rushing yards this season.

If he received his 2017 pace for carries at 4.6 yards per carry then we'd be looking at 1,781 rushing yards. At his 2016 carry total it would be 1,481 rushing yards.

To me that's about what you should expect from the best running game in the NFL. Anything less than 4.6 yards per carry and 1,400 rushing yards would be a disappointment.

But let's look at what his floor and ceiling could be.

Again, looking back, his 2017 was his worst of the two seasons in regards to yards per carry and 16-game rushing yard pace. If we take his 4.1 yards per carry (which to me makes a good floor for his production) and extrapolate that over his career average of carries per game at 22.6 and a 16 game season, Elliott would rush for 1,480 yards on the season. If he received only 322 carries like he did in 2016, that would equate to 1,320 yards rushing at 4.1 yards per carry.

So, a floor for Ezekiel Elliott looks to be anywhere from 1,320 yards to 1,480 yards rushing this season.

While not his 2016 season, that's a good season for an NFL rusher in today's game. Good but not great. While Dallas could win with that, it would be a disappointing rushing total over a 16 game season.

Now let's look at an optimistic view of what Ezekiel Elliott could do.

If we take his high for yards per carry of 5.1 in 2016, we're looking at anywhere from 1,631 (at 21.5 carries/game) to 1,937.7 (24.2 carries/game). If he got his average of 22.6 carries per game, we'd be looking at 1,844 rushing yards over a 16 game season.

Any of those numbers would be great seasons for Elliott, and it seems reasonable that he could flirt with a 2,000 yard season if he gets the ball at his 2017 pace.

Putting it All Together - Receiving Total

Now, looking at Ezekiel Elliott as a receiver out of the backfield, it was clear they wanted to get Elliott more involved in the passing game in 2017. In the first four games of the season, Elliott received 19 targets and caught 16 passes.

As I mentioned before, his targets per game, receptions per game, and receiving yards per game all increased from 2016 to 2017.

He's averaged nearly 11 yards per reception over his two seasons in the NFL because of his speed, hands, and physicality. He's excellent on screens and hopefully Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan will get him even more involved in 2018.

If they decide they want to get him even more involved in the passing game than he was in 2017, I could see an increase in targets per game from 3.8 to about 4.2 targets per game. Remember, they value Elliott's role as a pass protector, which helps Dak Prescott as much as the offensive line does.

So, what could Elliott's numbers in the passing game look like in 2018 if they get him even slightly more involved in the passing game?

4.2 targets per game would be about 67 targets over a 16 games season. If we use his career catch percentage of 75.3%, Elliott would be looking at about 50 receptions in 2018, which isn't a far cry from his 2017 pace of 41.6 receptions. If he sticks with his career average of 10.9 yards per reception, then we're looking at a 545 yards receiving on the season. Even if he only manages eight yards per reception, the 400 yards would still be a career high for Ezekiel Elliott.

50 receptions is probably the high number for Elliott, while the low is about what he did in 2016 at 32.

Elliott is a threat in the passing game. We've seen him take screens to the house each of the last two seasons, against Pittsburgh in 2016 and San Francisco in 2017. With Tavon Austin in play to give the Dallas Cowboys more options with misdirection, Elliott's work in the screen game could become even more effective.

Touchdowns

Touchdowns are far more difficult to predict than carries, yards, and receiving totals, but we can look back at his career thus far and see a pattern.

In 25 career games, Ezekiel Elliott has 25 total touchdowns. He averages a touchdown a game.

It's likely that we could see that average increase in 2018 with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, two huge red zone weapons, no longer on the team.

Cowboys Headlines - 101

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Don Wright)

My Projections

It's difficult to know exactly how a game will play out and what the game script will allow for a player like Ezekiel Elliott who does his best work when the team has a lead, but I'm going to bet that he hits 360 carries in 2018, which would put him at about 22.5 carries per game.

Some games he'll get more and some games less. I'm also going to assume that he returns to five yards per carry in 2018 with the addition of Connor Williams to help open holes and make the offensive line more athletic, physical, balanced, and complete than it was a year ago.

So, at 360 carries and five yards per carry, Ezekiel Elliott is looking at around 1,800 yards rushing. While that may look like an outlandish number, based on his career to this point, that's certainly achievable.

In the passing game, I see Elliott setting career highs in receiving at 45 receptions for 490 yards.

On the touchdown front, I'll stick with Elliott's touchdown per game averages and project he scores 16 total touchdowns.

Final Projections: 360 CAR, 1,800 Rush YDS, 60 TAR, 45 REC, 490 REC YDS, and 16 total TDs. 

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Too high, too low, just right? What do you think we can expect from Ezekiel Elliott in 2018?



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Tight End

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The shocking return of Jason Witten is a feelgood story for the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, but will it really mean on the field? How will Witten's big presence impact the tight end position during the upcoming training camp and beyond?

Before we ever knew Jason would come back from retirement, Blake Jarwin was stirring up excitement as the new starting TE this year. His huge three-touchdown game in Week 17 last year, while an extreme example, showed the kind of receiving threat he might be going forward.

