To the data-driven minds at Pro Football Focus, the likes of Chris Carson, Josh Jacobs, and Austin Ekeler all are better NFL running backs than Ezekiel Elliott.
For context: Elliott twice has led the league in rushing while Montgomery has never so much as made a Pro Bowl. But the former’s career-worst 2020 season, in which he failed to crack 1,000 ground yards, evidently warrants this placement.
“You don’t have to go back very far to find Zeke Elliott at the top of lists like these, but he is coming off a tough year in which he ground out 4.0 yards per carry with a 68.7 PFF rushing grade behind an offensive line that struggled,” wrote PFF’s Sam Monson. “Elliott hasn’t looked at his best for some time now but remains a good back without many real flaws.”
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Progression to the Mean?
Accomplished as Elliott is, and as bad as the Cowboys’ blocking was in 2020, it stands to reason that he’s due for a rebound — potentially a big rebound — in his age-26 campaign.
Dallas is returning its stalwart offensive linemen (Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La’el Collins) and gets back franchise signal-caller Dak Prescott, whose bountiful receiving weapons (Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin) should help open Mack truck-sized running lanes this fall.
Just ask David Helman and Rob Phillips, in-house reporters for the team’s official website, who each foresee the rearrival of Old (Good) Zeke:
“I’ve been saying this since November, so I’m not about to back down now,” Helman wrote Tuesday. “Zeke Elliott was unquestionably disappointing last year. We don’t need to make excuses for him. For $15 million a year, I’d have liked to see him make more things happen, regardless of the circumstances. Having said that, it definitely matters that he was without his starting quarterback and his offensive line was a wreck. If he’s got Dak and a healthier offensive line, I think he’s going to bounce back in a big way in 2021.”
“If the personal workouts Zeke has posted on social media are any indication, he’s definitely motivated to bounce back,” Phillips echoed. “I believe he will, but I do think his production will depend on the line’s health. I don’t care how much money you make, that was a challenge for him last year. The overall run game production dipped noticeably after Zack Martin got hurt in December. But I’m sure the fumbles still tick him off. Because as much as the defense was criticized last year, the offense’s turnovers contributed to the team’s slow start.”
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