AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Despite a drop in production last season, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott still garners respect across the NFL.
In a survey of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players conducted by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Elliott was ranked as the No. 7 running back in the NFL.
An AFC defensive coach said of Elliott: “They need to give Zeke some of Dak’s money. He scares you the most on that offense.”
The coach was referencing Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who received a four-year, $160 million contract extension this offseason.
Elliott rushed for at least 1,300 yards in each of the first three NFL seasons in which he appeared in more than 10 games.
Even in 2017, when he was limited to 10 games, Zeke put up impressive numbers with 983 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, as well as 26 receptions for 269 yards and two additional scores.
Last season was largely a struggle for Elliott and the Cowboys offense as a whole, however. In 15 games, he rushed for a career-low 979 yards and six touchdowns. He also averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and 65.3 rushing yards per game.
Elliott’s receiving numbers were down as well with 52 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns after 77 grabs for 567 yards and three scores in 2018 and 54 receptions for 420 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.
The three-time Pro Bowler and one-time First Team All-Pro seemed to lack explosiveness last season, recording only three rushes of 20 or more yards after specializing in that area in previous years.
Part of the reason for his struggles may have been that Prescott missed all but five games due to injury.
With Prescott out and replaced by the likes of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert, opposing defenses were able to key in on Elliott and sell out on stopping him.
If Prescott is healthy and productive in 2021, it will be far more difficult for opposing defenses to do that. A balanced Cowboys offense could yield big years for both Prescott and Elliott.
Both players have been key to any success the Cowboys have experienced since entering the league, and that figures to be the case again this season, as Dallas looks to win an NFC East division that yielded a seven-win champion in the Washington Football Team last season.
The Cowboys seem to have the most talented team in the division on paper, and the combination of Zeke and Dak is a big reason for that.