In Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys have found one of the elite players at his position. Since making him the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Elliott has won the NFL's rushing title twice and has averaged more than 100 yards per game on the ground through the first 40 games of his career.
In 2019, he has the opportunity to join a who's who of Hall of Fame running backs. Below are the players with the most total yards from scrimmage through their first four NFL seasons. With 1,700 total yards in this his fourth season in the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott can join this illustrious group of players.
Most Yards From Scrimmage Through First 4 NFL Seasons:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson – 7921
2. Eric Dickerson – 7842
3. Terrell Davis – 7594
4. Chris Johnson – 7071
5. Clinton Portis – 7059
6. Barry Sanders – 6968
7. Adrian Peterson – 6952
8. Marcus Allen – 6942
9. Emmitt Smith – 6934
— Russell Clay (@RussellJClay) April 3, 2019
Of the nine running backs listed, six have already been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Adrian Peterson, who is seventh in total yardage for a running back in his first four years, will undoubtedly be in the Hall of Fame one day. Clinton Portis and Chris Johnson may not be Hall of Fame worthy, but in the early part of their careers, they were a couple of the best running backs in the NFL.
Based on what we've seen from Ezekiel Elliott, it's almost assured that he'll be on this list by January of 2020. In his three-year NFL career, Elliott is averaging 1,749 total yards per season. That includes the 2017 season when he sat out six games.
Consider for a moment that Ezekiel Elliott has only played 40 of a possible 48 games in the three years he's been in the league. He sat out the season finale in 2016 when the Dallas Cowboys weren't playing for anything with home field advantage locked up. Again in 2018, with the NFC East already in the bag, the Dallas Cowboys opted to sit the NFL's leading rusher to save him for the playoffs. In 2017, Elliott was forced to sit six games, when Roger Goodell went against the recommendation of his lead investigator in Elliott's assault case, to suspend the All-Pro running back.
That's eight games missed. Elliott averages 131.6 total yards per game through 40 games. At that same pace with eight more games included on his ledger, Ezekiel Elliott would have 6,299 total yards. That would put him only 700 total yards behind Emmitt Smith for ninth. Had he played in all 48 games, it's possible that Elliott could have broken the record for total yards in the first four seasons of a career.
In the two seasons that Elliott has played 15 games, he's totaled 1,994 yards and 2,001 yards in the 2016 and 2018 seasons. So it would seem that, barring injury, it's a foregone conclusion that Elliott would total the necessary 1,700 yards to join this elite list of running backs.
Now, exactly how high could Ezekiel Elliott climb on this list in 2019?
If he played a full 16 game season at his current per game pace, he'd gain 2,105 total yards in 2019. That would put him fourth on this list, ahead of Chris Johnson. It would take gaining nearly 3,000 total yards this season for Elliott to set the record for most total yards in a player's first four seasons. That seems an unlikely goal. Finishing inside the top five, and perhaps the top three, is a realistic possibility.
With everything Ezekiel Elliott's accomplished in his first three years in the NFL, it's not a surprise that we're talking about him in the same group as LaDanian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, and Emmitt Smith. He's been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for when they made him their first round pick in 2016.
This is why the Cowboys' front office is preparing to lavish him with a big pay day. He's in historic company, and with health and some good luck, will only continue to make his case for future enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ezekiel Elliott's star continues to burn bright and his trajectory is ascending for