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Ezekiel Elliott did not catch a single pass in Seattle Thursday night.
The Dallas Cowboys' first-round draft pick, taken fourth overall, did pretty much everything else you might want an NFL running back to do... and he did it against a consistently elite defense. You want your running back to be able to pick up blitzers, both same-side and across the formation. You want him to have speed. You want him to be able to cut sharply and get up field. You want him to have power. Elliott simply went down the list... check... check... check
I would like to remind my readers that I was not on the Elliott bandwagon. I wanted a quarterback (assuming the team thought he was worthy of a first-round pick) first and foremost and, failing that, Jalen Ramsey, who I projected as a safety. When Dallas predictably went Elliott with its first pick, I sighed a little and began looking at the kid. What I saw astonished me so much that what I wrote started people accusing me of trying to justify my pre-draft Elliott love... except that I didn't have any. I wanted Cowboys legacy player Paul Perkins in the 4th or so.
But when I began to look at Elliott, I began to see what people meant by him being the complete package. He has terrific vision, top-notch speed and lateral movement, outstanding balance and power, and an attitude that goes All Day. Yes, I just said that. But Elliott said it louder Thursday night. Loud enough that Kam Chancellor felt he had to assert his manhood by taking a personal foul just to show the rookie up. Of course we all know by now how Elliott responded, but it's great fun to watch and we will do so in a minute, with great relish.
But first I want to discuss some of the little things Elliott did so well. First up is the play where Tony Romo was tackled by Cliff Avril, a tackle that will likely have Romo missing a significant number of games this season. I apologize for bringing up the play, but Elliott did something quite special.
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I won't make you watch the hit again, but note that Elliott lines up to Romo's right while the blitzing linebacker, K.J. Wright, comes from Romo's left. There's no hesitation or question of what he's supposed to do. Elliott simply tears across the formation and takes the legs out of the blitzer. Then just a few plays later he does this for Dak Prescott:
This time the blitz is on the right side, and Elliott answers any questions about his ability to take on a blitzer head on, rather than going for their legs. Can your running back pick up the blitz? Check.
Elliott doesn't have blazing speed, but he has enough to get the job done, capturing the outside edge against one of the league's best run defenses.
And on the very next play, he adds a little shake-and-bake to get another nine yards. Not only does he outrun Michael Bennett to get to the edge, but notice the nifty little shift to stay clear of Ahtyba Rubin, who makes a diving lunge for him (assisted a bit by La'el Collins).
While this is not the most impressive move, it is, to me, the most impressive part of Elliott's game. There's simply no wasted movement. He shifts just enough to get past Rubin and he's up field for more yardage. It's something he does time and again really well. Does your running back have speed and wiggle enough to make people miss? Check.
And then the fun begins...
Zeke's power game is impressive, but more than that it's just plain fun to watch. Like DeMarco Murray and Marion Barber III before him, Ezekiel Elliott likes to hit people, and it's sheer pleasure to watch the bullies get bullied. But more importantly, though less flashy and less fun, Elliott gets the dirty yards. Remember those yards Jason Garrett used to talk about in 2014? They were on display last night, too.
There's nothing special about a one yard dive up the middle behind the best line in football, except when you actually push the pile two yards further than a Travis Frederick/Zack Martin double-team does.
But that's not what you came here to see. You came here to see this.
If there is one player more than any other responsible for the "legion of boom" moniker, if there is one player more than any other who represents the word "enforcer" in the NFL, if there's one safety feared above others by ball carriers and receivers alike, it is Kam Chancellor. And Elliott sought him out and drove him backwards.
Chancellor later admitted being caught off guard by Elliott's aggressive running. It was evident that Elliott had gotten under his skin as he treated the rookie to a stern lecture given by his shoulder pad.
Fifteen yard flag. And a rookie running back had officially gotten into the head of one of the most feared players in the game. In fact, Chancellor is one of the only remaining players about whom the word "feared" is even used. For Elliott to get to him like this is a tremendous show of chutzpah for the rookie. But he wasn't done. Two plays later, Elliott found Chancellor again. This time Chancellor lined up a kill shot and clearly planned to simply blast the rookie to the ground, as he didn't even bother lifting his arms.
And here it is again, larger, in glorious slow motion. On display are Elliott's agility as he deftly dodges an off balance K.J. Wright and knifes away from the grasp of Ahtyba Rubin, his awareness as he starts his early spin out of the Chancellor tackle attempt, and his power and balance as Chancellor buckles under the impact while Elliott spins away to drag Richard Sherman for another yard or two. It's a big file, but enjoy
Does your running back run with power? Can he get the dirty yards?
I'll just leave that one there.
But this is what people were talking about when they said that Ezekiel Elliott was the most complete back to come out of a draft in some time. It was not hyperbole or over-selling. He is a special player and he showed it against last year's number one run defense, with his starting quarterback and #1 wide receiver out of the game.
That's what all the fuss is about.