After the Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the 2016 NFL Draft, I realized something. I saw five of the Cowboys' draft picks in person, thanks to my freelance work as Editor-in-Chief of College Football America. So I figured, why not put that first-hand knowledge to use? With the help of scouting film and my notes from that day I put together this report on Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys' first-round pick.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Vs. Notre Dame, Jan. 1, Fiesta Bowl
His totals: 27 carries, 149 yards, 4 touchdowns
What I saw: Yeah, Elliott was a beast that day and I was there. I had an upper-level seat for this one and sometimes that can be a good thing. From my vantage point in the corner of the end zone at University of Phoenix Stadium it was easy to see some of these plays develop.
Let's start at the 56-second mark with Elliott's touchdown run in the third quarter. Ohio State is up seven points here and the Irish are without their top linebacker, Jaylon Smith, due to injury. The Irish are in a standard four-man front. Two linebackers are four yards off the line of scrimmage while the third linebacker is two yards behind that on the near side of the screen. The Irish are not equipped for a run play here and that's exactly what Ohio State throws at them. Elliott is set to quarterback J.T. Barrett's right. Barrett is going to fake the handoff to the receiver coming in motion from the far side, which is going to provide additional cover for Elliott once he has the ball. At 57 seconds you can see that the near side defensive end and the linebacker bought the fake and are out of the play, which is going away from them. The OSU offensive line has created a wall for the other three Irish defensive linemen, while a Buckeyes offensive lineman has already cleared the line of scrimmage and has a linebacker in his sights.
One second later, at 58 seconds, Elliott has a crease to work with. Two OSU linemen have sealed off two Notre Dame blockers to his left and two more to his right. The offensive lineman that cleared the line has blocked off a linebacker. The far side receiver, set up at the 44-yard line, is about to put an Irish defender on lockdown. Elliott has all he needs to get up the field and he shows it off with an impressive burst of speed. In less than a second he's clear of the alley and clear of the defense, with just a couple of Irish defenders left to stop him. No one comes close to touching him here as he glides to the end zone. And he tops it off with a Jordanesque shoulder shrug.
Now we head to 4:08 on the tape for a look at Elliott at the goal line, and if you're thinking about an area where the Cowboys have to improve in 2016 it's their goal-to-go offense. If Elliott is to be that man at the goal line he has to prove he can run with power and purpose in the NFL. He shows both here. It's a third-down play at the 1-yard line and the Buckeyes have just six linemen up front. The Irish have seven in the box, so they have a bit of an advantage here. By the time Elliott gets the handoff it's clear the OSU line is trying to slide the Irish to the left side and clear a path between the center and right guard. The hole is there but one of the Irish linebackers has managed to evade the OSU lineman and another is coming right behind him from the end zone. This is going to be a sizeable collision, and if we were talking about 300-pound defensive tackles the Irish might have a chance. But they don't. Check out the collision at the goal line. One tackler peels off a lineman to catch Elliott a bit from behind and that other linebacker comes square in on Elliott. Elliott uses that power and speed to handle the contact with both players and get into the end zone. With a head of steam he's powerful enough to overtake linebackers and safeties and doesn't shy from the contact.
The next play is an example of Elliott's effort. This was a simple counter play where Elliott takes the handoff, gets through a seam in the first line and meets a would-be tackler, a safety, at the Irish 7. The tackler doesn't try to wrap Elliott around the waist. He goes for the lower body and bounces off briefly before regaining his grip. Another tackler comes in from Elliott's right and gets a shot at him from the side. Stop the tape at 4:18. The tackler has stunted Elliott's effort at the 4. It's the first time in three plays that he hasn't moved forward. Elliott gathers his senses quickly, regains his momentum and starts leaning for the end zone. He still has the first tackler draped to his legs, by the way. Now it's all about his strength, effort and desire to get to the goal line and he does with a great stretch of the football across the plane.
When I caught him at the Fiesta Bowl I was already enamored with his production. But when you get the chance to see him in person, in addition to the combination of speed and power, you see the instinctive nature of this running. He almost always hits the right hole and he doesn't dance around. He's willing to sacrifice his body a little, take what the defense gives him and move on to the next play. He doesn't get wrapped up in trying to turn nothing into something. He's just fine with turning nothing into a little something and saving the big something for later. The speed for a back as stout as Elliott is was head-turning. You could see the acceleration, even from an upper-deck seat. He'll be a hard player for linebackers and defensive backs to bring down from behind.
You watch the tape and you realize there's very little he can't do and just how well he should fit into Dallas' scheme. Elliott is DeMarco Murray with an extra jolt of speed. That's the value add Elliott brings, his ability to take a seam and turn it into something huge. The Cowboys have something here, a player who could put up 1,250 yards rushing and 10 scores in a scheme where you could reasonably expect him to take the ball 250 times his rookie season. Maybe he can't play defense, but it's hard to argue with the quality of player the Cowboys received with the No. 4 overall selection.
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