Dallas Cowboys: Expect Ezekiel Elliott to have a bounce back year

: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

During the 2020 season, the Dallas Cowboys were hit with the injury bug, and those injuries ravished the team, producing a highly disappointing season. The offense took the brunt of those horrific injuries, and that’s why the Cowboys suffered a 6-10 record.

The Cowboys ultra-talented offensive line lost All Pro left tackle Tyron Smith, right tackle La’el Collins, All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, and former All-Pro center Travis Frederick (who unexpectedly retired prior to the 2020 season).

Add in the season-ending ankle injury to franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, and the Dallas Cowboys offense sank faster than a ship full of holes. And when the aforementioned and glorified talent fell apart, so did the Cowboys running game. As a result, Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott statistically had his worse season as a professional (979 yards and six touchdowns).

Expect Ezekiel Elliott to have a huge 2021 season for the Dallas Cowboys

Zeke was a casualty of the circumstances around him last season. When the offensive line is bad and the QB is bad, (Andy Dalton), no running back is going to look pretty. It’s not going to happen, regardless of how gifted he may be.

With a healthy offensive line returning all of their starters and Dak back at full strength, you can expect Zeke to have not only a bounce back year, but to return to form as the All-Pro, two-time, NFL rushing champion.

I’m aware that Zeke appears to have lost a step, failed to gain 1,000 yards for the first time in his young career, and had a career-high six fumbles, but Zeke is not too far removed from the rookie sensation that led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards, 15 rushing touchdowns (1 receiving touchdown), and made First-Team All-Pro. Nor is Zeke too far removed from the back that won his second rushing title in 2018 (1,434 yards).

Zeke is closer to the player in 2019 that rushed for 1,357 yards, ranked fourth in touchdowns (12), was second in all-purpose yards (1,777), and had seven 100-yard games that tied him for first. Even with a depleted offensive line, no franchise quarterback, and no traditional NFL offseason because of Covid-19, Zeke missed the 1,000 yard mark by only 21 yards.

All of that chaos, and still came close!

The 2020 season was a disaster for Dallas in every way possible, and Zeke was just a casualty of the circumstances around him. When the offensive line is makeshift and the quarterback is on the decline (Andy Dalton), no running back is going to run for a gazillion yards, score 15 touchdowns, and make All-Pro. It’s not going to happen, regardless of how gifted he may be.

For Zeke to had played in 15 games with an injury-riddled offense and last ranked defense, his poor season should be seen as an anomaly more than a player who is on the decline. I understand the critics bashing Zeke for his fumbles, declining speed, and holding out in 2019 for more money, but at least give Zeke the opportunity to prove himself with a revamped offensive line and with Dak leading the way.

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Further, Zeke saw firsthand the impact of fellow running back Tony Pollard and how effective he played as a change of pace back. Pollard is faster than Zeke and made bigger plays with longer touchdown runs, something Cowboys Nation is hoping to see again from Zeke.

In other words, Pollard is motivation for Zeke to return to his All Pro form and remain Dallas’ number one running back. Plus, Zeke is only 25 years young and still able to bounce back and produce at high level-even if he has over 1,400 carries in his career.

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I believe  Zeke has a lot more gas left in the tank, maybe not as the fastest, but at least effective and durable enough to produce for the offense. 

Even though Dallas has a ton of receiving threats, I expect Zeke to become more of a receiving threat out of the backfield and share carries with Pollard (less pounding). If that’s the case, Zeke will definitely bounce back and become a legitimate dual threat running back.