Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL in rushing through four weeks of the 2016 season. Can he stay atop the ranks all season?
So much for the naysayers trying to write Ezekiel Elliott off as a bust. After grabbing several controversial preseason headlines, suffering a hamstring injury, and a less-than-stellar NFL debut, there were certainly plenty of people out there that were ready to see Trent Richardson 2.0 fizzle out after not meeting loft expectations.
Hate to break it to the haters, but this kid has proven that he is the real deal.
Through four NFL regular season games Zeke has looked every bit the part of a dominant running back that was worthy of the fourth overall selection in the draft.
Elliott leads the league in rushing yards (412), runs for first downs, and yards after contact. He is also tied for second in the NFL with three rushing touchdowns.
What has been even more impressive is that in each of his first four games, his yards per carry average has increased.
Zeke has ran for 130 or more yards in the past two games as well, looking much more comfortable as a runner in the process.
He is developing patience and waiting for a hole to develop and then using his elite acceleration to explode into the second level and finish runs with impressive physicality.
Is Elliott going to continue his trend of topping his previous performance game after game for the rest of the season? Highly unlikely.
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It would be reasonable however, to expect him to linger somewhere around the five yards per carry average for the season and based on the number of carries he has received through four weeks (94, or just over 23 carries per game), that would be enough to have him flirting with the NFL rookie rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1983 with the Los Angeles Rams (1,808 yards).
The pace he is currently at would put him at 376 carries for 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pretty staggering numbers for any running back, let alone a rookie.
In some cases, rookie running backs could catch lightning in a bottle or have their stats boosted due to playing against poor defenses early on. Or maybe defenses aren’t yet focusing on stopping them which means they are facing seven man boxes instead of eight or nine guys geared up to shutting down the run.
In Zeke’s case, he has been a primarily focal point for defenses to key on since the first snap of his career. Teams know that the Dallas Cowboys take pride in running the football behind their three All-Pro offensive linemen. The fact that Tony Romo is injured makes it that much easier to focus on stopping the run.
He has seen eight and nine man boxes- more often than not actually. He is still getting his yards.
What do you think will happen when Romo returns and the threat of the vertical passing came returns along with him?
Zeke is going to be seeing much lighter boxes, that is what will happen. Lighter boxes mean more opportunities to break into the second level and do his “feed me” celebration that is destined to become quite popular with Dallas Cowboys fans.
There are very few running backs that have gotten a consistent heavy workload like Elliott has through the first four games, and it will take that type of workload to try and beat him out for the rushing title.
Unfortunately for any backs trying to catch him, they don’t have the dominant run blockers that the Cowboys and Zeke are blessed with.
If Elliott can continue to play at the level he has shown he is capable of, there is no reason to doubt his potential as not only the rookie of the year, but the NFL’s leading rusher.