Ask a fan how they feel about the running back position and then go ahead and ask them how they feel about allocating resources and capital to said position. The answers to those questions may very well tell you how they feel about Ezekiel Elliott.
We discussed this idea and more on the latest episode of 1st and 10 on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Elliott’s large bank account is often brought up, but his play needs to be discussed, too. The reality is Zeke has $15 million in annual salary, and is a top three paid player at his position while seeing his 2021 stats not to the standard he set for himself earlier in his career. However, Zeke is still productive and capable, still is respected and feared by defenders, and still is entirely capable of being a top tier running back in this league for years to come.
Dak Prescott on his expectations for Ezekiel Elliott this season: “Nothing ever changes for my expectations of Zeke, of who he is, how he leads this team, how he approaches the game. … I expect his best. … When Zeke is healthy, I don’t think there’s a better back.” pic.twitter.com/MUDjsVUFu9— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 25, 2022
Running the ball is only a portion of his impact. His leadership, respect within the locker room, and team-first attitude he exhibits day in and day out are just some of the intangibles he possesses. However, when healthy, Elliott is no slouch on the field and still has the ability to be a top five player at his position. Much like any player, injuries hamper production, but looking at Elliott pre-injury last year he was absolutely a running back that showed the burst, quickness, and toughness of a guy looking to prove naysayers wrong after a substandard season prior.
Elliott still eclipsed the 1,000 yard marker for the year finishing seventh overall in the entire league, and did not miss a single game of action all season, even after injuring his PCL in week four. How Elliott was used from that point on can be debated, but that’s more a coaching staff issue than a Zeke issue. Elliott’s job is to go out there and do everything he can to help his team win a football game and when he was on the football field there was no doubt he was going to do everything in his power each and every down.
Players with 1,200+ yards from scrimmage in each of the last 3 seasons…— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) May 22, 2022
• Alvin Kamara
• Josh Jacobs
• Nick Chubb
• Dalvin Cook
• DJ Moore
• Ezekiel Elliott
Statistically, it wasn’t Zeke’s best season, and although we understand the 1,000 yard rusher means less now than ever before due to an extra game, he still averaged just under 60 rushing yards per game on just under 14 carries per, and just under 4.5 yards per run, while amassing 12 total touchdowns. Zeke had the least amount of rushes of his career at 237, something you could easily attribute to injury, the play of Tony Pollard, and other scenarios that were presented game to game.
We expect more from Zeke, and it’s not because there is any question about effort or determination, but because the Cowboys will still lean on him once again this year, as long as his health holds up. We all yearn for more Pollard touches, whether that be traditionally or uniquely, but this running game, for better or worse, goes through 21.
This was Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott last season before a partial PCL tear to right knee. Who he was before and after injury should not be conflated. Elliott to take field this morning at OTAs. After season, Cowboys are expected to revisit his contract. https://t.co/aVxzjYHhMo pic.twitter.com/cRb89n7ARB— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) May 25, 2022
Injuries and load management played a factor in his decrease in productivity last season and obviously one could conclude it obviously played a factor in his decreased statistical output as well, but the reality remains that he did what he had accomplished after playing in 13 games with a knee injury. If Elliott is able to stay healthy those numbers will undoubtedly increase and already being top 10 in most running back categories, one could wonder just how high he could push up the running back food chain this year.
What matters most though is the impact. Production counts, but so do things beyond the numbers; the value on the field plus the little things he brings to this team that often can go unnoticed. The team is better with Zeke on it and I don’t think that can be debated.
The low hanging fruit is the high contract number, the productive running back behind him, and the overall thought of the running back position being less important than others on the team, but beyond that there is definitely room for making Zeke’s case as a productive player, a valued player, and one that the Cowboys are a better football team for having.
The tools, ability, and motivation are still there. There are certainly signs of the Zeke we are use too other there. With another season on the horizon, if you look close enough, you could very well see a realistic possibility for a productive campaign out of number 21 and for all of us to realize that Ezekiel Elliotts demise being greatly exaggerated.