The Dallas Cowboys didn't just draft a running back with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. With needs elsewhere (particularly on defense), the selection of Ezekiel Elliott received some national scrutiny, simply because of his position.
Zeke is more than a running back though, but rather an athletic freak, and a player that is capable of perfectly executing the runs and receptions for Scott Linehan's offense that play to the strengths of the league's best offensive line.
As if a line of Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Doug Free could look any better, the full dominance they put on in the trenches is now being brought to life like never before thanks to the rookie Elliott.
Elliott is the engine to the 8-1 Cowboys, and he drove for two long touchdowns in Dallas' most recent win over the Steelers - the second of which won the game.
How did those plays happen? Let's find out with some Reel Talk:
First Quarter: Ezekiel Elliott 83-yard Screen Pass to the House!
The longest touchdown of Elliott's career came at a great time, late in the first quarter with the Cowboys trailing 12-3. Catching a screen pass from Prescott, #21 turned up field and was escorted by the Space Cowboys all the way into the end zone.
Pre-snap on @EzekielElliott's 83-yard screen pass TD.
With 18 yards to go for a first down, you see the Steelers showing some pressure off the right edge before the snap - which they would back out of into coverage.
Steelers dropped everyone you saw on the line pre-snap. A lot of attention going to @ninjafast22. Meanwhile, @EzekielElliott and his convoy:
Luckily for the Cowboys, they had the perfect play called, as the often-used fake jet sweep to Lucky Whitehead drew plenty of attention from the Steelers' defenders in short or intermediate zones. Before this ball is ever close to being in the hands of Elliott, you see the play developing with green grass in front of Zeke and this offensive line.
Not a defense in this universe that's stopping this TD from happening at this point. Not with this line, and not with Zeke Elliott.
All five linemen simply put a "hat on a hat", including center Travis Frederick swinging out to take on defenders in the second and third level. At full speed, Elliott picked up his final key block from Terrance Williams, and the rest was history.
Fourth Quarter: Ezekiel Elliott's 32-yard run to victory!
Elliott's long touchdown would spark the Cowboys for the rest of this game, as they fought back multiple times - only to see the lead change three times in the final two minutes, with Pittsburgh going up 30-29 with just 42 seconds to play.
With three timeouts at their disposal, the Cowboys felt comfortable handing the ball to Elliott from 38 yards out with time running down. Thankfully, his offensive line assured that it would be the last play call Dallas needed to escape on the road with their eighth straight win.
@EzekielElliott doesn't even have the football yet, but find me a Steelers defender in a good position to make a play.
The Steelers defensive front was absolutely absorbed on this play, as Travis Frederick came through with his signature reach block on the one technique defensive tackle. Next to him at left guard, Ronald Leary drove his man to the ground, leaving only a desperate Anthony Chickillo - who was faced with the impossible task of trying to slide into the gap and beat Tyron Smith - in the way of Ezekiel Elliott.
If you want to be able to sleep anytime soon, DO NOT press play: pic.twitter.com/haV4vsHhws
— ✭ Sean Martin ✭ (@ShoreSportsNJ) November 15, 2016
Zeke scored, the Cowboys won, and our amazing rookies found yet another way to amaze us on this journey that has been the 2016 season through 10 weeks.
Ezekiel Elliott is truly something special. The Cowboys offensive line is in their prime, now getting the golden opportunity to block for a youthful back that is simply just getting started - leading the league in rushing at 21 years old.
Elliott has been so good, that he's essentially forced the Cowboys to keep arguably their greatest QB of all time in Tony Romo on the bench, because the connection he has going with Dak Prescott is just that good.
I don't know if I'll be able to sleep for a long time tonight after taking a closer look at this film, but when I finally do, I'll rest easy knowing that the 8-1 Cowboys will feature Ezekiel Elliott in their backfield for a long, long time.
What did you see on Ezekiel Elliott's two touchdowns against the Steelers? Leave a comment below the article to discuss, or email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com!
Cowboys Sign Free Agent WR Deonte Thompson
The Dallas Cowboys added some speed to their receiver corps today by signing free agent Deonte Thompson. He played for both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills last season.
Thompson, who turned 29 last month, went undrafted in 2012. He had a quiet to start to his career as a reserve and practice squad guy in Baltimore and Chicago, but finally got a chance to shine with seven starts last year for the Bills. He 27 catches for 430 yards and one touchdown in just 11 games.
The #Cowboys signed WR Deonte Thompson, per agent @davidcanter. He gets 1-year, $2.5M with a $1M signing bonus.
Deonte brings some much-needed speed to the Cowboys offense. He ran a 4.31 40-yard dash as a rookie, and while he's 29 now he still poses more of a vertical threat than the current Dallas receivers.
