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Examining Expectations for Ezekiel Elliott

Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has come into the NFL with the highest of expectations. He was selected fourth overall in a league that has continued to shy away from running backs early in the draft. Elliott has joined a Dallas Cowboys roster that boasts the best run-blocking offensive line in the league. Running backs are expected to hit the ground… well…

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Dallas Cowboys Draft: Gut Reaction 5

Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has come into the NFL with the highest of expectations. He was selected fourth overall in a league that has continued to shy away from running backs early in the draft. Elliott has joined a Dallas Cowboys roster that boasts the best run-blocking offensive line in the league.

Running backs are expected to hit the ground… well… running. The learning curve for RBs is considered lower than any other position in football. For a guy drafted as highly a Elliott was, any needed learning is mitigated by the perception of overwhelming talent.

Cowboys Headlines - Why Touchdowns, Not Yards Will Determine Cowboys SuccessTo top things off, Elliott isn’t joining the typically bad teams who have early picks in the draft. These Cowboys are much closer to the 2014 NFC East Champions who went 12-4, having plummeted last year because of injuries to Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and other key players. Assuming their health doesn’t betray us again this year, Elliott will be a shiny, new tool in a fully functional and even league-leading offensive attack.

Knowing and believing all those things, what is a reasonable expectation for Ezekiel Elliott‘s rookie season?

Some have said 2,000 yards. That would not only break the Cowboys single-season record but it would be the seventh-best rushing season in NFL history. I’m not saying that can’t happen but putting it out there as any kind of expectation is fraught with peril. Injuries aside, we still haven’t seen this kid perform at this level. Elliott could be the next great one but he has to at least have one or two carries in the NFL before I can comfortably project it.

The best rookie RB season in history came in 1983 with Erick Dickerson. He ran for 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns in 16 games. He also chipped in 51 catches for 404 receiving yards and two more scores. Monster season by any level, but incredible for a rookie. The next best season by a rookie didn’t come all that close.

What’s more, this was over 30 years ago! Running backs were a much bigger part of the game then, evident by the 390 carries that Dickerson had during that season. It is far more rare to see a modern back get that many touches, although that’s exactly what happened with DeMarco Murray in 2014 (392 carries, 57 catches).

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys CTK: DeMarco Murray Dominates #29 4Still, Murray was a fourth-year veteran at that time. He was playing for his next contract, whereas Ezekiel Elliott is just getting started. Can a modern era rookie possibly have the same production as a guy in the early 80s?

The modern standard for running backs is Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. His rookie season (2007) was a great one; 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns. He only started nine games and played in 14, which did hamper his numbers a bit. Perhaps the best single stat from that year was his 5.6 yards-per-carry, about as good as you can ask for from a guy with that many touches.

Ezekiel Elliott would be a godsend if he can just replicate that production level from Peterson. The 5.6 YPC would take all kinds of pressure off of Tony Romo, leaving third-downs manageable and at times avoiding them completely. The Cowboys would get back to the time-of-possession dominance that helped to protect their defense and pushed them to the success of the 2014 season.

We have to remember that Dallas has not yet committed to or shown evidence of how they will distribute the workload at running back. Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Lance Dunbar could all chip in on Elliott’s production. Dallas may try to keep the production levels high for Ezekiel Elliott by keeping him fresh, avoiding the wear and tear that caused DeMarco Murray’s play to trail off late in 2014.

Cowboys Headlines - Another Reason To Love Dallas Cowboys Rookie Ezekiel ElliottAgain, none of this is to try to dissuade you from having high hopes. I think the sky is absolutely the limit when it comes to Ezekiel Elliott joining the offensive line. If there was ever a situation tailor-made for a running back to excel and even break barriers, it’s this one in Dallas.

There are lots of reasons for excitement among Cowboys fans in 2016. Zeke Elliott‘s arrival isn’t just another; it may be number one.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Dallas Cowboys

Should Cowboys Pursue Veteran Backup at Quarterback?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys en Español: Cooper Rush
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys only have two quarterbacks under contract right now, starter Dak Prescott and backup Cooper Rush. With only three years of combined experience between them, one could argue that a veteran presence would be useful. Should Dallas make a veteran QB a free-agent priority in the 2018 offseason?

Of course, there’s plenty of other QB experience on the Cowboys staff. Head Coach Jason Garrett played professionally from 1989-2004, and started his coaching career with quarterbacks.

Scott Linehan has been coaching offense with an emphasis on the passing game for 30 years.

Kellen Moore, who is taking over for the departed Wade Wilson as quarterbacks coach, has played very recently and will bring a fresh perspective.

However, losing Wilson’s experience from the room, and the lack of any veteran player at QB, shouldn’t be dismissed.

Dak Prescott has said veteran Mark Sanchez — who was with Dallas in 2016 — was a major help during his whirlwind rookie season. Tony Romo enjoyed veteran advice from guys like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton throughout his playing career.

