Since the day he stepped foot on an NFL field, Ezekiel Elliott has been arguably the league’s best running back. Blessed with a rare combination of size, speed, and explosion, the former Ohio State star has more than justified his draft selection. Yet, even with Elliott dominating defenses, the Dallas Cowboys have failed to find much postseason success. But that could change this season given their talent on both sides of the ball. And according to Jerry Jones, his star running back will take on a new role that could propel the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl title since 1996.
Ezekiel Elliott has dominated since his first year in Dallas
Ezekiel Elliott entered the 2016 NFL draft as one of the top prospects after racking up nearly 4,000 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. Even in a pass-heavy league, the Cowboys boldly selected the 2015 Big Ten MVP with the fourth overall pick.
As a 21-year-old rookie, Elliott showed exactly why Jerry Jones made him the highest-drafted running back since Trent Richardson went third overall in 2012. The 6-foot, 228-pound tailback led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards on a league-high 322 carries. Elliott also chipped in 363 yards on 32 receptions while earning first-team All-Pro honors.
After playing just 10 games in his second season, Elliott roared back with another dominant campaign in 2018. Once again, he paced the NFL in carries (304) and rushing yards (1,434). He also set a career-high with 77 catches. However, after averaging better than 10 yards per catch in each of his first two seasons, that number plummeted to just 7.4.
Fresh off his second Pro Bowl campaign, the Cowboys rewarded Elliott with a six-year, $90 million contract extension. He responded by earning his third Pro Bowl berth. Despite his individual success, Elliott could not carry the Cowboys to a postseason berth. Even with Dak Prescott throwing for a career-high 4,902 yards, Dallas finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the second time in four years.
Jerry Jones reveals new role for his star running back
Jerry Jones has made many changes this offseason. First, he moved on from Jason Garrett and hired Mike McCarthy to take over as head coach. The Cowboys then stole CeeDee Lamb with the 17th pick in the 2020 NFL draft to give Prescott yet another weapon. Plus, Dallas added a number of talented defensive linemen in free agency, including Aldon Smith, Everson Griffen, and Dontari Poe.
However, the key change in Dallas may have nothing to do with bringing in a new face. Instead, it will be about shifting Ezekiel Elliott’s role in the offense. In speaking with 105.3 The Fan, Jones revealed the Cowboys’ plan to unlock even more production from their running backs.
“Out of the backfield, it should be interesting this year with more use of [Tony] Pollard and Zeke as receiver types,” Jones said. “We’ve got that in and it’s gonna be very effective. I’m sure excited in that area.”
While Elliott totaled 54 catches in 2019, Pollard chipped in 15 in limited snaps as a rookie. However, based on Jones’ comments, it seems like an uptick in pass-catching production will occur in 2020. And that could make a major difference in Dallas making a deep playoff run or spending the postseason watching from home.
A loaded offense gives the Cowboys legitimate Super Bowl potential
Jerry Jones has not hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in more than two decades. That could very well change this season if the Cowboys live up to their potential on offense. Ezekiel Elliott should have no trouble putting up big numbers on the ground. But if he and Pollard can become more effective in the passing game, that will give defensive coordinators nightmares.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has a wealth of skill talent with which to work. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup both surpassed 1,100 receiving yards last year. The addition of Lamb gives Dallas another weapon with WR1 potential. Plus, tight end Blake Jarwin quietly chipped in 31 catches on just 41 targets in 2019.
With defenses dedicating resources to stopping the Cowboys’ trio of talented receivers, that should leave Elliott and Pollard with favorable matchups. Most linebackers cannot run step-for-step with either back in pass coverage. Short routes, swing passes, and screens will force defenders to make plays in space, all while avoiding bone-crunching blocks from a powerful offensive line.
Ultimately, the Cowboys should have no trouble moving the ball and scoring points this season. Dallas simply has too many weapons, a strong quarterback, and a head coach with a championship pedigree.
If Jerry Jones is correct and the Cowboys do utilize their running backs more prominently in the passing game, expect Dallas to finish as a top-five offense. And given their talent on defense, the Cowboys should be a real threat to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 55.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.