Going into year two, can Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott become one of the league’s most feared receivers out of the backfield?
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott 2016 rookie campaign was nothing short of outstanding. Zeke became the fifth rookie rusher to lead the league in rushing with 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, while also falling just 177 yards of Eric Dickerson’s single season rookie rushing record despite playing just 15 games.
Although his rookie season was certainly one for the record books, there’s room for Elliott to expand his game further during his sophomore campaign. And by expand, I mean him becoming more of a factor in the receiving game, where I believe Elliott has the ability to become a 1,000 yard receiver out of the backfield if given the ample amount of touches.
Last year, Elliott garnered 363 yards receiving and one touchdown on just 32 catches. However, 83 of those yards and the single touchdown happened on a single play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, on a swing pass from Dak Prescott that he took to the house.
Despite the relatively small sample size, there’s reason to believe Elliott could put up big time numbers if his targets increase. While Zeke had just 32 catches in 2016, they were only on a pedestrian 40 targets– good for 30th in the league amongst running backs.
Owner Jerry Jones has recently stated he would like to see Elliott get more involved in the passing game.
"“He really is problematic for defenses in the passing game, and certainly every time we can get him the ball, I feel good about it.” Jones told CBS Sports recently."
The thing with Elliott that bodes well for his future as a receiving threat, is the fact that he’s an excellent blocker in the backfield– already arguably one of the best in the NFL. If he was a liability in that department, it would be tougher to trot him out there on every down. And with receiving back Lance Dunbar moving on to the Rams this past offseason, Elliott should see an influx of third down opportunities in 2017.
While the Cowboy’s run first philosophy certainly will not shift the opposite direction in 2017, we should still see an uptick in passing, as offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will look to open up the playbook a little more for Dak in year two.
And with a whopping 322 carries in his inaugural season, Zeke should see that number slightly decrease in 2017. But if Linehan is smart, those carries will merely be replaced by catches. And the Dallas Cowboys may just have a 1,000 /1,000 yard running back on their hands.