This isn’t to say Dallas would want to bring in a veteran to knock Cooper Rush down the depth chart. After a surprising preseason, Rush took the backup job from Kellen Moore and certainly has intriguing upside.

If the Cowboys were to add a veteran, that player would have to come in with the understanding he’s competing with Cooper and may not be guaranteed a job.

The good news is that it’ll be a buyer’s market for veteran quarterbacks this offseason.

Guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, and Matt Moore could all be available. Even a player with more pedigree, such as Sam Bradford, may have trouble finding starting work with many jobs taken among the NFL’s 32 teams.

Dallas could even consider bringing back Mark Sanchez, given his previous relationship with Dak Prescott. He only had a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

Given Prescott’s seeming durability, Dallas will likely only keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in 2018 and for years to come. Because of that, they may be content to focus on Dak and Cooper Rush, and just get through the offseason with training camp bodies.

However, the case can certainly be made for adding another veteran player with the desire to teach to help these young quarterbacks develop. Prescott was not the same guy in 2017 that we saw as a rookie, and perhaps the absence of guys like Sanchez and Tony on the sideline had something to do with that.

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal is a Good Hire for Cowboys

Kevin Brady

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal Is A Good Hire For Cowboys

Yesterday, it was announced that the Dallas Cowboys will hire Sanjay Lal to be their new wide receivers coach. Lal spent 2017 with the Indianapolis Colts in the same position, but has made multiple stops around the NFL prior to joining the Cowboys staff.

Most recently and arguably most notably, Sanjay Lal was the receivers coach for both the New York Jets (2012-2014) and the Buffalo Bills (2015-2016). This means he coached on Rex Ryan’s staff for two different teams, with two very similar offensive philosophies.

Run the football.

As seen in the video below, Sanjay Lal has experience working as the wide outs coach for an offense with a run-first philosophy. He even says himself that their offense in New York was “ground and pound,” but notes that “without a pass game there’s no pound.”

Cowboys fans became all too familiar with the truth behind that statement during the 2017 season, as even solid efforts in the run game were rendered meaningless by their lack of explosion through the air.

Jets Nation Inside Camp: Sanjay Lal Mic’d Up

Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal is mic’d up during training camp, and also discusses trying to play pro football before becoming a coach in the NFL.

A lot has been made of Sanjay Lal’s lack of 1,000-yard receivers during his time as a coach. The offensive philosophies of the teams which he coached for, however, show why this criticism is flimsy.

It’s quite possible the Cowboys will once again be without a 1,000 yard pass catcher this season, but if Ezekiel Elliott and the run game are clicking, and Dak Prescott is spreading the ball to different targets, this stat won’t mean a thing.

Lal was also the coach in Buffalo when Sammy Watkins had the best years of his career, including a 1,000-yard season.

During that stint he coached Robert Woods to productive seasons as well. Now Woods is a dangerous target for the Los Angeles Rams after being coached by Lal for multiple seasons.

These were also the same years that quarterback Tyrod Taylor was at his best.

While in New York, with the Jets, Lal’s most productive receiver was Jeremy Kerley, who finished with 827 yards in 2012 and 523 in 2013. What’s important to note here is that Kerley played as a slot receiver for much of his time as a Jet.

The Cowboys lacked any type of production from the slot in 2017, but maybe Lal can change that by getting the best out of Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer, as he did with Kerley.

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

Know that some believe he had a real shot to be an OC in this league one day. https://t.co/1s21w2jZGR

All indications from those “in the know” suggest Sanjay Lal is on his way to becoming an offensive coordinator soon. Many believe he has the smarts and the football IQ to command an offense himself, as soon as he gets the right opportunity.

Maybe that opportunity will come down the line in Dallas, where he can continue to coach within that “ground and pound” style, which he has done for many years while also implementing elements of his own passing game expertise.

Everyone has been critical of the Cowboys’ inability to bring in external hires, and to spark up new/creative offensive ideas. Lal has spent time among some of the smartest offensive minds in football.

Maybe he’s the man to bring in that outside creativity this offense seems to lack.

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

Sean Martin

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

After hiring Paul Alexander to fill their vacant OL coaching position, the Dallas Cowboys are continuing to retool their offensive staff below Scott Linehan. Sanjay Lal has been hired to coach the Cowboys’ wide receivers, replacing Derek Dooley.

Lal has experience as a WR coach with four different teams, dating back to 2009 with the Oakland Raiders. He was promoted up to this position after serving as the Raiders’ quality control coach from 2007-08.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys have reached an agreement with Sanjay Lal to become the team’s WR coach. Lal was with Indianapolis last season and replaces Derek Dooley on the staff.

Most recently, Sanjay Lal coached the receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has also been with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

In this interview with the Colts, Lal mentions being very detail-oriented with a focus on the technical aspects of playing receiver.

Lal beats out former Cowboys WR Miles Austin for this position, earning the right to lead a room of receivers in desperate need of fresh talent. In an offseason that’s been about finding fresh ideas with the coaching staff so far though, the Cowboys have a new voice on offense.

Tell us what you think about “Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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