As this article was being prepared, Dallas Cowboys second-year running back Ezekiel Elliott’s name was associated with another minor off-the-field incident. His name has been cleared from most of the incidents that it’s been linked to but he stays in the mix. Despite continued scrutiny from the NFL and barring injury, Elliott is poised for a second consecutive breakout season.
Ezekiel Elliott: Poised for a Second Consecutive Breakout Season
The Cowboys will head to Oxnard, California in a week to begin preparation for the coming season. It’s possible that regardless of guilt Elliott could be suspended for at least two games in 2017. Although his issues have been minor, his name has come up one time too many. It has been reported that people in his inner circle believe NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could hand down a suspension very soon.
Elliott may deserve to be reprimanded for a few of the things his name has come up in or that we know for a fact he’s done. It’s a “touching the hot stove” kind of situation for the young runner who appears to be immature and unprofessional at the ripe old age of twenty-one. Many of us will scrutinize his actions due to his net-worth but we have to remember being that young and loving to engage in Tom Foolery.
The truth is his indiscretions look much worse because his every move is considered newsworthy. His counterpart quarterback Dak Prescott is making headlines for completely different reasons. This could be because of his maturity-level but it could also be a reflection of his humble character. Elliott comes across as the polar opposite of Prescott. He seems to carry an air of invincibility, that doesn’t endear him to public opinion.
Regardless, the young running back will travel with the team for the start of training camp along with his teammates. He will continue to work as he has done throughout the entire off-season and when it’s time for him to take the field in a regular season game, he will be ready. Here are some of the key factors that should contribute to another outstanding year for Elliott.
The Cowboys offensive line still includes three young perennial all-pros in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. After a few moves in the off-season, there will be two new starters along the front-line. Many expect La’el Collins to replace the departed Doug Free at right tackle. They also expect someone to claim the vacancy Ronald Leary left at left guard.
Either way, the team will still boast one of the best offensive lines in football in 2017. This should bode well for Elliott who excels at running between the tackles as well as grinding out tough yards. Plowing behind a behemoth offensive front will help, tremendously. Collins’ return will add another 6’4” 315 pound frame to an already staunch, athletic group.
In games against the Eagles, Giants and Vikings Free was guilty of some huge blunders that wiped out several big runs by Elliott. It’s conceivable that Elliott left an additional 300-yards on the field due to holding and clipping penalties committed by Free. Fans will not miss him. The missed yardage would have put Elliott on pace to reach the 2000-yard mark. He may have a shot to deliver this year. He could have hit 200-plus yards rushing in at least three games last year.
The Cowboys now have a veteran group of receivers who have the experience and size to create more running lanes for Elliott. The leader of the receiving corps is the 6’2” 220 pound Dez Bryant who has been known to block defensive backs way downfield. Bryant is an intimidating presence and appears to be committed to be an all-around receiver. Look for him to be much more assertive as a run-blocker.
6’2” 210 pound receiver Terrance Williams also returns to the line-up. Williams’ downfield blocking prowess can be seen on full-display in the highlight of the 83-yard screen play Elliott scored on. Williams runs stride for stride with Elliott all the way to the Steelers 41-yard line before laying-out in attempt to cut-down a Steelers defensive back. Like Bryant, Williams takes pride in contributing devastating blocks to spring the young running back.
The team was also able to re-sign another big receiver in 6’3” 220 pound Brice Butler. Butler has to do the little things to earn a roster spot this year because of the log-jam at the position. He’s expected to throw his weight around a little bit as a run-blocker as well. Smaller players like Cole Beasley and newcomer Ryan Switzer have a little bit of nastiness in their games, too. They will use what little physicality they have to make sure Elliott is able to find running room.
The tight ends will also be heavily involved in the running game as Jason Witten returns to the fold. He will be backed up by several large youngsters who are desperate to make an impression on the offensive coaching staff. Look for Geoff Swaim to make his presence felt as well as James Hanna. The fact that this group of receivers and tight ends are able to make plays in the passing game should deter teams from stacking the box.
Dak Prescott’s Experience
Prescott has been working tirelessly during the off-season to prepare for his second year in the saddle of America’s Team’s offense. Sure, he’ll experience some tough times, but his ability to move in the pocket and make fairly-accurate throws will definitely loosen up defenses. This will allow Elliott to take advantage of an empty box more often. The young runner has shown the ability to go to the house, once he explodes beyond the line of scrimmage.
Prescott will also have a lot more freedom to check out of passing plays and into running plays this season. This is something the young quarterback touched on after the divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. Prescott mentioned during a press conference that he had the option to check off of the original play and audible into a running play, when he threw the interception on a quick-screen. Expect him to call the audible this year and feed his buddy, Elliott in certain circumstances.
Regardless of what happens with Elliott’s possible suspension, the running back will eventually take the field with a year of experience under his belt. He’ll also be surrounded by many of the counterparts that helped him to an outstanding rookie season. His offensive line will be strong, as will his receiving corps. His quarterback will be more of a threat to take the roof off of a defense and Elliott will be hungry to remind people that he is all about his business on the field.