It’s been 34 years since Eric Dickerson ran for 2,105 yards, setting a single-season rushing record that has only been rarely flirted with since. Could Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the best running back in the NFL in 2018, have a shot at breaking Dickerson’s mark?
The magic number is 131.6 yards. That’s the per-game average needed, over 16 games, to break the record.
Three guys have come within a hundred yards of Dickerson: Adrian Peterson in 2012, Jamal Lewis in 2003, and Barry Sanders in 1997. And despite the difference in today’s game versus some of their eras, we can take something positive from each when it comes to Zeke’s chances.
We’ll start with Sanders in ’97, who was 29 years old and playing in his ninth season when he had his career-best year. That’s hard to believe, but Barry was pretty special.
Thankfully, Elliott looks pretty special, too. Even better, we don’t have to worry about him beating Father Time anytime soon. Zeke will be just 23 this season.
In 2003, Jamal Lewis produced big numbers despite a crappy quarterback carousel of Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, and Chris Redman. Lewis got handed the ball a whopping 387 times that year.
If Elliott gets that many carries in 2018, record-breaking potential is there. What’s more, he’ll hopefully have more of a passing threat with Dak Prescott at QB than what Lewis worked with in Baltimore.
Now, you could certainly argue that Sanders and Lewis were from different eras of football, before the passing game became so prominent. There’s truth to that, it doesn’t explain Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season.
With 2097 rushing yards that year, Peterson was just nine yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s record. He did it on 348 carries, which comes out to a 6.0 average.
There’s no denying that 6.0 is a pretty daunting number. Even in his dazzling rookie season, Elliott averaged just 5.1 yards.
There are some reasons for optimism, though. As a rookie, Zeke didn’t really find his feet until Week 3. Those first two games hurt his overall production.
Also helping will be likely improvement on the offensive line. Dallas invested a second-round pick in the athletic Connor Williams. While Jonathan Cooper was solid last year, Williams fits more of what the Cowboys like to do with getting their linemen out in space.
That’s not the only potential upgrade. La’el Collins should be even better if gets to stay at right tackle and develop his game. Also, Tyron Smith is reportedly healthier than he’s been in some times. He’s dealt with back issues the last few seasons.
Beyond all this, though, is the running back himself. Elliott will be coming to the field with hunger and fury after last year’s unjust six-game suspension. We’ve seen him play with a big smile, but I’m excited to see what he could do with righteous anger.
2012 wasn’t that long ago. Adrian Peterson was the best back in the game with one of the best offensive lines. He got a full workload, but the same is likely headed Ezekiel Elliott’s way this season. Could the best RB and O-Line in 2018 produce an all-time rushing performance?
The potential is certainly there.