It is safe to say that 2020 wasn’t anybody’s best year. It is also safe to assume Ezekiel Elliott shares that sentiment as well. The Cowboys young star running back had his own battle with COVID-19 and is coming off the worst statistical year of his career. Elliott had six fumbles on the season in which five of those were lost, and both his total rushing yards, and average yards per carry, were the lowest of his career at 979 and 4.0, respectively. The two-time NFL rushing champion knows the standard is set high for him and understands the scrutiny that comes with being a star and leader of the Dallas Cowboys. As the 2021 season fast approaches, a question remains in regards to Elliott, was this year an exception or will this be the rule moving forward?
Many signs point in the favor of Zeke returning to his old form. For starters, the offensive line was in shambles last year and in many instances it felt as if some of the young, replacement linemen were thrown to the wolves. That does not seem to be the case this year as all reports in regards to Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are of positive nature and it’s believed that they will be ready to go once the season kicks off. You may also look to the fact that all of these backup linemen who were given invaluable playing experience and are now more seasoned, and better equipped, to handle another potential opportunity if one were to arise again. The draft is another avenue where the Cowboys will surely look to add a player or two that may add quality depth, or even possibly an elite level prospect such as Rashawn Slater from Northwestern, who by many accounts is believed to be a plug-and-play type of prospect. Having continuity on the offensive line and the ability to keep your star players healthy can only improve the running game and give Zeke better opportunities to break off big plays.
Another huge factor that can not be understated is the return of Dak Prescott. Dak and Zeke have always worked beautifully together as both players greatly benefited from one another’s presence on the field. With Dak back in the fold, it will force defenses to respect the passing game much more than they did with Andy Dalton at the helm. This will put defenses in a bind where they will have to decide whether or not to load the box to stop the run, or keep a safety back in order to limit the big-play passing ability of the Cowboys high-powered offense. Last year defenses simply did not fear Dalton despite the onslaught of receiving weapons the Cowboys possess. The thought was to load the box and force Dalton to be the one to beat you, which proved to be a difficult task for the Cowboys. Dak was on pace to break passing records before his injury, and having his leadership and elite ability back under center can only help elevate the entire offense.
There is no question that Ezekiel Elliott has much to prove once again and this year will mark a pivotal point in his career and legacy. By all accounts Zeke has met expectations for what the Cowboys were hoping to get when they drafted him. What will ultimately define him is how he responds to adversity. If he comes out this season and lights it up, last season will be long forgotten and a blip on what has the makings to be a Hall of Fame career. If it is more of the same, then we can sit here and argue if the Cowboys overpaid for a player that many would question if we have already seen his peak. There are many great running backs in the NFL and Zeke is right there in the mix with all of them. He knows what he is capable of and he knows what expectations come with being a fourth overall pick and signing a $90 million contract. This offseason, more than any other we have seen, people within Elliott’s inner circle are posting workout videos to his social media platforms. In this day and age of social media, one could assume that Elliott hears the noise, understands what is being said, and is using such things as motivation to make him work even harder. Many athletes talk about having a chip on their shoulder from naysayers, or outside noise as a whole, and there is no reason to believe that Zeke is any different in that regard.
The Cowboys would love to have Ezekiel Elliott back to his old form. The form in which he rushed for 1,357 yards and had 14 total touchdowns in 2019, and many viewed even that as a down year for him. There are many reasons why 2021 can be a bounce-back year for Ezekiel Elliott, there’s nothing left but to go out and do it.