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.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
Cedrick Wilson: Cowboys WR Could Shine After a Year Off
The departure of Cole Beasley to Buffalo via free agency in March left a hole at the slot receiver position in Dallas. The team signed veteran Randall Cobb about a week later, but only to a one year deal. Names like Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns along with Cobb are looked at as the replacement for Beasley but don't forget about Cedrick Wilson.
Selected in the sixth round in 2018, Wilson was coming off an impressive and highly productive two-year career at Boise State. Tallying 139 receptions for 2,640 yards and 18 touchdowns in just 26 games.
When OTA's began last season, the rookie was already turning heads with his route running, ability to create separation and athleticism, but unfortunately, disaster happened not long afterward. Wilson would suffer a shoulder injury that placed him on injured reserve for 2018, the same shoulder he had issues with in college. A not so fairy tale beginning to an NFL career.
Although his time on the field was short-lived last summer, he definitely caught the eye of wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.
"Ced's a savvy, smart football player. He picks things up really well. He applies them to the field. In terms of technique, he's one of the best if you watch him. His stance and start is really good. He comes off the ball with low pad level. He's eating up ground and then has a nack to make a big play over the top on a big post," Lal said.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb make up a very formidable receiving core, and adding a healthy Wilson to that could work wonders. His experience on the outside and the slot gives offensive coordinator Kellen Moore plenty of options. Slot receivers are usually harder to bump off the line with the extra few yards of cushion they get, giving them more options route wise seeing as they can go inside or out a lot easier than outside receivers. That's where Wilson's supreme route running can come into play. Also, with his ability to separate on the outside and beat corners deep, you can play him opposite Amari Cooper and put Cobb in the slot with a combination of either Gallup, Austin or Hurns in a four-wide receiver set, the possibilities are endless.
A setback can be a blessing in disguise if approached in the right manner. Wilson hasn't let the year off derail his focus on what he's trying to do in Dallas.
"Coming back off the rehab was tough in general. But definitely a year of just seeing how everything goes, the speed is definitely slowing down. Just getting back in the playbook and learning from older guys of what I need to do and doing what the coaches expect of me," Wilson said.
The competition won't be easy for Wilson, though, as other young up and coming receivers are fighting for roster spots as well. UDFA's (Undrafted Free Agents) Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton will also be fighting for snaps during mini-camp, with the former already making waves during OTA's. Reggie Davis has also turned a few heads in the summer, a fellow UDFA himself trying to find a home after bouncing around the league between four different teams since 2017.
It's all about health for Cedrick Wilson at this point. Can his shoulder hold up enough to allow his skill set to make a contribution to the Cowboys in 2019? The talent is there, along with the praises of his position coach, now it'll be interesting to see if this potential diamond in the rough can shine under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium.
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