August 3, 2021

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Analytics project Ezekiel Elliott having another…

3 min read
Analytics project Ezekiel Elliott having another...

Despite coaching changes, Ezekiel Elliott is projected to have another great year for the Dallas Cowboys

With the addition of Mike McCarthy as head coach, and the drafting of Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round, many have speculated that the Dallas Cowboys‘ offense will be more of an air attack than ever before. So what does that mean for All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott?

Well, the fact is McCarthy has never had a running back quite as dominant as Elliott. In fact, back in March, the former longtime Green Bay Packers head coach called Zeke the Cowboys’ outright playmaker and that he’ll get plenty of touches in the new offense.

Perhaps that’s hard for some to believe considering the immense firepower the Cowboys’ aerial attack should field in 2020. But one only has to look to last season for proof that there are enough snaps for both Elliott and this passing game to co-exist.

The Cowboys famously led the NFL in offensive yardage in 2019, averaging 431.5 yards per contest. Dallas threw for 4,751 yards, the second-most in the league. And the Cowboys ran for a combined 2,153 yards on the ground, good enough for fifth-most in the NFL.

Individually, Elliott rushed for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns on a whopping 301 carries in 2019. That was just three rushing attempts less than the previous year and only 21 carries less than his career-high of 322 attempts as a rookie in 2016.

So, the improved passing game in Dallas hasn’t hindered Zeke’s rushing attempts yet. And that trend figures to continue under McCarthy. In fact, NFL Network Analytics Expert Cynthia Frelund wrote about Elliott having another monster year in a recent article that projects the league’s 2020 stat leaders using her current mathematical models.

“Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott checks in with the second-most rushing yards (and the second-best chance to top the league) with a median projection of 1,290. … Kamara narrowly edges out Ezekiel Elliott, 13.1 TDs to 13.0. Kamara earns 12 or more touchdowns in 59.4 percent of simulations, while Elliott reaches or exceeds that in 58.8 percent.”

While Elliott posting nearly 1,300 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns may seem more pedestrian than monstrous to some Cowboy fans, it might be time for a reality check. Let’s put those projected numbers up against the team’s most famous running back in franchise history, Emmitt Smith.

During his 15-year career, Smith surpassed 1,300 rushing yards seven times. But he required an average of 345 rushing attempts per season to do so.

As for rushing touchdowns, Smith only exceeded 13 scores on the ground three times. Of course, one of those seasons was back in 1995 when he rushed for an incredible 25 touchdowns, an NFL record at the time.

Now, entering only his fifth season in the NFL, no one is trying to compare Elliott to a Hall of Famer like Emmitt Smith one-for-one. Especially when it comes to Super Bowl rings. But comparing these numbers does help to show that what Zeke is doing in Dallas is special. And it shouldn’t be taken for granted and can’t be ignored.

Next: Dallas Cowboys 30 greatest players in franchise history

In his young four-year career so far, Ezekiel Elliott has posted three 1,000-yard seasons, been elected to the Pro Bowl three times, gotten two All-Pro nods, and lead the league in rushing yardage twice. That level of excellence should be acknowledged and appreciated. Just ask the 31 other NFL teams if they’d like to have a player like Zeke on their roster.

Analytics project Ezekiel Elliott having another monster year

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