Ezekiel Elliott, the only RB in the league with more than 300 carries this year, is gearing up for the second playoff game of his career. Elliott’s Cowboys will host the Seahawks in an AFC wild-card contest at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Elliott, in his third season with the Cowboys, has quickly become one of the best running backs in the league. He has now led the league in rushing yards two out of his three seasons (1,631 yards as a rookie in 2016, and 1,434 yards in 2018).
Elliott’s emergence as a workhorse running back in the NFL isn’t exactly surprising for those who watched him play at The Ohio State University.
Elliott Backed Up Carlos Hyde During His Freshman Season for the Buckeyes
A four-star prospect out of John Burroughs High School in Missouri, Elliott served as Carlos Hyde’s backup during his 2013 freshman season. He appeared in seven games but only received 30 carries. However, he showed his keen downfield vision in those limited carries by rushing for 262 yards — an average of 8.7 per carry.
His carries were not only limited by Hyde, who rushed for 1,521 yards. Braxton Miller was the Buckeyes’ starting QB in 2013. Miller carried the ball almost as many times as Hyde, rushing for 1,068 yards on 171 attempts. The Buckeyes finished the season 12-2 and wound up 12th in the final AP poll.
Elliott Helped Lead the Buckeyes to the Inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship in 2014
Uncertainty marked the beginning of Ohio State’s 2014 campaign. Star QB Braxton Miller went down with a non-contact shoulder injury in practice, which led to the start of the J.T. Barrett era at OSU.
With the departure of Hyde to the NFL, Elliott became the starting running back. An argument could be made that had Elliott been given more carries to start the year, the Buckeyes would’ve went undefeated. Instead, he started the season with just 12, 8, and 7 attempts in his first three games as the starter, respectively. The seven attempts for 65 yards against Virginia Tech gave him a 9.5 yard average. However, the Buckeyes lost the game 35-21. Many thought that was the end of the Buckeyes’ national title hopes. It wasn’t.
Over the next nine games, Elliott dipped under 100 yards rushing only three times, all Buckeye wins. He saved his best for the greatest three game stretch in Ohio State football history. J.T. Barrett, who had grown into a Heisman contender over the course of the season, broke his ankle during the Michigan game, leaving the Buckeyes with third string QB Cardale Jones in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin.
Elliott rushed for an astounding 220 yards on 20 attempts and punched in two touchdowns in a 56-0 rout over Wisconsin. The dominate performance earned the Buckeyes the fourth seed in the College Football Playoff.
Against Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl (CFP semifinal), Elliott again rushed for more than 200 yards (230 on 20 attempts and two touchdowns) to help the Buckeyes pull off the upset 42-35. In the CFP National Championship game, Elliott again broke the 200-yard mark with 246 yards and four touchdowns to help elevate the Buckeyes over the Oregon Ducks 42-20. Elliott’s three-game stretch was the best by a running back in Ohio State history.
Elliott finished the season with 1,878 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Elliott won the James E. Sullivan Award for his 2014 season.
Elliott’s Phenomenal Junior Season Led Him to Being Drafted Fourth Overall by the Cowboys
As a junior in 2015, Elliott picked up right where he left off. He rushed for more than 100 yards in every game of the season except for Ohio State’s lone loss against Michigan State in the closing seconds. To this day, many Ohio State fans believe the Buckeyes would’ve won — and consequently returned to the CFP — had the Buckeyes continued to “Feed Zeke.” Elliott only carried the ball 12 times against Michigan State for 33 yards, his second lowest attempts of the season.
Nevertheless, Elliott solidified himself as the best RB prospect in the nation, accumulating 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground. He was named Big Ten MVP, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten, and Second Team All-American.
The Cowboys selected Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.