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Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott ranked third best in NFL by ESPN

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Agree or disagree?

NFL Pro Bowl Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

As the slow football offseason moves along at a snail’s pace, we have learned to love the new lists that seemingly come out everyday ranking present and past NFL stars. This week the crew over at ESPN has began rankings top 10 players by position ahead of the 2020 season, and it started some controversy on Cowboys twitter.

According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, Ezekiel Elliott has been ranked the third best running back in the NFL, behind Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey. Here’s what Fowler had to say about the Cowboys bell-cow back:

Elliott garnered several first-place votes for being maybe the best pure rusher in the lot. From his downhill running to acceleration, some would prefer to build a team around him more than anyone else.

“Probably the best natural traits — speed, power, balance,” said one NFL personnel evaluator.

Elliott’s body of work — including 5,405 rushing yards and 40 rushing touchdowns since entering the league in 2016 — has earned him elite pay. He signed a six-year, $90 million extension last September.

But in holding out through training camp to secure that deal, Elliott appeared to lose some of his explosion and conditioning last year, several evaluators noted. Elliott produced four runs of 20-plus yards in 301 attempts (one per 75.25 attempts), by far the worst among the top five, and a surprising rate behind a premium offensive line.

“Very few breakout runs, doesn’t look as strong anymore,” said one NFL offensive coach who voted him outside of the top 10. “Feels like he’s about 60 to 70% of what he was.”

His receiving production was down 26%, from 579 to 420 yards year-over-year. One coordinator said Elliott is serviceable as a pass-catcher, but doesn’t often cross people up in the open field.

None of those factors deterred from the bottom line: That Elliott was awfully close to earning a first- or second-place spot here. And there’s no holdout to worry about now. Elliott will be fresh for training camp, prepared to capitalize on prime years left.

The part that picked up a lot of steam on social media was the very negative take from the anonymous source that had him not even among the ten best backs.

Some could argue that a lot of what was said there is in fact true, but placing Elliott outside of the top ten running backs seems a bit outlandish. Even with some of the concerns regarding his explosion, burst, and receiving skills, Elliott is still one of the league’s best, most durable backs.

Elliott’s response to the critics was rather humorous as well, giving some controversy that surrounded the 24-year running back last week.

It will be interesting to see how Elliott is used with Mike McCarthy in overall charge, although Kellen Moore certainly is very familiar with what he brings to the table. Was the critic right, or is Elliott still one of the elite backs in the league? Let us know what you think.