When you select a running back with the fourth overall pick, you are essentially declaring that he is going to be the centerpiece of your offense from Day One, and in the case of the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, that is exactly what happened.
And in 2017? It’s going to happen some more.
“We’re going to hand it to him, throw it to him – heck, if he can take a snap, we might give it to him that way,” said running backs coach Gary Brown, adding, “We’re excited about the opportunity.’’
A higher on-field profile (and maybe a lower off-field profile)? Yeah. “Exciting’’ is right.
Elliott carried the ball 322 times and was targeted 39 times through the air in 2016 … that’s 361 opportunities; in only 15 games (he was inactive in the meaningless Week 17 game). In those same 15 games, the Cowboys ran 960 offensive plays. This means that on an offense that was in the top five in the NFL in every major statistical category, Elliott accounted for almost 38 percent of the touches, and his 1,994 total yards, made up over 34 percent of the team’s production.
Boiled down, the Cowboys offense ran through Zeke in a way few modern offenses ever run through any single non-quarterback.
But unlike many runners who carry this type of workload, Elliott showed little in terms of wear and tear. In fact he quite literally got stronger as the year went on, as in the last four games he played, (Weeks 13-15 and the divisional playoff), Elliott carried the ball over 81 times for 471 yards, a whopping 5.8 yards per carry that exceeded his season average by almost a full yard.
The Cowboys now have proof on the NFL field that Elliott can hold up to a workload of more than 20 carries a game for a full 16 games, and he can take some targets in the passing game as well, and that he can get stronger in the process. With this knowledge providing the backdrop, the organization seems all in on giving Zeke even more work in 2017, especially through the air.
“He really is problematic for defenses in the passing game, and certainly every time we can get him the ball,’’ owner Jerry Jones said, “I feel good about it.”
These types of endorsements and inferences from his position coach and owner are great, but Zeke understands the state of the offense as a whole and seems unselfish regarding his role.
“We have a lot of weapons on offense,’’ he said. “We got a lot of guys that can catch the football, so I don’t know if (catching more passes is) exactly going to happen, but it may.”
Indeed, instead of worrying about an increased role, Zeke is focused on the things he can control, in two ways. One is making the most of the touches he gets.
“I think there is big room for improvement,’’ Elliott said. “I think I left a lot of yards on the field (last season). Where I think I can make the biggest improvement is becoming an elite runner in the second level. That’s what’s going to propel you from 1,600 to 1,800 to 1,900 yards. And making sure I make all those plays count, not leaving any yards on the field.”
And then there’s a “two.’’
Elliott is rich, young, single, healthy and immensely popular … and has a “life-of-the-party’’ personality, too. He likes to party … and the public and the NFL likes to scrutinize him … and he said this week that he will attempt to lower his social profile in that regard.
Our guy Mike Fisher is skeptical, wondering if “The Mayor of McKinney Ave’’ (as Fish calls Zeke) will really resign that post.
But overall, we’re buying it: With Zeke focused on getting better as well as “laying low” in the off-season, and the decision-makers focusing on how they can maximize Elliott’s effectiveness and workload, the Cowboys offense looks to be even more dynamic running through Zeke in 2017.
Rico Gathers, back at minicamp on Thursday, told us he's just now getting over a week battling “Pink eye and a virus.’’ All is well. … Thomas "Hollywood'' Henderson and Gil Brandt were among the Thursday visitors ... Rico and an assistant coach did conflict emotionally in the Thursday workout, the final session before camp. Byron Jones and Jason Witten also crossed swords and everyone got in their last licks for about five weeks. Witten’s explanation? "Just having a little fun. Just making each other better." … We believe Chaz Green got some left guard work on Thursday but we’ll stick with our “Best Five’’ thinking as it involves Cooper and Collins, as we write here … Dez Bryant wants Darrelle Revis. Cowboys management tells Fish, “Aw, that’s just player chatter.’’ But then Dez on Thursday reiterates his thoughts, adding, “Why not?’’ — and he’s got a decent point there. … Good week for Anthony Brown ... Lotta locker-room talk today about the loosened rules on TD celebrations. (We'll have more on the Dez/Butler/Switzer secret handshakes coming up.) Witten's take? He loves the other guys' parties, but "Granddad taught me, 'Act like you've been there before.''' ... We love the note from Fish that Tank Lawrence went around the locker room to younger guys telling them, “Be careful and take care of yourself during the break.’’
THE FINAL WORD
"We're here just ready to ball. We had great OTAs, great minicamp. We're looking forward to training camp." - Dez Bryant.