Dallas Cowboys: Why Ezekiel Elliott is so Special at Running Back

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 18: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 18: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Here’s why Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott is a special player for the Dallas Cowboys who’s replaceable – but not easily replaceable.

The Dallas Cowboys are lucky enough to have one of the best running backs in the entire NFL on their team. Frankly, Ezekiel Elliott isn’t just one of the best running backs, but he’s one of the best players in the league, overall. Period.

Despite being elite in just about every way possible, Ezekiel is getting his share of “disrespect” this offseason as we debate the prioritization of re-signing this young Dallas Cowboys core. While some say Zeke is the most important piece to retain, a sizeable portion of the analytics community is convinced Zeke is the most important player NOT to retain.

This has created a divide, not only in Cowboys Nation, but in sports nation as a whole. I tackled the ‘ol “running backs don’t matter” issue a couple months ago. I encourage you to check it out in the link directly below before continuing on. It addresses why RBs are replaceable, why the passing game is so much more important than the running game, and why RBs still matter, regardless of it all…

Related Story. Why Running Backs DO Matter!. light

At face value this looks like a debate about Ezekiel Elliott, but the reality is this issue is about the running back position. The value of the running back is what’s being called into question. Not the player himself.

Ezekiel Elliott is special for one reason: He’s great at everything.

Some will say Zeke’s represents the exception to the rule. They say he’s “generational”. But just a little while ago they said Le’Veon Bell was generational. And before injury, David Johnson was generational. Todd Gurley used to be generational and that’s why LA inked him to that enormous contract. Saquon Barkley has only played a year, and he may be the most “generational” of them all.

The word, “generational” has lost all of its meaning. Who is generational and who is not generational is a great topic for debate. But naming 4+ players in four seasons “generational” is not understanding the meaning of the word. You get one per decade, give or take. And we usually don’t know who it is until after all is said and done. So let’s shelve the whole “generational” exception, shall we?

Ezekiel Elliott is special for one reason: He’s great at everything.

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Zeke is top-3 between the tackles. He’s top-5 bouncing it outside. He’s top-5 in overall power (even though his short yardage numbers stink). And he’s top-5 in explosion. He’s great in zone, man, and power blocking schemes. He has great hands. And he can pass block. Zeke’s not awkward in space nor is he adverse to close quarters.

Zeke can do everything well and that’s what makes him such a weapon. Defenses don’t know what’s up the Dallas Cowboys sleeve when Zeke’s on the field. Teams that play with platoons usually tip their hand when they trot out their personnel. One guy may indicate run while another indicates pass. One may be small and shifty while the other is big and powerful. Defenses can adjust.

Just because Zeke has been cursed to be playing under the transparent play-calling of Scott Linehan, doesn’t mean he can’t be the ultimate tool in deception.

For as high as we are on Tony Pollard and what he potentially brings this offense, he doesn’t offer a fraction of the versatility as Zeke does. Pollard’s Cowboys counterparts are even more limited in their abilities and likely even more transparent in their assignments once inserted.



There’s really two solutions to the Dallas Cowboys current problem:

  1. They can get Zeke back and deploy him creatively, utilizing his versatility and exploiting opponents’ weaknesses
  2. Or they can continue on without him and change their offense to fit the strengths of his replacements.

What they can’t do is expect a collection of lesser-thans to successfully fill his currently vacant role. Because they can’t.

The good news is we’ve seen Dallas win with Zeke without using much creativity (although he only finished 20th in the NFL in “successful” running play percentage). But it stands to reason they can have more success if Kellen Moore would just be a little more deceptive in his play-calling, formations, and pre-snap movement.

We also know run-heavy teams are less productive than pass-heavy teams and the way the rules are, passing is far more fruitful than running in almost every non-short yardage situation. Even on the Dallas Cowboys (last season Dallas was 8x more successful passing on early downs than running).

So fundamentally changing the offense to be more pass-happy is actually the smart move even if retaining Zeke is the safe move.

All talk of replacing Ezekiel Elliott must include the caveat that the offense will need to change as well. Anyone expecting the offense to just plug and play his replacement(s) and still be successful is delusional.

Next. Why Dak has been better without Zeke. dark

Zeke is special and the Dallas Cowboys are a better team with him than without him. But they can win without him and even improve as long as they’re willing to fundamentally change their offense…something we’ll discuss in coming days…

  • Published on 08/23/2019 at 12:00 PM
  • Last updated at 08/23/2019 at 07:24 AM