Given the low salary in this deal, Thompson may not be seen as much than a replacement for Brice Butler near the bottom of Dallas' depth chart. We also have to wait and see what happens with the draft and other moves this offseason to know where he fits into the bigger picture.
For now, though, Cowboys fans can take a little comfort in knowing the front office hasn't completely fallen asleep at the wheel.
Dallas Cowboys: How “Position-Flex” Has Handcuffed The 2015 Draft Class
Over the last few years the Dallas Cowboys have placed a high level of importance on "position flex." They've drafted Swiss-Army knife players which could be moved around to different positions on the field.
By drafting players like Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods last year, as well as Byron Jones in 2015, the Cowboys have tried to find these versatile players who can be used in multiple ways.
While this seems great on paper, this strategy has handcuffed the majority of their 2015 Draft Class, and is a key reason why the Cowboys seem to be in such a tough spot.
The Cowboys' first round pick in 2015, Byron Jones, quickly became a favorite of mine during his rookie season. Incredibly athletic, long, and skilled in coverage, Jones was able to be both a fantastic cover cornerback and a solid middle-of-the-field safety due to his range.
Due to both injuries to his teammates, and Jones' own versatility, the Cowboys coaching staff couldn't keep Jones in just one spot. Once they discovered how great he was in man coverage against tight ends, they became enamored with trying to play him in the box.
Once in the box, Jones' struggles as a run defender were highlighted, and both the organization and the fans soured on him quickly.
Now it is rumored that Byron Jones will be moving back to cornerback full time. And while I do hope this is the case, the fact that he is in year four, and the Cowboys haven't been able to find their first round pick a permanent home is a huge indictment on their ability to evaluate and develop talent.
Okay, hear me out.
The former third round pick of the 2015 Draft was brought in to be the swing tackle for the Cowboys his rookie year. Mainly due to injuries, Green did not see the field for much of his first two seasons. When he did fill in for Tyron Smith at left tackle in 2016, however, Green was very effective.
Of course, Chaz Green's last appearance with the Cowboys was ugly, giving up a plethora of sacks against the Atlanta Falcons. But Dallas might've made their own bed with Green during the beginning of the 2017 season, when they attempted to move him to left guard full time.
Instead of getting the increased work at tackle, and continuing to work as the swing tackle for the team in case of injury, Dallas started Green at left guard early on in the year. He struggled trying to move positions, and looked even worse when trying to move back to tackle.
Once again, the position flex bit the Cowboys right in the backside.
It's 2018 and we are still talking about what position to play La'el Collins on the offensive line. And that is solely on the coaching staff and front office, not Collins.
Collins was brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but was widely regarded as a first round pick heading into that draft. Though he started at left tackle at LSU, Dallas shifted Collins inside to left guard in 2015. After taking over for Ronald Leary as the starter, Collins produced highlight blocks week after week.
Injuries shortened his 2016 campaign, but heading into 2017 the Cowboys decided to shift him back out to right tackle. Despite some early struggles, Collins progressed nicely throughout the year and became a solid starting right tackle. Plus, he has the upside to become one of the top right tackles in the league.
Instead, it is now being rumored the Cowboys might move him back to guard for 2018. And with that news, I continue to pull my hair out over the position-flex decisions this coaching staff and front office like to make.
If the Cowboys want to get the most out of each draft class, and effectively develop their talent, they need to let those players actually develop, rather than move them around each season. Hopefully they now understand this, and allow both Byron Jones and La'el Collins to reach their full potential.
Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal
At long last, the Dallas Cowboys have their first free agent addition of this offseason. Having lost starters Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens at left guard and linebacker respectively, the team has added depth at LB with Joe Thomas signing a two-year deal.
The 2018 season will actually mark Joe Thomas' second stint with the Dallas Cowboys, as he was signed to their practice squad in 2015. The team that signed Thomas out of South Carolina State following the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers, added Thomas back to their active roster for the 2015 season.
Source: Cowboys have agreed to a 2-year deal with free agent LB Joe Thomas. He visited the Cowboys today. Thomas has played in 42 games over the last three seasons with the Packers. He had a career-high 70 tackles in 2016.
Thomas has spent the last three seasons starting eight games for the Packers, recording 70 tackles and an interception in 2016.
A contingency plan of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith carrying the Cowboys for 16 games at LB requires adequate depth, which is exactly what the Cowboys are typically in the market for come free agency. Waiting longer than usual to make their first splash, the Cowboys absolutely need an addition like Thomas to perform better than last year's FA class.
Used in sub packages by the Packers while also playing special teams - where the Cowboys have lost core players in Keith Smith and Kyle Wilber - Thomas will have a great chance to impress two new Dallas coaches in Ben Bloom and Keith O'Quinn.
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