A nameless NFL employee set ’em up, and Ezekiel Elliott knocked ’em down.
The Dallas Cowboys star issued a response after ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler on Thursday slotted Elliott as the league’s 11th-best running back, a ranking based on conversations with “50 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players.”
One particular offensive coach, as Locked on Cowboys‘ Marcus Mosher noted, contributed to the curious placement by pointedly critiquing Elliott’s 2019 performance.
“Very few breakout runs, doesn’t look as strong anymore. Feels like he’s about 60 to 70 percent of what he was,” the coach, shielded by anonymity, told Fowler.
To which Zeke replied with an appropriate mixture of umbrage and self-deprecation.
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A Deeper Dive
Elliott’s response was a reference to his social media faux pas in which he accidentally let slip on a Twitch broadcast — in front of thousands of viewers — that “I’m lowkey faded.” The hot-mic remark made headlines as some took it to mean Zeke was high, which the Pro Bowl back later denied.
Regardless, his counter to the ranking is legitimate. It’s a stretch to say Elliott isn’t what he once was following a 1,357-yard (fourth-most in the NFL), 12-touchdown (tied for fifth-most) season.
He really was never a breakout runner a la Christian McCaffrey, with just four career scampers of 40-plus yards, three of which came in his 2016 rookie campaign. Elliott did bust four rushes of at least 20 yards and 25.91 percent of his 301 attempts (second-most) went for first downs. He averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per tote and cut his fumbles in half (3) from 2018.
Oh, and that spiel about him not being as strong anymore is unequivocally false. According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott recorded a career-high 3.23 yards after contact on each run last year.
Was he the sport’s best RB in 2019? No. Was the blame entirely his? Also no. The Cowboys often fell behind in games, forcing a shift away from the run. Injuries to multiple offensive linemen and shoddy coaching contributed to his still-impressive numbers.
Despite an eventful offseason that saw him test positive for the coronavirus, Elliott attached his nose to the grindstone, training alongside quarterback Dak Prescott and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.
The former No. 4 overall pick, who’s sharpened his pass-catching chops, is determined to keep hyped sophomore RB Tony Pollard at bay, and motivated by new head coach Mike McCarthy’s declaration that Elliott will be fed this season.
“I think first off with Zeke, he’s going to get the football,” McCarthy said in January. “Let’s make no mistake about that. I think you have to clearly understand when you saw the offense is going to make a quarterback successful, the best play to make him successful is a great run game. We clearly understand what we have here and how we could build off of that.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL