Ezekiel Elliott may be the Dallas Cowboys’ most important offensive weapon. In his short career, he’s emerged as one of their top playmakers, becoming the NFL’s leading rusher during his historic rookie season in 2016, which some speculate may have been the best rookie season for any running back.
As with any great player, the team evaluates its usage of the star to gauge how they can deploy him most effectively. The Cowboys have made one decision regarding Elliott’s usage that the star running back hates.
Ezekiel Elliott’s career numbers
Ezekiel Elliott has been nothing short of amazing in his brief yet productive career. In an era in which the passing game is emphasized over the running game, Elliott represents a throwback: a power rusher who can be a featured part of the team’s offense while helping lead them to victories.
Some of his impressive stats include:
- 4,048 yards rushing
- 101.2 rushing yards per game average
- 28 rushing touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns
- 135 receptions for 1,199 yards receiving
Keep in mind, these totals are from only 40 games over three seasons, including one season cut short due to suspension.
Elliott’s high level of production combined with most running backs’ penchant for having short careers leads to the inevitable question: how long can the Cowboys expect to see these type of results from Elliott before he suffers an injury or sees a slip in his athleticism, quickness, or lateral movement?
His career usage
The key (at least for the Cowboys) in preserving Elliott’s longevity lies in his usage. Consider:
- Elliott has rushed the ball 868 times over the course of his career. In both seasons in which he played 15 games, he’s led the league both years with more than 300 rushes.
- From a receiving standpoint, he’s been targeted 172 times.
- He has 1,003 touches over the course of his career. He led the league last year with 381.
Those stats point to a team heavily relying on one player for a large percentage of their offensive output. While it makes sense — Elliott is an outsized talent who may be the best running back in the NFL — it also could spell trouble in the next few seasons.
As noted above, running backs tend to have shorter careers than players at other positions. The average running back plays for 2.57 years — a shorter amount of time than any other position in the NFL. They are injured more frequently and discarded quickly by teams.
The one Cowboys’ decision Ezekiel Elliott hates
With all that in mind, the Cowboys are planning to reduce Elliott’s workload this season. Dallas running backs’ coach Gary Brown explained:
“It’s just physics. Year after year with that type of workload, eventually anyone’s going to slow down. We’re trying to preempt that and take care of him now.”
It’s a strategic move to keep Elliott from wearing down. Of course, as a competitor, Elliott does not like the decision. His response? “I haven’t worn down yet.”
It remains to be seen whether this will be a good move for Dallas, or if it will even adhere to that plan. Drafting running back Tony Pollard in 2019 was part of the Cowboys’ strategy to add depth in the backfield. It may be tempting to return to the over-reliance on Elliott if the offense begins to falter. But ultimately this is a great idea for the long term health of Ezekiel Elliott and the franchise.
The Cowboys may have a few rough patches offensively in 2019 if they stick to lightening Elliott’s workload, but if they’re able to make the playoffs they’ll be thankful they saved Elliott for later in the season. It may also help extend Elliott’s career. If they can extend his career by a few seasons, it will increase the likelihood they’ll be able to compete for multiple championships.