Dallas Cowboys 2021 realistic expectations: Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys have star power and draw quite a few headlines, good and bad. Aside from quarterback, Dak Prescott, there may be no bigger draw on Dallas than running back Ezekiel Elliott. This has been earned by his performances throughout his career to this point.

Cowboys fans have seen the former Ohio State Buckeye wear down defenses and gash teams for big gains. There have also been some fumbles and the question of if Elliott has lost a step. The 2021 season is a big one for the running back who has been handsomely paid by general manager Jerry Jones.

What should fans hold as realistic expectations for Elliott in 2021? That can start with the yardage outlook. Elliott has averaged just about 90 yards per game throughout his career. In the new 17-game season that would put up a tad over 1,500 yards.

If Elliott put up that monster number, I don’t think you will see many fans complain. To get there would require year-long health across the offensive line as well as Elliott himself. This number seems a little high, but not entirely out of the question if Elliott is truly in “the best shape of his life” as reports are saying.

The Cowboys have a loaded wide receiver group and a proven running back in Tony Pollard that can help take the load off of Elliott. These are reasons to taper expectations slightly. I believe a successful year from Elliott looks like 1,100+ yards over 17 games.

That total comes out to roughly 65 yards per game which is lower than Elliott has paced at over his career, but that is alright. The Cowboys need Elliott to churn out short yardage first downs, eat at the clock to save the defense, and punch in goal-line scores. Those are the things that make the Cowboys’ offense go.

The area I see Elliott returning to form is the touchdown total. The last three seasons have seen the running back with single-digit rushing scores. With the aerial attack to move the ball down the field, Elliott will likely benefit greatly from this with chances to punch in short-yardage scores and tally 10-12 rushing scores to his name.

The passing game is an area offensive coordinate Kellen Moore has worked Elliott into as well as of lately. If Elliott can continue to haul in three or four passes each game, as he has done over the last three seasons, he can help this offense stretch defenses even thinner. Elliott will likely get linebackers on him in mismatches and could have chances to turn short passes into big gains.

I don’t expect Elliott to have a year like Christian McCaffrey put up as the Carolina Panthers running back, that isn’t his game. Tony Pollard has shown explosiveness in the screen game for the Dallas offense which should provide some rest for Elliott and another wrinkle in the offense.

A successful receiving campaign for Elliott could be in the area of 45 receptions and 350 yards. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but the situations they come in could be most important.

The biggest question mark in my eyes is if Elliott can stop the fumbles. In his career, he has put the ball on the ground 20 times, a quarter of those in the 2020 season alone. Putting this issue to rest has to be one of Elliott’s focus points in this training camp. Defensive players in the NFL get paid too and fumbles happen, but if Elliott can trim this down to one or two occurrences, Dallas fans will likely be extremely content.

Maybe most important of all, Elliott has the chance to keep the clock running and protect the Cowboys’ defense. His hand in time of possession could be a hidden asset to the 2021 season. That is if the Cowboys capitalize on long drives with points rather than holding the ball for a while only to punt.

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Ezekiel Elliott knows how important he is to this offense and all signs point to him being ready to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of NFL running backs. I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw a resurgence that shatters all expectations but a successful year for Elliott could be 1,400 total yards combined in the rushing and receiving game with 10-12 touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys have invested in Elliott and his return can be one that pushes this team to where the front office, players, and fans believe it should be.