You may already consider Ezekiel Elliott to be one of the top-3 running backs in the history of the Dallas Cowboys. If you don’t, you’ll probably have a harder time arguing against it after the 2020 season. If he gets anything close to his usual annual production, Zeke will soon be joining legends Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith at the top of the Cowboys’ all-time rushing lists.
Currently, Elliott ranks fourth behind Smith, Dorsett, and Don Perkins in all-time rushing attempts and yards. He is fifth on the list for rushing TDs behind those same players, plus Marion Barber.
If you look at the actual stats, you will easily see how Zeke is in striking distance for the #3 spot on all three lists.
- Emmitt Smith – 4,052
- Tony Dorsett – 2,755
- Don Perkins – 1,500
- Ezekiel Elliott – 1,169
This is the category were Elliott will have the hardest time passing Perkins in 2020. He would need 332 rushing attempts this season, which would be the highest of his career so far.
It’s hard to see Zeke getting the rock that many times this season. He averaged about 19 carries per game last year, the lowest rate of his career so far. Dallas will only continue to be more judicious about how they use Elliott the longer his career goes.
Plus, Mike McCarthy’s arrival on offense will likely bring more modern thinking than Jason Garrett’s conservative, old-school style. Zeke is likely to see more of his touches comes in the passing game as a result.
Then there’s Tony Pollard, who contributed to Elliott’s lower usage in 2019 and should become a greater factor going forward. Zeke is still the man in Dallas but Pollard is proving to be a dangerous change-of-pace option and deserves a greater offensive role.
So no, Elliott’s probably not getting a career-high in rushing attempts this season. His move up this list will likely occur in 2021.
- Emmitt Smith – 17,162
- Tony Dorsett – 12,036
- Don Perkins – 6,217
- Ezekiel Elliott – 5,405
Now we’re talking! Elliott only needs a little over 800 yards in 2020 to move into the top three. As long as he avoids injury, suspension, or a shortened season due to COVID-19, there’s no reason this won’t happen.
Even in his suspension-shortened 2017 season, Zeke still had 983 rushing yards in 10 games. Only time will tell how many games anyone plays in 2020, but clearly it will take something truly major to keep Elliott in 4th place.
Obviously, he’ll still need to put in a lot of work over many years to even catch Dorsett one day.
- Emmitt Smith – 153
- Tony Dorsett – 72
- Marion Barber – 47
- Don Perkins – 42
- Ezekiel Elliott – 40
While he’s two spots behind Dorsett on this one, Elliott doesn’t need many endzone visits to pass both Barber and Perkins. But eight touchdowns in 2020, while more than obtainable, isn’t guaranteed based on Zeke’s past production.
Elliott had 15 rushing TDs in his rookie year and 12 just last season. But he only scored six in 2018 despite playing in 15 games.
On average, you’d expect Zeke to get at least the eight rushing scores needed to pass Barber. But if what we said before about McCarthy’s influence affects his carries, then Elliott could see another dip in his rushing touchdowns.
Obviously, it doesn’t happen this year then it’s a virtual lock for 2021. And unlike the yardage list, Zeke has a realistic shot at passing Dorsett for 2nd place sometime in the next 2-3 seasons.
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As you can see, 2020 could be a big year for Ezekiel Elliott’s status as an all-time great among Dallas Cowboys running backs. If he hasn’t already earned that place in your mind, the statistics could make it inarguable in the very near future.