While there is always going to be mystery when it comes to the NFL Draft, over the years the Dallas Cowboys have done their fans a bit of a favor and tipped their hands so to speak. Not only have they (not once, but twice) given us a look at their draft boards after that year’s draft was completed, but in their actions they’ve also alerted us to some key tells about their actions. O.C.C. has been tracking the correlation between pre-draft visits and the Cowboys draft picks for the past five years, and there is no doubt the Cowboys regularly pick guys who have visited Valley Ranch. But not only does it tip the hand of the players they might draft, but it also tells what position groups they are most interested in. KD Drummond has also written about this in a post at his former site.
This is by no means an end-all be-all list. Morris Claiborne wasn’t invited to the Ranch, and Dallas spent two picks to acquire him. Maybe the lack of development there helped guide their hand recently, as twelve of their picks over the last three years were brought in for official visits. In that vein, we’ll be bringing you in-depth looks at the draft candidates that Dallas schedules for visits, so that you can be better informed about the small sample size many of the next group of Cowboys will likely come from.
Name: Ezekiel Elliott
Position: Running Back
School: Ohio State University
Height: 5’11 3/4"
Weight: 225 LBs
Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year – 2015 Big Ten Running Back of the Year – 2015 First Team All Big Ten - 2015
Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award Winner (Conference MVP) – 2015 Honorable Mention All-Big 10 – 2014
College Football Playoff Championship Game Offensive MVP – 2014
College Football Playoff Semi-Final Offensive MVP – 2014
pSparq Score: 120.0 Z-Score: -0.1 NFL Percentile: 45.7
pSparq is an approximation of the "Sparq Score" metric invented by NIKE (with the help of former USC and current Seattle Seahawks Head Coach, Pete Carroll), designed as a way to standardize athletic testing of High School athletes and interpret their athleticism with a sport specific formula. By standardizing a single metric composed of multiple athletic test results, it becomes possible to compare players to the athletic testing scores of players in past draft classes, and to provide context as to how a player will compare athletically to his peers at the NFL level. The Z-Score represents the number of standard deviations (sigma) above or below the mean at a particular position that player falls, 84% of players will have a Z-score of less than 1, 98% will have a Z-score of less than 2, and 99.87% will fall below a Z-Score of 3. There are currently a total of four players who are "3 Sigma Athletes" in the NFL, JJ Watt, Byron Jones, Evan Mathis, and Lane Johnson. For more on pSparq,(and the man behind the math Zach Whitman) check out 3sigmaathlete.com
Measurables vs others at his position:
Note: This spider graph provides a visual representation of a players’ measurable traits, and combine results. The filled in area of the chart, as well as the number in the light grey circle represents the percentile among the player’s peers by position. A score of 85 here represents that out of every 100 players at his position, the player has a better result in that test than 85 of those 100.
Games Studied: Michigan, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame
Ezekiel Elliott is a strong inside runner with enough speed to breakaway and finish runs in the paint. Ohio State's running game features a variety of gap and trap run schemes, with a few zone runs included as well. The traits that make Elliott a unique prospect are his combination of vision and balance. He's not a "jitterbug" type running back , but he consistently makes subtle moves as he runs to avoid the big hit and prevent the first tackler from bringing him down. He runs like a guy with a supreme confidence in his abilities, and at times it catches up to him putting him in bad situations trying to bounce outside when he should just put his head down and "take what's there". This situation seems to arise most often when there is a free runner into the backfield, and Elliott will make him miss and bounce to the outside to run away from the tackler. He consistently creates, and breaks arm tackles, which causes defenses to add bodies to the box to slow him down. He consistently splits the smallest of gaps and can turn those small creases into big runs. He shows an advanced understanding of angles in the way he runs in the open field allowing him to out run defensive backs with faster timed speed than he has. He does the dirty work of a lead running back, but has the big play ability of a change of pace runner all in one package.
Elliott is truly a special running back in the passing game. He catches the ball very naturally with his hands, quickly gets up the field, and carries his running abilities over after the catch. In addition to catching balls out of the backfield he occasionally lined up in the slot and wide as a receiver and ran underneath routes from that alignment. He could create mismatches against slower linebackers at the NFL level if used this way. Additionally, Elliott is the rare rookie prospect who comes into the NFL fully developed as a pass protector. He is not only a willing protector, but consistently squares up oncoming pass rushers, and delivers a solid blow to slow his opponents rush, and looks for work when his linemen pick up all of the designed rushers.
Ezekiel Elliott is the type of rare running back prospect that defies the "positional value" arguments typically made to dispute the theory of drafting runners early. He will walk into the locker room of the team that drafts him as one of their best offensive weapons, and will improve that team's running game on day one. He will fit in either a zone or gap running scheme, and will be a productive player. If he is selected by the Cowboys he would combine with the offensive line to give them the premier running game in the NFL, and would be the absolute front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. His ability to play all three downs, convert short yardage runs, and finish drives with touchdowns would provide a lift for the entire team, and help cover up several of the weaknesses on the roster as currently constructed.