On Tuesday, Pro Football Focus published it’s Top 25 Players Under 25, with Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch one of only three linebackers on the list. Oddly, one of the best players on the team was absent from this same list; Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The running backs they included were Kareem Hunt, Saquon Barkley, and Alvin Kamara. Pro Football Focus has been very open about their dislike of Elliott’s 2018 season, ranking him 30th in the NFL according to their player grades.
Elliott has won the NFL’s rushing title in two of his three seasons and likely would have won it in 2017 had he not been served with a league-mandated six-game suspension. Elliott ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the 10 games he played, which put him in 10th place in rushing in 2017. Le’Veon Bell led the NFL in rushing that season with 1,291 yards. Using some basic arithmetic, I’ve discovered that Elliott finished just 308 yards off the league lead in six fewer games.
Despite being the most productive back in the NFL in his first three years in the NFL, Elliott gets knocked because he sees such a high volume of carries and targets from the Dallas Cowboys offense.
On Wednesday, Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus talked about the players who just missed the cut. Here’s what he had to say about Ezekiel Elliott.
“There’s no doubt that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the top players at his position, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that his production is, in large part, thanks to the offense that Dallas has built around him. Over the last three years, Elliott ranks first in rushing attempts (868), rushing yards (4048), rushing yards after contact (2567) and first down conversions (219). However, his three-year rushing grade of 80.2 ranks ninth among the 36 backs with at least 300 attempts in that span, while his 0.119 missed tackles forced per attempt ranks tied for 27th among the same group.”
Mark Chichester – Pro Football Focus
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best running backs in the NFL, if not the best. There can be an argument for Todd Gurley or Le’Veon Bell, and maybe even Saquon Barkley, but if you aren’t including Ezekiel Elliott in the discussion, the discussion is a bit flawed.
For three years, under Scott Linehan as the offensive coordinator, every team in the NFL knows that Elliott is going to get the ball and get the ball a lot. Primarily on first downs. Yet, Elliott continues to be productive and grind out his yards, even against heavily stacked fronts.
I understand the argument that Elliott wasn’t very efficient with his touches in 2018, but when you are the primary focus for opposing defenses, it makes it difficult to be efficient. Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamar had the benefit of being coached by Andy Reid and Sean Payton who are considered creative offensive minds. Saquon Barkley had the benefit of Odell Beckham Jr keeping safeties honest.
While the Cowboys had Amari Cooper, the passing game still doesn’t get near the respect that the Cowboys run game gets from opposing defensive coordinators. With Kellen Moore on board and the talk about presenting multiple formations for opposing teams to figure out, the Cowboys offense could get more creative in 2019.
Heading into his fourth year in the NFL, it’s amazing that Ezekiel Elliott apparently still has something to prove to some out there. After winning rushing titles in two of his three seasons and averaging right around 100 yards a game, Elliott still doesn’t get the respect he deserves from national observers.