With the Dallas Cowboys completely revamping their receivers and tight ends, we need to look at what a realistic load Ezekiel Elliott will have.
The talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys this season seems to be that they will be a run-heavy team. Of course, Ezekiel Elliott is the “bell cow” for the running game, but realistically how much of a load can he carry is anyone’s guess. We can look at some history and make some assumptions.
First, there have been only five players in NFL history to have more than 400 carries in a season. The shortlist is Larry Johnson, Jamal Anderson, James Wilder, Eric Dickerson, and Eddie George. No one has done it since 2006, and that was Johnson. Suffice to say that carrying the ball 400 times is rare, and probably not going to be the load for Elliott.
Looking back at more recent Dallas Cowboys’ history, 2014 was the year of DeMarco Murray. Murray carried the ball 392 times that season and the Dallas Cowboys went 12-4.
However, this was also the year the backups were Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle. Which means there wasn’t a ton of depth behind Murray to give him rest. Ezekiel Elliott has Rod Smith and Bo Scarbrough behind him.
So do we think that Elliott will reach the 390 mark? Probably not. Smith and Scarbrough will most likely be relied upon more than Dunbar and Randle were. So what would this season really look like? Well, we can look back to two seasons ago to get a better clue.
In 2016, Elliott rushed for 322 times. Granted that season had a new quarterback but also had Jason Witten and Dez Bryant still on the team. Conceivably, Elliott could surpass the 320 mark fairly easily. Even with Smith and Scarbrough running behind him, in 2016 the Cowboys had Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, so it figures that Elliott will get a few more touches this season.
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So where does that put us? Well, right now we can guess somewhere between 320 and 390 carries. Barring the passing game being far worse than anyone expects, it is fairly safe to say 400 is out of the question. Additionally, barring an injury, anything less than 300 would be a travesty to Elliott and the offensive line.
The best guess would be around 350-360 carries for 2018. That would be a fairly heavy workload, but it would take into account the use of Smith and Scarbrough in short-yardage situations.
The Dallas Cowboys should be a more focused running team as they work on their passing game. There are a lot of new faces, rookies, and unproven players, and getting in sync does take more time than relying on the familiar running game.
While this is a fairly heavy workload, Elliott is still young and is built to be a “bell cow.” It will help if Scarbrough can be a short yardage running back to take some of the wear and tear off of Elliott. It would also be a smart idea to make use of Smith in order to spell Elliott as the season rolls on. I won’t try to predict their carries, but they should have a fairly good workload for backups.
Elliott is poised to have a stellar season. Sure, teams will most likely stack the box and try to make the Cowboys beat them in the air, but Elliott is talented enough to still gain yardage with 8 and 9 men in the box. It may be slow going at times, but he will break one here and there. If you play fantasy football, Elliott would be an outstanding first round selection.
It remains to be seen how the passing game will develop, and if it develops faster than many people think, it could decrease Elliott’s numbers a little. I think Elliott will be at the top of the statistics this year in yards and attempts. While Saquon Barkley might have more carries than Elliott, I think Elliott will easily surpass him in yards and yards per carry.
2018 could be special for Elliott. As he goes so will the Dallas Cowboys. He has the talent and ability to lead this team into the playoffs, regardless of how the passing game does. If Elliott can stay healthy and on the field, it bodes well for the Dallas Cowboys. Now, we wait to see how it all turns out.