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Will Ezekiel Elliott Have a Record-Breaking 2017?

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

Last year, Cowboys fans hoped to see Ezekiel Elliott break the record for rushing yards in a rookie season. Though Zeke fell 177 yards short of that goal, his 1,631 yards still made for a fabulous debut and have set expectations high or 2017.

With talk from Cowboys coaches that Elliott should get the ball more in his second year, you have to wonder what other records he might be able to chase. We’re going to look at four areas where Zeke is most likely to threaten: rushing yards, combined yards, touchdowns, and total touches.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Rushing Yards

Elliott would need to add 475 yards to last year’s 1,631 to break the single-season record. Since 1984, Eric Dickerson’s mark of 2,105 yards has been flirted with but remains atop the list. After the record has stood 32 NFL seasons, with the game changing over that time, is it reasonable to think that Elliott could have a shot at the record.

Obviously, all of our discussion today is based on the assumption Elliott plays in all 16 games. Last year, he only played in 15 due to sitting out of the Cowboys’ meaningless Week 17 finale. That extra game would be an immediate boost of hopefully 100-150 yards to Zeke’s rushing total; a big chunk of that 475 he needs to catch Dickerson.

Next, consider that Elliott got off to a slow start. His first game was easily his worst, getting just 51 yards on a 2.6 average against the New York Giants. Zeke never had less than 80 yards the rest of the year and more than doubled his production in the second meeting with the Giants.

it’s a safe bet that Zeke’s increased touches and experience will result in improved production. Let’s say he gets 125 yards in that 16th game, cutting the margin down to just 350 yards to break Dickerson’s record. If you divide that over the remaining 15 games, it’s just 23.33 yards per game. If last year’s average of 5.1 yards-per-carry holds, that’s just 4-5 more carries each week.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Combined Yards

Naturally, if Zeke’s rushing yards go up then you have to wonder what that means for his total yardage. Last year Zeke had 363 receiving yards on 32 catches, which gave him a total of 1,994 yards from scrimmage. The record belongs to Chris Johnson, who had 2,509 combined yards in 2009.

We just discussed how Zeke could reasonably add 475 yards to his rushing total. That alone would bring him just 41 yards away from Johnson’s record. Obviously, Zeke wouldn’t need to do much more in the passing game to close the gap. He might even get that in a single catch.

What this shows is that even if Elliott can’t break Dickerson’s rushing record, his increased workload could easily give him a shot at having the most combined yards in NFL history. The 516 extra yards he needs to catch Johnson may come from more of a mix of carries and catches, putting one record out of reach but another very much in his range.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Touchdowns

This is one spot where the change in NFL offenses could especially hurt Zeke. Elliott had 15 rushing touchdowns and one as a receiver last season. The records for both rushing and combined touchdowns came from LaDainian Tomlinson’s amazing 2006 season, where he had 31 total trips to the endzone (28 rushing, 3 receiving).

Zeke would need to double his touchdowns from last season to break Tomlinson’s record. That’s essentially two touchdowns in each game, which any fantasy player will tell you doesn’t come often.

Despite having the offensive framework to punish teams with redzone rushing, the Cowboys like to use their receiving targets close to the goal line. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley can all make plays in short yardage. Dak Prescott can also run it in himself, which further cuts into Elliott’s opportunities.

it’s certainly not impossible for Zeke to get two touchdowns a game. If he becomes more of an offensive focal point, as we discussed earlier, those extra touches should lead to more trips to the endzone. It would have to be a fairly dramatic shift, though, for him to double last year’s numbers.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Total Touches

We end on this one because it could wind up having consequences. There is a price for increasing a player’s workload; increased wear-and-tear and chances for injury that might impact the 2017 season or Elliott’s long-term value.

Last year Zeke had 322 carries and 32 catches in 15 games. The record is an astonishing 492 total touches by RB James Wilder in 1984, playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Elliott would need 139 more touches in 2017 to break that record.

You may look at that number and think there’s no way Zeke could get it, but break it down by each game. The margin is about 8.6 touches per week, which isn’t that unreasonable for a player getting an increased workload.

Given the modern understanding of sports medicine and philosophies about resting players, I don’t expect Elliott to touch Wilder’s record. However, this clearly demonstrates that he wouldn’t be too far off if he gets a significant increase in touches. While this may lead to all of the glorious achievements we’ve considered, it could also lead to future problems.

~ ~ ~

Ezekiel Elliott has as good an opportunity to put his name in the record books as any NFL running back has had. Hopefully, improved production will come more from getting better yardage on each touch than having to get more touches. This will not only be better for his long-term health but result in more efficiency and excitement from the Cowboys offense.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I’ll be sure to respond!

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1 Comment
  • John Williams

    I think it’s reasonable for Elliott to break the single season rushing record, but he’ll need to post several 200 yard games to do it.

    If he’s able to break more runs > 20 yards, this should help him. While he’s been great on a per touch basis, he’ll need to hit the home run several times to make it happen.

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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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