Last week, I published an article claiming that Dak Prescott was the most valuable player on the Dallas Cowboys’ offense. The premise was that quarterback is the most important position in football, and Prescott is a damn good one to have.
The topic? Well, it was started because NFL.com named Ezekiel Elliott the third most important offensive weapon in the league, and claimed that “Zeke makes Dak.”
I went on to talk about why Prescott is more “important” than Elliott, and how the Cowboys could replicate a good-enough amount of Elliott’s production with other running backs if need be. While I stand by these statements, let’s not forget who Ezekiel Elliott is. And how good he has been for the Cowboys during his three year career.
Ezekiel Elliott is a top 3 running back in the league. And “top 3” may even be selling him short. Elliott has excellent patience, contact balance, vision, and can create big plays with his speed as well. He is not only the perfect workhorse type back who can withstand the pounding week in and week out, but he’s also versatile enough to fit in a modern offense.
While Ezekiel Elliott isn’t the receiving back that a Le’Veon Bell is, some will tell you that’s more for lack of opportunity than skill. Elliott did have a big time receiving game in 2018 against the Detroit Lions, going for 88 yards and a touchdown, but most of his production in the passing game throughout his career has come on checkdowns. Particularly, it seems, as a last resort on long third downs.
That is not the fault of Elliott, however.
With Kellen Moore now in as the offensive coordinator, we should have hopes that Elliott’s role in the passing game may expand. Dallas did draft Memphis’ Tony Pollard to fill this role as well, of course, but that doesn’t mean Zeke should be coming off the field on every passing down.
In fact, what it should mean is that every down is a possible passing down. Rather than running into the teeth of the defense 1st and 10 after 1st and 10, the Cowboys should be willing to open up their offense with Elliott in the backfield.
Prior to Sean McVay’s arrival in Los Angeles, people were saying the same sorts of things about Todd Gurley’s ability as a receiver as they are now about Elliott. And we saw how quickly that perception changed around the league.
The Cowboys can get Elliott his touches in traditional zone blocking ways while window dressing it with both scheme and the threat of Prescott as a runner, as the Rams have gotten Gurley his traditional carries while still remaining multiple and versatile.
It’s true that the running back position has been greatly devalued in today’s NFL, but it’s also true that Ezekiel Elliott is not your typical running back. The Cowboys need to play to the strength’s of their players, while also remaining unpredictable on offense.
The good news is, becoming more unpredictable will only help players like Elliott reach their full potential.