When people are debating about whether or not Ezekiel Elliott was a good pick, one thing is for certain - nobody is questioning his talent. Frankly, that would be a hard thing to do. But the issue with drafting Elliott isn't a knock on him as a player, but rather how he is an unnecessary resource on a team that has already set in place the foundation of what makes a strong running game. The success of Darren McFadden validates such. And with the addition of two-time Pro Bowler, Alfred Morris - the Cowboys seemed set to have a firm handle on another strong running game campaign.
So why bother with Zeke?
If you would have asked me a year ago about the idea of taking a running back in the first round, I would have scoffed at it because just like many, I also devalued the running back position. As a former "Any ole running back will do" advocate, I was slowly lulled to sleep by the fact that most running backs only had a few bag of tricks up their sleeve. Some were thumper backs who could grind out the dirty yards. Some were speedsters who made plays in open space. Some were change-of-pace backs or third down specialist who could catch passes out of the backfield as well as pick up the blitz. You have so many to choose from that offer up different things. You need a speedster? No problem - go out and draft Kenyan Drake in round three. You want a more physical runner? Just grab Davontae Booker in the fourth round. There are so many ways to piece together nice running back arsenal.
All of us have seen firsthand what a strong running game can do for this team. We're not too far removed from a brilliant 2014 season that watched the Cowboys offense wear their opponents down with the running game. The riches of such a well-executed plan were on full display.
The Cowboys were able to:
- Dominate the time of possession, yet score 28.4 points a game
- Throw the ball far less than previous seasons, yet Tony Romo still had multiple career-high categories
- Generate turnovers by playing with the lead
- Overcome holes by staying calm and keeping things simple
- Keep the defense rested and allow them to game plan for the next series
- Despite reduced passing attack, Dez Bryant still set a franchise record for touchdowns by a wide receiver
These are all great things that many of us hope to welcome back in 2016, but they speak only to the success of a strong running game and aren't discriminate of the person running the ball. After all, DeMarco Murray did the dirty work for the Cowboys that season and he was a third-round draft pick in 2011. And after the success of McFadden last year and the addition of Morris, fans believe that a strong running game is obtainable in 2016. People don't have to be sold on what an effective running game can do for this team, but what they do have to be sold on is why a team with other more pressing needs just spent a fourth-overall pick on another running back.
And I'm here to sell you on it. Right here. Right now.
The thing that put me over the top with being such a Zeke geek was the realization of just how many things he can do really well. He's the most complete running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. And we know how much Cowboys fans love Adrian Peterson, right? Many people wanted to see the Cowboys bring him to Dallas last offseason. And that's even at the ripe age of 30 years old. But then other fans didn't want to go that route and preferred the Cowboys draft a fresh new college back with no NFL mileage.
Well now, both sides can be happy because that's what you're getting with Zeke. An All-Day runner that is fresh out of the oven.
And if you think it is a little presumptuous to start drawing comparisons to an established great without Elliott logging a single carry in the NFL, that's understandable. However, it's not incredulous to point out that Zeke is in fact, a very talented three-down back in world where those commodities don't grow on trees.
I could compile an extensive list of why I think Elliot is great, but instead I wanted to touch on a few of the important things that made me jump aboard the Zeke train.
Vision and surge
The Cowboys bread and butter in 2014 was how well the team was able to consistently have productive gains. When you have a game full of 2nd and 3 attempts, it makes things a lot easier to keep the chains moving. Elliott is a master at reading his blocks, setting his timing, and hitting the hole quick. By the time you can even get a hand on him, he's going to be five yards up the field.This trait alone is going to set up some manageable down and distances for the Cowboys offense.
Running with power
Sometimes the lanes aren't cleared out like you want them, but that doesn't obstruct the progress of a runner like Zeke. He doesn't look like it, but the kid is hard to bring down. Watching him gain another three to four yards as he's going to the ground is another way to help keep the Cowboys offense in manageable down and distances.
Third down and strong
Elliott was asked to pass block 108 times for the Buckeyes last season and only gave up one sack. He was graded out as the best pass-blocking running back in college last season. So, when Zeke proclaims that nobody is getting to Romo, he's not just spouting off a nonsensical that is laced with arrogance. The kid can actually block.
The wonderful thing about having all these attributes is that he can break off any one of them on any given play. The Cowboys offense is already filled with Pro Bowl talent, but adding a player like Elliott brings it to a whole new level. And the fact that he excels at a position that can exploit his skills to the fullest, makes it even that much more satisfying.
You can love him now, or you can love him later...but the end result will be the same. We're all going to love him together come September.