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Ezekiel Elliott getting praise for his work at the Cowboys OTA sessions

The Cowboys star running back needs a bounce-back year.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys OTA Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

He’s getting paid a lot of money for a running back. The Cowboys caved to a holdout a few years back and handed over a bunch of cash to Ezekiel Elliott. At the time, it didn’t seem like an awful bet given the production the team had gotten from Zeke. For his first few years in the league he was playing at an elite level, the kind of play that if sustained could one day send a player to Canton.

Things have started to cool recently, though. Last year was slog for Zeke as he totaled 979 yards rushing with only six rushing touchdowns. He also had his second-worst receiving total for a season, only ahead of the season he served a six-game suspension. To top it all off, he fumbled the ball six times, continuing the pattern of every-other-year fumble problems.

There were mitigating circumstances. The Cowboys lost so many players on the offensive line that the holes were sometimes just not there for Elliott to take advantage of. Also, losing Dak Prescott made it easier to key on Zeke as a weapon.

Still, anybody who has watched Elliott recently has noticed he doesn’t look as quick and elusive as he did earlier in his career. The explosive plays are declining. He needs to find that spark again, and there may be some hope that he is doing just that.

Bryan Broaddus had these comments after observing Zeke at the OTAs (hat tip Landry Hat for the transcription).

“Zeke, a couple of times, jump cut, the defender comes at you, plant, avoid, get out of the way with some quickness. Those drills that we’ve been seeing on social media look like they’re paying off a little bit … when you talk about his footwork, clearly it’s been something he’s been very conscious of because there were a couple of times where he got into the hole and was able to bounce it outside with a quick move and I was thinking ‘Oh, I haven’t seen that in a little time’.”

Elliott is a workhorse back who can take the pounding and pick up the dirty yards, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he is upper-tier when it comes to pass protection. But the key ingredient was his elusiveness and explosive ability. He’s never been a speed back or a jitterbug, but he’s had that thing you need to be really successful as a running back and that is to make defenders miss and then make them pay. It leads to explosive plays.

For Zeke to look more like the back he was in the first few years in the league, he’s going to need to recapture that. He may not be able to do that 100%, but he needs to be better at it than he has looked recently. If he can do that, and hold on to the ball, that big contract won’t look as bad.

Do you think Zeke will have a big, bounce-back year?

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