At age 27, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott isn’t the same player we saw from 2016-2019. During that four-year stretch, you could make a very legitimate argument that Elliott was the best running back in football.
During his four-year All-Pro caliber run, the former first-round pick ran for over 5,400 yards, averaging 4.6 Y/A, and scored a very impressive 48 touchdowns. We’ll probably never see that version of Zeke running the football again, but the one we’ve seen six games into the 2022 season is much better than you may think.
If you simply look at the surface-level stats, Elliott’s 2022 season to date won’t wow you. The former All-Pro has totaled 94 rushing attempts for 386 yards (4.1 Y/A) and scored two touchdowns. Those are rather pedestrian numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story.
Elliott’s Y/A average is very skewed by his one poor performance against the Commanders in Week 4. During that matchup, Dallas couldn’t get anything going in the run game, and Elliott and Tony Pollard were constantly met in the backfield and dropped for a loss. It was by far Elliott’s worst performance of the season as he ran the ball 19 times for just 49 yards, averaging just 2.5 Y/A.
If you take out that game, Elliott has averaged 4.5 Y/A during the other five games of the season and has averaged 70 Y/G in his last four outings. This is the first time the former All-Pro has averaged 70 or more Y/G during a four-game stretch since Week 5 to Week 8 of last season.
I really like how Ezekiel Elliott finished runs. He made some nice cuts to the outside and spun off tackles to fall forward for extra yards. It was a gritty performance by the Cowboys' veteran RB. pic.twitter.com/1J6ZQk1rzn— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 18, 2022
If you look at some more advanced rushing statistics, it shows Elliott is having a much better season than he is getting credit for. Elliott ranks in the top 10 in the league in DYAR 46 (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and EYds 402 (Effective Yards), Per Pro Football Outsiders. He also ranks in the top 15 in success rate (52%) coming in ahead of Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, and Saquon Barkley.
Zeke's contract & cap hit is a conversation we can & should have in the offseason.— David Helman (@davidhelman_) October 17, 2022
Here in 2022, where the objective is to win as many games as possible, I think he's having a sneaky effective season. The stats don't fully reflect his contributions.
Elliott has also been one of the best backs in football in short-yardage situations this season. He is eight of nine (88.9%) on getting a first down on third and short and his eight conversions are the most of any running back in the league. Elliott also has the most rushing first downs in the league on third down overall, converting nine of 13 tries. His 20 first-down runs rank him 10th among all running backs and he is one of five running backs in the league (with over 90 rush attempts) to not fumble on the season.
Elliott has been much better than many are giving him credit for so far this season, and with Dak Prescott returning on offense, things should only go up from here.