When people consider the best running backs in the NFL, typically they talk about Le’Veon Bell or Todd Gurley, or even David Johnson, but outside of Dallas it seems like Ezekiel Elliott rarely gets discussed in the best running back 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 defensive line, the Dallas Cowboys started Cameron Fleming, Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Joe Looney along the offensive line with projected starters Zack Martin and La'el Collins. 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 Thanksgiving 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 Los Angeles Rams 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 suspension. 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. Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett 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 Kareem Hunt 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.
Ezekiel Elliott has: * 6 games with 100+ rush yards this season (Most in NFL) * 11 games with 100+ rush yards since 2017 (T-Most in NFL, Todd Gurley) * 18 games with 100+ rush yards since 2016 (Most in NFL) #DallasCowboys
When you consider that Ezekiel Elliott sat out the week 17 game vs the Philadelphia Eagles 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 passing game 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 coaching staff over Sean McVay and his staff in Los Angeles. Despite what is perceived to be a poor coaching staff 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.
Cowboys to Use 5th-Year Option on Ezekiel Elliott’s Contract
To nobody's surprise, the Dallas Cowboys intend to exercise the fifth-year option on star Running Back Ezekiel Elliott's contract. This will keep Zeke signed with the Cowboys through the 2020 season.
The deadline for teams to use the options years on the draft class of 2016 is Thursday, May 2nd, just a few days following the 2019 NFL Draft.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on the team eventually exercising the fifth-year option on Ezekiel Elliott's contract: "Obviously we're gonna do it.
It's appropriate that Stephen said "obviously," because there is no reason for the Cowboys not to utilize this provision. It's one of the perks of drafting a player in the first round; the option does not apply to any other rookie deals.
Right now, the 2020 option year projects to pay Elliott around $10 million. That is a bargain considering other franchise backs like Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all now averaging $13-$14 million per season.
In fact, it may be more of a discount than Zeke is willing to give. He may very well holdout if the team doesn't give him a new contact closer to his market value.
For all we know, the Cowboys have every intention of doing just that. This move is little more than a formality; a placeholder that prevents Elliott from entering unrestricted free agency in 2020 and secures his rights while a new deal is negotiated.
Connor Williams Adding Size and Strength Huge for Cowboys OL
It's no secret that heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the book on Connor Williams coming out of Texas was that he didn't have enough length to play tackle in the NFL and didn't have enough bulk to play guard. At least not at first.
It was an issue we saw play out early in the 2018 season as he struggled with some of the more powerful defensive tackles. He struggled so much that the team went to Xavier Su'a-Filo during his injury and for a couple games after he was healthy, thinking they had a better option. After having a bit of time to sit back and watch, Williams came back into the starting lineup with a better feel for that power and was much improved over the last half of the season, including the playoffs. He never relinquished his job again.
Though he played better, it was obvious what his number one offseason focus would be; adding size and strength. According to Dallas Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones, he's done just that.
Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon, Jones gave us some insight into how Williams is looking this offseason.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on offensive lineman Connor Williams, last year's second round pick: "My understanding is that he's taken some huge steps in terms of his strength and size. My understanding is that he's put on some really good weight.
Jones then added some lofty expectations on the second year guard from the University of Texas.
Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "I think Connor Williams is gonna be a mainstay in our offensive line for many years to come. ... I think we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line.
Connor Williams was already proving himself capable of standing up to powerful defensive lineman as late in the season and in the playoffs, but this is very encouraging to hear as we look to 2019.
Against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams, Williams and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys interior offensive line had big challenges in front of them. Seattle's Jarran Reed and Los Angeles' Aaron Donald were two of the better defensive tackles in 2018. Donald, is considered by many, the best defensive player in the NFL because of his brute strength that is matched by his quickness.
Against both players, Williams performed well. Not perfect, but well enough to be encouraged about what Williams could bring in 2019. Per Pro Football Focus, he only allowed five total pressures during the playoffs, including one in the divisional round against the Rams. There's a reason that everyone is so high on Williams heading into his second year.
The front office included.
Stephen Jones praise is significant. The Dallas Cowboys feature three All-Pro offensive lineman. To say that "we'll be talking about him just like we do several of the other players on our offensive line" is very high praise. There aren't many teams in the NFL that boast as much talent along the offensive line as the Dallas Cowboys do in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. For Jones to think Williams cold be that level of player doesn't sound like generic front office speak.
With a full year under his belt, including two playoff starts, Williams should be confident heading into his second year. Adding strength and weight will help him anchor better against the strong interiors he'll face weekly in the NFL. Getting Center Travis Frederick back in the lineup will help him with the mental aspect of the game.
There's a lot to be excited about with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and the offensive line remains one of those things. How Connor Williams improves from year one to year two will be one of the major storylines throughout the offseason heading toward week one. The Cowboys offensive line remains a focal point for America's Team and all eyes will be on Williams as he looks to make the second year jump.
La’el Collins Has Surgery Ahead of Contract Year
The list of injured Dallas Cowboys players getting surgery keeps getting larger. DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones will welcome La'el Collins to the "surgery recovery" group chat after Collins had a procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff. According to the report from Forth-Worth Star Telegram, Collins suffered the injury at the end of the 2018 season.
La'el Collins expects to be ready for training camp, but don't expect much from him in the upcoming offseason program.
For Collins, this is a very meaningful season. At 25 years old, he's heading into a contract year in 2019. So far, his career has been decent at best. He began playing at guard, where he showed some pretty impressive flashes before moving to right tackle, where he's started since 2017.
Even before it was reported that he would have surgery, many in Cowboys Nation have wondered about his future. The truth is, since he signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015, his career hasn't lived up to the hype. Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, an off-the-field misunderstanding made every team pass on him. However, he was seen by many as a top prospect in the class and was a projected first round pick.
Although he improved when Marc Colombo took over as the OL coach, Collins has struggled during his time at right tackle. At this point, he hasn't earned a long term deal.
Right now, the Cowboys should see offensive tackle as a need in the NFL Draft. Not a priority one, but definitely one to watch out for in the later rounds. Tyron Smith is 28 years old, but his injury history doesn't look promising at all. I can definitely see this team addressing the lack of depth at the position at some point in Day 3.
This whole discussion raises yet another question. Would the Cowboys trade La'el Collins? I don't think it would happen, but it doesn't sound like a terrible idea either. At the moment, Cameron Fleming is on the roster and he isn't a bad starter. Now granted, he might be a downgrade from Collins. However, if you're able to get a good draft pick in exchange, it's worth considering. Use Fleming as a bridge player between for a younger one down the line.
Connor Williams could also move over to tackle, although I doubt they want to try experiments like this with a young player just like they did with La'el Collins. Let Williams grow as a guard and keep him there.
La'el Collins or not, the Cowboys have a need at offensive tackle and Collins' makes it even more evident. The good news is he expects to be back by training camp and doesn't seem like a huge question mark for week 1 as DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones do.
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