A hot topic in the Cowboys-centric media world in the past couple of days is just how much the Dallas Cowboys will use Ezekiel Elliott during his rookie season. We'll visit some of the commentary on that subject momentarily, but first, let's consider just how much usage in a season represents a historical amount. For that, we turn to Pro Football Reference for answers.
|Most Rushing Attempts In A Single Season|
|Most Touches In A Single Season|
As you can see, the rushing attempts and overall touches by running backs have been on the decline, with no running back breaking into the top level in the past decade except for one big exception: DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys 2014 season was one for the record books in terms of using a running back. Which brings us to Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys are apparently going back to the formula of 2014.
So, the question is, just how much will they use Elliott? There seems to be two theories on this.
The Use Him Up Theory
This school of thought says give him the rock, a lot! He should clearly be the most-talented running back they have. He is fully capable of playing all three downs and is an excellent option in the passing game. He's young and he can be a game-changer. Feed him the ball and don't worry about the numbers.
Yes, they plan to turn the rookie running back into a workhorse right away. So we can expect Elliott to be right up there with Adrian Peterson (327 carries in 2015) and Doug Martin (288 carries in 2015). We can't expect the Cowboys not to do what worked so well for them in 2014.
Head coach Jason Garrett had Murray carry the ball 392 times, the most for anyone in a season in the last 10 years, that year. I actually wouldn't be surprised if he got as many carries if not more than Murray had. And with his receiving skills, 430 touches shouldn't surprise anyone.
Bryan: You drafted him to play. If you have to hand him the ball a thousand times to win games - do it. The way that this league is set up you have these players for four to five years unless it is a quarterback. Use them up then go draft another one.
The Depth Theory
This school of thought thinks that yes, Elliott is clearly the workhorse, but with talent like Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden available, there is no need to wear Elliott out in his rookie season. Ease him into it and allow plenty of substituting. The Cowboys have a stable of good running backs, use them all to beatdown opponents.
David: For starters, I don't think it's even a question that Elliott will be first string, and I'd say that even if McFadden was 100 percent healthy. To your second point, I don't think "concerned" is the word I'd use, but it's definitely something I'd be mindful of. DeMarco Murray got 83 percent of the carries for this team in 2014, and he finished with more than 400 total touches. That's a tad much for anyone, let alone a rookie. Fortunately, the Cowboys have vastly superior depth at the position this year. I think Zeke will finish with roughly 280-300 carries, which would put him right around 18-20 per game. That should leave plenty of carries for Morris and McFadden to get involved.
But nobody rushed for 1,500 yards last year, and it has happened only 21 times in the previous 10 years combined. It's tough -- and to do it as a rookie is rare. Only four rookies have surpassed 1,500 yards rushing since 1994 (Edgerrin James, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Alfred Morris). The latter, of course, is now Elliott's teammate. But a big difference between them is that Elliott is much more well-rounded back, so he'll stay in the game more on third downs. That means Dallas, if it's smart, will give him more breaks. Having players such as Morris and Darren McFadden means the Cowboys don't have to just pound Elliott all the time. He'll be a very good back and I wouldn't be surprised if he surpasses 1,200 yards. Just don't wear him out in year one because he will eventually top that 1,500 mark.
So BTB, where do you stand? Should Dallas go full-2014 and use Elliott like they did DeMarco Murray? Or should they back off some and allow the veterans a number of carries per game?