Ezekiel Elliott had one of the best starts to his NFL career of any Cowboys player in recent memory. As good as Elliott was during his rookie season in 2016, his production has declined every year since. Many fans in Dallas, including owner Jerry Jones, continue to hold out hope of a return to the Zeke of old.
Elliott visited the Cowboys rookie minicamp last week, where he worked out and was clocked sprinting 22 miles per hour. And just like that, here we go again. A new cycle of Dallas Cowboys propaganda begins.
We’ve heard this before with Elliot. One year ago, before training camp, reports coming out of Dallas were about Zeke being in the best shape of his life and having something to prove in the 2021 season. And how did Elliott back up all that hype? He rushed for 1,002 yards, averaging 58.9 yards per game, the lowest of his career.
The former NFL rushing champ played in every Cowboys game last season for only the second time in his six-year career. Elliott dealt with a partially torn PCL for the better part of the season. It’s been reported that Elliott suffered the injury in Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers. While the injury likely contributed to a subpar season for Elliot, it doesn’t tell the entire story.
Another factor in Zeke’s poor year was the emergence of Tony Pollard as more than just a change-of-pace running back. Pollard’s rushing attempts per game jumped from 6.3 in 2020 to 8.7 last season. Subsequently, Elliot’s attempts fell by more than two per game, partly due to Pollard as well as Dallas placing more of an emphasis on passing the ball.
The burst and consistent big-play ability Elliott once possessed is long gone. So while the Cowboys obviously want to believe in Elliott as a big-time rusher, their return isn’t living up to expectations. How else do you explain Pollard’s expanded role the last two years?
Some might say Elliott is washed. If you compare his production over the past two seasons to the contract extension he signed in 2019, it’d be hard to argue otherwise. That was the last time Elliott made a pro bowl. He rushed for 1,357 yards in 2019 and played in all 16 games. Since then, it’s looked like father time is tugging at Zeke’s jersey when he runs. No matter how good of shape he’s in aesthetically, he noticeably lost a couple of steps on the field.
I’m just not buying into this 22 mph speed Elliott was seen running at Cowboys rookie camp. He did that in shorts or sweatpants, with no defenders on the field and no pads on. It sounds good, and I know it will get Cowboys nation hyped up for the season, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. Elliott is no longer an elite NFL back, and the Cowboys have turned into a passing team with what they’re paying Dak Prescott.
I believe Elliott can still be a good rusher, but I doubt he’ll ever see 1,200 yards rushing again in a season. There are too many things in play to keep him from achieving that mark. Prescott, Pollard, Elliott’s own decline, and the team’s offensive philosophy. Not to mention the decline of the offensive line over the past couple of years. Dallas addressed this in the draft, but we’ll have to wait until September to see how that plays out.
Here we go again with Jones’ team peddling false hope to the masses in preparation for the 2022 season. Jerry is great at selling dreams and does it better than anyone in sports, and here it is again. I don’t want to count Zeke out already but based on what’s been witnessed for two years now from Elliott, there’s no way he bounces back to what he was from 2016 to 2019. Once running backs fall off, they tend to stay off.