Safe to Say Ezekiel Elliott is More than his Offensive Line

When people consider the best running backs in the NFL, typically they talk about Le’Veon Bell or , or even David Johnson, but outside of Dallas it seems like Ezekiel Elliott rarely gets discussed in the best in the NFL conversation.

We’ve all heard the narrative.

“Zeke is just a product of the offensive line.”

Well, I think we can put that one to bed.

Against a really good Washington Redskins , the Dallas Cowboys started , , and along the offensive line with projected starters and . With three backup offensive linemen in the game, Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball 26 times for 121 yards and a touchdown.

Even with the Cowboys running out a backup offensive line in every game this season, two backups in the last three games, and three backup offensive linemen on Day, Ezekiel Elliott now leads the NFL in rushing yards through 11 games. With 11 games played each, Elliott and Todd Gurley are the only players in the NFL with more than 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Elliott has a 31 yard lead on the running back. 

Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and nearly had 1,000 yards rushing in 2017 despite missing six games due to . In 2018, Elliott is again have a tremendous season. With two or more backup offensive linemen in the game each of the last three weeks, he's run for more than 120 yards in each game. That’s the second time in his career that he’s ran for 120 in three straight games. and each have only one stretch in which they ran for more than 120 in three straight games. 

Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL in yards after contact with nearly 700 rushing yards, which would be the ninth highest rushing yardage total in the league this year. Todd Gurley and are the only other players in the NFL with more than 600 yards after contact. Elliott is second in the NFL to Gurley in first downs on the ground, but leads the NFL in rushes for more than 10 yards.

When you consider that Ezekiel Elliott sat out the game vs the in 2016 and sat out the six to suspension in 2017, he's played in 36 games. That's a 100 yard rushing game every other week. Todd Gurley has played in 42 games since 2016 and only has rushed for 100 yards only 11 times.

We've heard for more than two years now that Ezekiel Elliott is the product of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. To their credit, they were great in 2016, pretty good in 2017, and have been good in 2018, but what this season highlights is that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best in the NFL.

This isn't to take away from the play that the backup offensive lineman have provided, because they've been serviceable to good, but what we're seeing is why Ezekiel Elliott was drafted as the fourth overall pick in 2016. He's an elite player who is able to make those around him better. He makes a great offensive line elite and makes a good offensive line great.

It's time to have the conversation about Ezekiel Elliott as the best running back in the NFL. Todd Gurley is great in his own right, but he's also had the benefit of a better over the last couple of years than Elliott has had and yet, Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing. I don't know a fan that follows the NFL that would rather have the Dallas Cowboys staff over and his staff in Los Angeles. Despite what is perceived to be a poor by many pundits, Elliott is leading the league.

So with backup offensive lineman, an average passing game, and an average coaching staff, Ezekiel Elliott is on a roll and doesn't look like he'll be slowing down any time soon. What might have been a foregone conclusion with Gurley running away with the rushing title, may now be a heated race down the stretch. Whether Elliott wins his second rushing title in three years or not, I think it's safe to say that we can put the “Elliott is a product of the offensive line” narrative to bed.

If there's a positive that can be taken away from the health issues along the offensive line, it's that Elliott is not a product of the offensive line and he never has been. If anything, he's an offensive line enhancer.


Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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with dallas its always about the sum of the parts rather than giving any credit to the individual player.

back with emmitt, it was the OL, with troy it was the system and / or OL. well it takes 11 / 22 to make players great.

gurley can’t do it alone, neither can bell…..

i think zeke is just as good, and imo (biased of course) zeke is the #1 back in the NFL.

John Williams

I guess, mostly what I’m saying is that Zeke needs to be in the conversation. The reason he hasn’t been is because people wanted to say he was a product of the OL, and what we’re seeing is that that is not the case.


Great article. If not now, when? Todd Gurley is the only other back in the league I think is worth putting next to Zeke, and from my perspective it’s hard to look at their body of work and say that Gurley is the superior back.

Gurley was once in a below-average passing offense with subpar coaching, too. That was back in 2016 and he had 885 yards in 16 games that year with an average of 3.2 yards per carry. His boost in performance has coincided with Jared Goff developing into one of the league’s top passers with the guidance of Sean McVay.

I’m not taking anything away from Gurley here, but I do think it’s noteworthy that when he wasn’t in an elite offense, he also wasn’t an elite runningback. Conversely, Zeke has been elite regardless of what’s going on around him.

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