We live in an age of instant information. This instant information brings instant reaction, and sometimes this reaction can be over the top. Okay, most of the time the reaction is over the top; especially when it comes to our Dallas Cowboys.
This is why whenever the Cowboys do anything, I try to temper my expectations and take a deep breath before reacting.
But when the Dallas Cowboys used their fourth overall selection to take running back Ezekiel Elliott, all of this normal breathing went out the window.
Seemingly insane projections and predictions for what Ezekiel Elliott might do in his rookie season began to be given by experts and fans alike. We heard it all, from Rookie of the Year to breaking the rookie rushing record to Zeke even having to take somewhere around 300 carries.
The thing is, these projections aren’t ridiculous at all, and for the Dallas Cowboys to be successful in 2016, many of them must be fulfilled.
Before you start thinking I’m putting too much on a rookie, hear me out.
David Helman of DallasCowboys.com recently projected Ezekiel Elliott’s carries in 2016 to fall between the 280-300 range.
If it seems like a lot, that’s because it is a lot
Last season, only two running backs in the entire NFL had more than 280 carries, and only five running backs had more than 260 carries; but we are going to ask a rookie to rush upwards of 300 times?
While it is a bit of a daunting number, it will only take Elliott about 15-20 rushes per game to get to that 280 mark. If the Cowboys can get 18 from Ezekiel Elliott, and another 20 from the combination of Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, they will be in business.
There are those who are worried that Ezekiel Elliott could be put on pace for a DeMarco Murray-like collapse early in his career if asked to do too much too early. Many are now beginning to believe the Cowboys ran Murray into the ground during 2014, after seeing his lackluster performance in Philadelphia a season ago. While there may be some truth to this, Murray rushed a total of 392 times that season. That’s about 100 more carries than I expect from Elliott.
100 is a big difference, in case you weren’t sure.
While Zeke’s workload will be great, it should be nowhere near what Murray’s was in 2014, if for no other reason than there are other viable options at running back. We saw McFadden be productive behind this offensive line last season, and Alfred Morris is no slouch himself.
280 carries is in line with comparable rookie backs
Three of the most prominent top-10 running backs of the past decade – Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Trent Richardson – all saw rushing attempt totals somewhere around this projected “Zeke Range.”
Gurley, who missed significant time after coming off an ACL tear, rushed 229 times his rookie season. Had he played the entire year, I am willing to bet he would’ve been up around that 280 range.
Trent Richardson had 267 carries his rookie year, and Adrian Peterson had 238. While both players were under 280, Ezekiel Elliott’s current situation is a bit different considering the offensive line he will be playing behind, and the hopeful chances to milk clocks and ice games late that he will have.
Oh, and Ezekiel Elliott has done it before
Granted, it was at the college level, but Ezekiel Elliott still tallied 289 carries for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns last season at Ohio State, in just 13 games. While he will face a much more brutal pounding from NFL defenses, Zeke has proven that he has the durability and toughness to withstand the high demands and rigorous workload.
Let’s revisit that Murray comparison…
DeMarco Murray suffered a laundry list of injuries throughout his career in Dallas. He spent nearly half of the 2011 season on the injured reserve, and even in 2014 we saw Murray injure his hand. At Oklahoma, he dislocated his knee cap on a freakish play in 2007, and suffered a few hamstring injuries going into the 2009 season.
Ezekiel Elliott, on the other hand, has been virtually injury-free his entire college career. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I do want to highlight that Elliott has shown a level of durability which Murray may not have during his college years. This durability will help him to carry that high workload.
So, yes, Ezekiel Elliott is going to see a ton of carries his rookie season; partly out of necessity, and partly because of his own special abilities. But don’t worry, he will be just fine.