Dallas Cowboys: Accept it or not, Ezekiel Elliott is still a good running back

Ezekiel Elliott Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Ezekiel Elliott Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys were known more for their aerial attack than their ground game. That’s no slight to Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard, it’s just their pass-catchers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Ceedee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, and Blake Jarwin were arguably the best in the NFL.

The Cowboys offense was so prolific that franchise quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 4,449 yards, 37 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, completed 68.8 of his passes, and finished the season with a 104.2 quarterback rating. With weapons galore, the Cowboys swept the NFC East and averaged an impressive 31.2 points a game and scored a franchise record 530 points.

But what gets lost in translation is the impact of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Because the Cowboys are more of a pass first team (despite the front office preferring a run oriented one), Zeke’s role seems to be minimized by many.

Dallas Cowboys running back, Ezekiel Elliott, is still an effective every down running back that brings value to his team.

Since Zeke signed his lucrative six-year, $90 million dollar contract with Dallas in 2019, the former All Pro has rushed for 3,338 yards, 28 touchdowns, averaged 4.2 yards a carry, and recorded 153 receptions to boot. Those are some good stats, but the critics believe Zeke is on the decline and is replaceable. But I’m here to tell you the two-time rushing champ is still a beast and then some.

Is Zeke still as fast as he was in during his rookie season of 2016? Of course not, but Zeke was clocked running 22 miles per hour at Dallas’ rookie camp. This is Zeke running top speed after playing the majority of the 2022 season with a torn PCL, where he didn’t miss any games. My Gawd.

For a player on the decline, I’ll take Zeke’s 22 mph horsepower and work ethic any day of the week. I’m not saying Zeke is the best running back in the game, but he’s still a top-5 runner that has all of the intangibles. The latest example is how he still eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on an injured knee. It’s evident now that Zeke’s slowness came from the injured knee, but it didn’t stop him from flattening blitzing linebackers, and Zeke definitely didn’t avoid contact like that oft-injured running back named Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants.

Instead of missing games and allowing the running game to go through Tony Pollard, Zeke toughened out the season and laid his heart and soul out in every game.

Truly, someone on Dallas’ coaching staff should’ve sat Zeke down to preserve him from injuring himself, but players with the warrior mindset like Zeke don’t take days off from work without a fight. And Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones made it clear that because of the money they were paying Zeke, they wanted a return on their investment, but that’s a different discussion for another day when it comes to the Jones’.

After seeing Zeke run like a younger version of himself, it’s hard to say with a straight face that he’s lost much. The reason Zeke appears to be invaluable now is because he has 782 carries since the beginning of the 2019 season. Combine the devaluing of the running back position overall, it’s easy for the naysayers to believe that Zeke is declining.

Sidenote: If the offensive line is as improved as we believe it to be, Zeke and Pollard will bring nightmares to opposing defenses. But it will give Zeke the opportunity to show that he’s still among the NFL elite running backs.

Moving forward, Dallas needs to lessen Zeke’s carries and split them with Pollard to give Dallas a dynamic duo of runners with fresh legs and continue to use Zeke as a receiving threat. A fresh Zeke going into the fourth quarter can surely wear down a defense.

Listen, the most valuable traits Zeke possess are his durability, work ethic, and high football IQ. Watch film and Zeke takes on the biggest lineman to protect Dak from a disastrous hit, Zeke still continues to gain extra yardage fighting to the end, and mainly, Zeke is a leader.

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Just like head coach Mike McCarthy has something to prove this upcoming season, so does Zeke. He hears the noise, the negativity about him being on the decline, and the rumors about being released in 2023.

The motivation can be seen in the video. 22 mph! Wow! At least that’s a positive sign of a really good running back. And that’s really good to know.