On April 28th, the Dallas Cowboys went and got their guy. This was the night of the 2016 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys cashed in their miserable 2015 campaign for RB Ezekiel Elliott – the fourth overall pick out of Ohio State.
Fast forward to September 11th, when Elliott made his regular season debut against the New York Giants, facing immense pressure to live up to all of the hype around this running back prospect stepping in behind the best offensive line in the world. Zeke went for just 51 yards on 20 carries, and we all focused in just a little bit more on the 21 year old.
With an incredibly limited off season and preseason, Elliott picked things up following this week 1 performance on the road against the Redskins, carrying 21 times for 83 yards and another score. The best sign from this game, besides the fact that the Cowboys picked up a much needed win, was that Elliott began to patiently read his blocks and allow plays to develop – unlike his impatient style in the previous game.
Cowboys Nation couldn’t help but smile, as we could feel that Ezekiel Elliott was about to break out. The lights were going to be on in week 3 for Sunday Night Football at home against the Bears, and the rookie would be ready.
30 carries. 140 yards. 4.7 Yards Per Carry.
Zeke stole the show by running all over the depleted Bears defense, showcasing just a little bit of his wide range of skills that made him the most complete running back prospect to enter the NFL Draft in years. He was just getting started.
On Sunday, Dallas fell behind the 49ers on the road 14-0, their largest deficit of the season. Scott Linehan stuck with his running game, because he knew that Ezekiel Elliott would not be denied behind this offensive line.
He was correct.
Zeke ate up yards all game long, getting stronger in the second half on his way to an average of six yards a carry for 138 yards. Once again, I saw Ezekiel Elliott make another big stride towards becoming the player he was at Ohio State.
His vision, power, decisiveness, and footwork were all at their best this season, as Elliott propelled himself to the league lead in rushing yards – just four games into his Dallas Cowboys’ career. That is incredible!
Elliott Still Has Plenty of Room for Improvement.
Do me a favor. Think back to the 2014 Cowboys running game with DeMarco Murray. This shouldn’t be too hard, positive thoughts of Murray running through massive lanes are filling your head!
Murray was certainly not a complete back, relying on the blockers in front of him to give him space to accelerate and then succeed at the second level with power and great balance.
As Elliott continues to get to the second level, which he essentially gets a “free pass” to behind this offensive line with good chemistry, he will be able to attack defenders with superior power, balance, and most importantly – speed.
The element of Zeke’s game that has not translated yet from his Ohio State days is the extra gear of breakaway speed that sets up hopeless defenders on Elliott’s way to huge gains.
Elliott is still getting his legs under him when it comes to running the rock in the NFL, but the speed is on its way. An entire new element to Elliott’s arsenal is going to make the league’s leading rusher even better.
Additionally, the Cowboys offensive line is going to continue to feed off of the way Zeke can punish defenses, and they will improve as a run blocking unit for him as the featured back.
Zeke’s last two performances have also come with the Dallas offensive line not at full strength, with all-universe LT Tyron Smith inactive in weeks 3 and 4. La’el Collins won’t be back on the field for some time after exiting at halftime against the Bears, making way for Ronald Leary to step in next to Chaz Green at left guard.
Elliott is still dominating behind these guys, who have performed well, but #21 has still proven that he was made to be the running back for America’s Team.
The Dallas Cowboys featured back is a 21 year old rookie that leads the NFL in rushing after four games, and they’re not afraid to use him. Take notice, world.