- Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys) – 891 yards
- DeMarco Murray (Titans) – 807 yards
- Melvin Gordon (Chargers) – 768 yards
- David Johnson (Cardinals) – 705 yards
The only problem for Murray and Gordon is that their total has come in nine games, having not yet had their bye weeks. Elliott has already had his bye week and has an extra game to continue to build his lead.
Running games tend to slow down toward the end of the year. Even when Murray was breaking the Cowboys' single-season record in 2014, his production tapered off down the stretch. As players start to get worn down over the long season, their numbers go down accordingly.
This is where Elliott's youth will play a huge advantage, particularly with Murray. At 21-years-old and as a rookie, he has much fresher legs than Murray at age 28 and in his sixth season. Gordon and Johnson are both just in their second years and are still young, but still have more tire tread than Zeke.
Perhaps even more importantly, Elliott has the Cowboys offensive line. As the season goes on and physical explosiveness starts to wane in defenders, the talent and chemistry of a good offensive line can shine even more. The Cowboys' ability to dominate the ball and wear down defenses throughout games will be even more effective in November and December.
Yesterday, DeMarco Murray had just 54 yards in a loss to the Chargers. David Johnson had an even worse day, only 24 yards, in Arizona's loss to the Panthers. These guys, Melvin Gordon, and just about any RB in the league are more likely to have a slow week like that than Ezekiel Elliott is. It only takes a couple to sink you in the rushing race.
Elliott is still threatening Eric Dickerson's rookie record of 1,808 yards. If you double his current 891-yard total it comes out to 1,782 yards. However, that doesn't factor in Elliott's quiet first game of 51 yards. His current pace puts his projection for the season closer to 1,900 yards.
Speaking of records, Elliott will soon be the Cowboys best rookie rusher of all time. And when I say “soon,” I could mean this Sunday. He only needs 117 yards against the Steelers to set the new record.
- Tony Dorsett (1977) – 1007 yds
- Calvin Hill (1969) – 942 yds
- Emmitt Smith (1990) – 937 yds
- DeMarco Murray (2011) – 897 yards
If not in Pittsburgh, Elliott will almost certainly pass Dorsett's mark the following week against the Baltimore Ravens. He is on pace for Dickerson's league record and to become one of the few rookies to lead the NFL in rushing.
The numbers will drive national attention, but Zeke's greatness is on display even when he's not breaking 100 yards. Yesterday, we saw him eek out a touchdown with a reach over the goal line that few back could have accomplished. His ability to finish plays with either speed or power is rare.
Back in April, I questioned if Elliott could live up to being the fourth-overall pick. Even if he had big numbers, I thought he might not create enough distance between guys like DeMarco Murray or Darren McFadden to justify such a big investment.
Boy, was I wrong.