Dallas Cowboys: Comparing Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Running back Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys rushes the football during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Running back Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys rushes the football during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

David Johnson thinks that he is the best running back in the NFL. How does the Arizona Cardinal stack up to Dallas Cowboys lead back Ezekiel Elliott?

On Thursday Morning’s episode of Good Morning Football on the NFL Network, the Arizona Cardinal’s David Johnson said that he thinks he’s the best running back in the NFL.

This is interesting for many reasons, but especially because we asked last week whether Ezekiel Elliott was the best back in the league. At this point, the only right thing to do would be to stack the Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys backs up against each other in order that we can judge for ourselves.

There are a lot of traits that a guy must have in order to be a successful NFL running back, and these traits have to be supreme when talking about becoming one of or the absolute best. Although Johnson and Elliott both possess many of these elite traits and characteristics, there are three specific traits that tell a great deal of the story. They are durability, versatility, and reliability.

When looking at Johnson, out of his four seasons and the possible 64 games he could have played in, he has only played in 49 of them. When looking at Elliott, out of a possible 48 games across three seasons, he has played in 40. Although the games are not even, you can compare them by using a ratio of games played to total amount possible and when you do, Elliott comes out on top.

Although Elliott missed time due to suspension, which is a knock on his reliability, Johnson missed most of the 2017 NFL season after dislocating his wrist. While Zeke would be the most durable running back out of the duo, Johnson would be considered the most reliable running back out of the two, as he has never missed a game due to something other than injury.

You have to consider the fact that Zeke has been the subject of quite a few negative stories across his short time in the league thus far. The most recent story involving a physical altercation in Las Vegas is another prime example of why in this case, Johnson would be the winner in the category of reliability.

When looking at their versatility, it is honestly about even. While Johnson has 172 receptions out of 262 targets, Elliott has 135 receptions out of 172 targets. Although Johnson’s mere volume and opportunities were higher, when looking at the percentage of completions, Zeke still leads him there by a wide margin.

If you look at the receiving yardage, Ezekiel Elliott trails Johnson by about 650 yards in the category. This is corrected for by Elliott though if you take a look at the rushing statistics. While Johnson has 687 carries for 2,783 career rushing yards, Elliott has almost 200 more carries at 868 for 4,048 career rushing yards.

While Johnson may be slightly better at the pass-catching aspect of the game than Zeke, Elliott seems to be the far better actual rusher of the ball. These factors would leave you no choice but to call them a tie in the versatility category, where both of them were extremely effective as rushers and catchers, but with one being better than the other in one area and vice versa. That would leave the tally dead even at 1.5 a piece if you were keeping count, with Zeke being more durable and a better rusher, while Johnson is more reliable and better as a receiver out of the backfield.

Another factor you could use to break the tie here would be “explosiveness”. Although explosiveness could be defined in a numerous amount of ways, one of the more common definitions used is a players total number of plays of 20 yards or more.

When thinking about Ezekiel Elliott, he has a total of 30 plays in his career of 20 yards or more, with 11 receiving and 19 rushing. In Johnson’s case, he has a total of 35 plays of 20 yards or more in his career, with 25 receiving and 10 rushing. Although the figures show what we already know, Johnson is the better receiver of the two while Elliott is the better rusher, it is important to consider the number of games that they’ve both played.

Johnson has compiled his numbers across 49 career games, while Zeke has compiled his across 40. Although using a ratio of explosive plays to games played would indicate that Elliott is the slightly more explosive back, the final numbers are so close that they are pretty even in that category as well.

While they have been almost dead even in other categories, you could take a look at the number of touchdowns they have scored, with Johnson having 42 and Elliott having 34, but that would be really close to even when accounting for the difference in games played with a ratio. Even their fumble totals are pretty close, with Johnson at 14 over his career and Elliott at 12.

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The only reasonable assumption to make here is that they are pretty even backs. Although they get it done in somewhat different ways, the fact of the matter is that they both flat-out get it done. If David Johnson believes he is the best back in the NFL, he may have a point but if the tape and the numbers specifically have proven one thing, it’s that this marathon is a two-man race.