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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

Cowboys Headlines - 104

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. 

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



Dallas Cowboys optimist brining 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.

Game Notes

CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Bengals

The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.

Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.

Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.

The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.

Other Notes

  • There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
  • Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
  • Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
  • Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
  • Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
  • We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
  • Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
  • Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.



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Game Notes

#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?

Kevin Brady

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Lance Lenoir

Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.

But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.

After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.

Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.

Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.

During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.

This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.

Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Tavon Austin, Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

Cada vez más cerca de la verdadera acción en la NFL, tuvimos una oportunidad de ver a los Dallas Cowboys en el campo contra los San Francisco 49ers hace una semana. Francamente, a pesar de perder la ventaja en los últimos segundos del partido, la actuación del equipo dio una muy buena señal a los aficionados de la Estrella Solitaria.

Todavía quedan tres partidos por jugar, empezando por el enfrentamiento contra los Cincinnati Bengals este sábado. Hay muchas cosas que ver de parte de los Dallas Cowboys y quizá algunas de ellas las veamos este mismo fin de semana.

Una de las cosas más interesantes esta semana fue la conversación de los wide receivers (receptores abiertos). Lance Lenoir se ha mostrado como un candidato real al roster de 53 jugadores, pero esa es sólo una pequeña fracción de la conversación de receptores.

Hay muchos receptores de que hablar, y el día de hoy, eso haremos en Cowboys en Español.

¿Cole Beasley es realmente el receptor #1?

A lo largo de todo el offseason, se ha manejado la narrativa de que "los Cowboys no tienen un buen WR." A pesar de que Dez Bryant es un nombre difícil de olvidar, esta aseveración sobre los receptores en Dallas me parece errónea.

Si bien es cierto que Bryant es uno de los mejores WRs en la historia de los Cowboys, también es cierto que Jason Garrett y compañía tienen un mejor grupo de lo que la afición considera. Si somos sinceros, un trío titular de Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley y Michael Gallup no suena mal.

La pregunta será: ¿quién es el #1? Comentarios de Dak Prescott han hecho referencia a Cole Beasley como el dueño de dicho rol. ¿Realmente puede fungir como el receptor líder del equipo siendo un jugador de 1.73 metros?

Se ha hablado mucho de Beasley jugando fuera de los números e intentando vencer a los defensivos por fuera. Es intrigante, pero sin duda un poco difícil de creer.

Tavon Austin: ¿Es un arma más importante de lo que creemos?

Los Cowboys dejaron ir a Ryan Switzer y obtuvieron a su aparente remplazo con el ex-WR de los Rams por una selección de sexta ronda. Tavon Austin ha tenido un viaje extraño con el equipo. Fue listado en el roster como un corredor pero utilizado como un receptor.

Lleva poco tiempo en Dallas pero ha sorprendido en training camp y ha sido utilizado como más de lo que esperábamos. Desde que llegó al equipo, empezamos a compararlo con Lucky Whitehead y Ryan Switzer. Ambos talentosos, pero destinados a ser un jugador "gadget" que fueron utilizados casi exclusivamente en jugadas "en movimiento" o los famosos "jet sweeps."

Pero Austin puede ser más que eso y lo ha demostrado en training camp. No parece que Tavon vaya a tener el mismo destino que Switzer, sino que tendrá un rol mucho más involucrado en la ofensiva constantemente. Bien puede ser un factor sorpresa para la ofensiva en Dallas.

¿Puede Terrance Williams perder su trabajo?

A pesar de que el coraje puede llevar a los aficionados a criticar a Terrance Williams un poco más de lo que merece, la verdad es que Williams está en riesgo de ser cortado por los Cowboys antes de que inicie la temporada en septiembre.

Es uno de los WRs con más experiencia, sí. Pero durante su estadía en Dallas, cada vez que Dez Bryant ha caído lesionado, Williams ha tenido la oportunidad de surgir como un receptor #1 capaz y preparado. Y nunca lo ha logrado.

Con un roster lleno de talentos jóvenes como el de Lance Lenoir y Noah Brown, es probable que la administración y los coaches opten por el potencial joven en vez de Williams, quien ha tenido problemas para demostrar que puede ser un jugador constante.

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Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que conseguir que su ofensiva sobreviva las pérdidas de Jason Witten y Dez Bryant y tendrán que comenzar en la posición de WR. A pesar de que Williams esté en el equipo, Cole Beasley será el único en repetir titularidad del año pasado en Dallas esta temporada.

Dak Prescott tendrá un rol enorme cuando la ofensiva trate de emprender su marcha y definitivamente será responsable del éxito de esta. Es ahora o nunca para Dak.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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