Still, before Witten announce his return to football, some wanted the Cowboys to invest more in the position. Whether it came in the form of a veteran free agent like Jared Cook or Tyler Eifert, or a high draft pick, there was the thought that Dallas needed to guard themselves against Jarwin being a flash in the pan.

But once we heard that Jason was back, we knew that there wouldn't be any big moves at TE this offseason. The Cowboys are hoping that some combination of Witten's actual return to the field, or his mentoring of their young prospects, will elevate the position from last year.

Here is our projected TE depth chart for the 2019 training camp:

  1. Jason Witten
  2. Blake Jarwin
  3. Dalton Schultz
  4. Rico Gathers
  5. Codey McElroy

While Jarwin may wind up having the most snaps and targets of any TE this season, it's a safe bet that Witten will get some deference as a Cowboys legend. That's why we're making him the starter right now, even with a year away.

The balancing between Blake and Jason as the top two will be something we watch all season. Not only does it impact the 2019 offense, but we want to know if Dallas has a TE of the future in house or will need to make a big move next year to solidify the position.

Dalton Schultz

Dallas Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz

2018 4th-round pick Dalton Schultz may have something to say about the presumed top two. If he's made some strides in his sophomore season, Schultz could force a full-blown committee approach at tight end.

From a financial standpoint, Dallas would love for Schultz to take over the position in 2020.  He is signed through 2021 on a cheap rookie contract, while Jarwin will be a restricted free agent next year.

Predicting who emerges between Jarwin and Schultz is hard to say, but what isn't hard to imagine is that these may be Rico Gathers' last few weeks as a Cowboy.

Now entering his fourth season, the basketball-to-football transformation project has not been able to break through. He has expressed frustration with the TE depth chart during the offseason, and a one-game suspension to start 2019 isn't going to help matters.

Dallas may just be keeping three tight ends this year. They have WR Noah Brown and FB Jamize Olawale who are built to do play like smallish TEs. If they only keep three, it won't matter how much Rico has progressed.

If the Cowboys go with four tight ends that last guy may not be Gathers. They signed prospect Codey McElroy this offseason, who spent last year as an undrafted rookie with the Rams. McElroy may be their new developmental project.

Dallas' 2019 camp will offer plenty of new insights into the TE position. How do they split the workload between Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz? Can Rico Gathers do anything to fight his way into the conversation, or will he lose his spot to Codey McElroy?

We look forward to getting some more answers in the coming weeks.

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Dallas Cowboys

Guillain-Barre Syndrome: Travis Frederick’s Health Still a Concern?

Brian Martin

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Concerns About Travis Frederick's Health Still Justifiable
George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It's been nearly a year since Dallas Cowboys Center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune disease. And although all signs are pointing towards him making a full recovery and regaining his starting job, there are still some lingering concerns about his health.

Travis Frederick didn't miss a start in his previous five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before being diagnosed with GBS. He was an Ironman and was the anchor for the Cowboys talented offensive line. But battling injuries and an autoimmune disease in which there is a lot of unknown about still are two different animals. It's the unknown here that still carries some concern.

What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) occurs when the body mistakenly attacks its own nerves, specifically the peripheral nervous system, which connects the brain and the spinal cord to the rest of the body. This can result in a wide range the nerve-related symptoms, including tingling, prickling, or pins and needles sensations; muscle weakness; difficulty walking, talking, chewing, or swallowing; pain; and, in severe cases paralysis, which can become life-threatening if breathing is affected.

As with many autoimmune diseases, experts don't fully understand what causes GBS. There is still a lot of unknown about this disease, and that includes how to treat it and recover from it. However, when diagnosed early, like in Frederick's case, the chances of stabilizing sooner rather than later are pretty good. Although, the recovery process can be a slow one, anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome Cure and Recovery Time?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for GBS at this current time. There are a couple of treatments which has shown some success, although patients respond differently which makes determining a person's recovery time nearly impossible.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most people recover within 6 to 12 months. However, about 30% of people still experience lingering weakness three years after a diagnosis, reports the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and about 15% continue to have weakness long after that. Hence, the lingering concern about Travis Frederick and his future health.

Travis Frederick's Optimism

Despite all the unknown with GBS and how it's affected Travis Frederick's life, he sounds pretty optimistic his health is trending in the right direction.

"I feel really good about where I am at. Both in recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome and the offseason surgeries that I had done. We are just starting to get to the end of the shoulder rehab. That will start to free up a little bit of my activities. But as far as (Guillain-Barre syndrome) goes, I feel really, really good. It's gonna be hard to tell whether I'm back exactly 100 percent until I can go against another player at full speed in full pads. I don't think we're actually going to know until training camp. But all signs are currently pointing to really good things."

As if we didn't already have enough to keep an eye on once the Dallas Cowboys start training, Travis Frederick certainly jumps to the top of the list. How he is able to respond in some "live-action" practices should help determine where he's at healthwise. Hopefully for his sake, and the sake of the Cowboys, he's back to 100% or as close to it as possible.

Are you concerned about Travis Frederick's health heading into 2019?



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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to count $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 against the salary cap. His salary for 2019 is only $3.8 million. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/16/2019 10:42 am.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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