Ezekiel Elliott built a reputation over his first four seasons as being one of if not the best running back in the NFL. With that reputation comes extremely high expectations year in and year out.
The 2020 season was a struggle for Elliott. It was the first time he failed to reach 1,000 yards in a full season. He tied a career-high with six fumbles and his 65.3 yards per game was almost 20 yards less than his 2019 campaign.
When it comes to the running back position in Dallas it starts and ends with Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, whose 18,355 yards are the most in NFL history. Smith joined Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen on the Great Dane Nation Podcast presented by VegasInsider.com recently and talked about if we've seen the best of Elliott as he heads into year six of his career.
“I don't think you have,” Smith said. “I think with Ezekiel Elliott, many people forget that Zeke had COVID-19 before the season even got started. And no one knows what COVID-19 will do to your body until you go through it. If you look at his body and play through the first five-six weeks of the season, his body structure, his weight looked a little bit different than the latter part of the season. Physically you just look at him, he looks a lot leaner in the latter part of the season than he did in the first part of the season. Now in the first part of the season, obviously he had some fumbling issues. Granted, they get paid on the other side of the ball like we do, not to make any excuses, but I do believe that Zeke will be better for what he had gone through this year. And he will be prepared and probably start to take care of himself differently for what he has gone through this year. And I think with Tony Pollard, there's a great one-two punch.”
Elliott will have all the motivation he needs heading into the 2021 season. For one, there were a lot of people calling for Tony Pollard to receive more of the workload during his struggles. Granted, Pollard is very talented in his own right, but he's not the complete player from a running and blocking standpoint that Elliott is.
The main thing that could drive Elliott to have a monster year next season is simply rebuilding his reputation. Surprisingly, the questions on if Elliott is still the same player started last offseason despite him finishing fourth in rushing yards, fourth in touchdowns, second in all-purpose yards, and first in 100-yard games in 2019. So much so, that one anonymous coach ranked him the 11th-best running back in the league.
The Cowboy's offensive line was in shambles this season due to injuries. La'el Collins missed the entire season, Tyron Smith only played in two games, and Zack Martin missed six games himself. That's two All-Pros and a potential Pro Bowl linemen that all missed significant time. Despite that, Elliott still almost reached the 1,000-yard mark on just 244 carries which is the least he's had in a full season and only two carries more than he had in 2017 when he missed six games due to a suspension.
With the offensive line back intact and Prescott back under center, Elliott will be back to being his old productive self in 2021.