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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.



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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Dallas Cowboys

What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?

Jess Haynie

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Tyrone Crawford

Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?

As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.

For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.

There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.

Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.

For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford

Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.

Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.

Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.

The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.

But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.

But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?

Trysten Hill

Dallas Cowboys DT Trysten Hill

The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.

On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.

Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.

Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.

As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.

There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.

One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?

The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.

For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.

Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.



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Dallas Cowboys

Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason

Jess Haynie

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Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason

The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.

The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.

Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:

"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!

As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.

If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.

Brett Maher

Dallas Cowboys K Brett Maher

The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.

But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.

Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.

Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?

I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.

If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?

Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.

If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?



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Player News

Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend

Jess Haynie

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Mike Weber

Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.

One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.

Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.

A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.

Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.

If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.

Mike Weber

Dallas Cowboys RB Mike Weber

The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.

Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.

This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.

Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.

But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.



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