ESPN has been doing a player ranking by position for the past couple of weeks. We’ve touched on some of their rankings on these pages, including the quarterback/Dak Prescott rankings from yesterday. Obviously these rankings are subjective and are just a reflection of the 50 or so NFL coaches, execs and players voting in the polls. They are debate generators during a slow time in the NFL calendar.
Today, ESPN put out their rankings for the running backs. This is an interesting one given the decline in Ezekiel Elliott’s game since his phenomenal first few seasons. Once thought of as among the top two or three running backs in the game, Elliott’s star has fallen. So much so, that there has been debate around him needing a bounce-back year and the Cowboys ability to get out of his contract after the 2022 season.
Just how far has he slipped in the rankings? He’s now at the seventh spot.
Highest ranking: 1 | Lowest ranking: 12
Age: 25 | Last year’s ranking: 3
Some teams still view Elliott as the most natural downhill rusher in the game because of his combination of speed, power and balance.
Why Elliott fell in this year’s rankings is easy to answer: lack of juice. He has seven rushes of 20-plus yards since 2019 and zero runs of more than 40. That’s the worst explosive-play production on this list. Some personnel people believe Elliott appears less explosive on film since signing his $75 million extension before the 2019 season.
“Doesn’t look the same, and he fumbles too much,” an NFC offensive coach said.
Elliott has fumbled five or more times in three of his five NFL seasons.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott told The Dallas Morning News that Elliott is in “the best shape of his life” entering 2021, so perhaps the talented back will return to his form from 2016-18, when he had a combined 30 rushes of 20-plus yards.
Much of this we have already covered in the past few months in relation to his renewed offseason training efforts and his laser focus on reclaiming his former glory. Nothing in the above write up should come as any kind of surprise to regular readers here.
What did come out of the rankings was this hilarious comment from an unnamed AFC defensive coach.
“They need to give Zeke some of Dak’s money,” an AFC defensive coach said. “He scares you the most on that offense.”
Who is this guy? No matter what you think of Dak Prescott, the idea that the combination Dak and his trio of elite receivers is somehow less scary than Elliott is bewildering. This is the modern NFL where passing is king. That’s not to say that running backs are not useful, or even game-changing on occasion, like Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffery. There is definitely a spot for elite running backs.
But the Cowboys passing game is on fire and only seems to be getting better with Kellen Moore now in control and the recent addition of CeeDee Lamb to complement Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. The arrow is pointing up on all of those guys, while the arrow for Zeke has definitely been pointing down. Elliott didn’t even break 1,000 yards last year and he averaged a very poor four yards per carry. He fumbled as many times as he scored on the ground.
The idea that you fear that kind of production over what the Cowboys are producing in the passing game is hysterical.
For the record, the other running backs ranked ahead of Zeke were Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley.