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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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