Cowboys Coach Sends Strong Message on Ezekiel Elliott Role

Cowboys RB Ezekiel ELliott

Getty Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

It would be tempting to look around in the Cowboys running back room and decide that since Ezekiel Elliott is back in town and again in his familiar surroundings after a one-year walkabout in the AFC, he will be the guy carrying the heavy load for the Cowboys next year. Oh but coach Mike McCarthy has other ideas on that.

Speaking about the transition phase that the Cowboys running game finds itself in after the departure of free agent Tony Pollard in March, McCarthy said it will be his goal to ensure that Elliott does not have to handle too much of the Cowboys workload in 2024.

McCarthy was asked whether Elliott would be “the man” again back in Dallas. McCarthy was pretty emphatic in saying no.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “What do you mean? The guy carried the ball more than anybody in the history of football in the first couple of years. That’s not going to be his role, we’re a running back by committee. He’ll definitely play at the level that he’s played at in my time here. I anticipate that. I don’t see any drop off in the way he moves.”

Ezekiel Elliott Led NFL in Rushing as a Rookie

McCarthy is right: Elliott has as sterling a resume as a Cowboys running back as just about any in franchise history.

He led the league in rushing as a rookie, and again in his third season, and led the NFL in yards per game for his first three years, at 108.7 yards, 98.3 and 95.6. He scored 68 touchdowns in seven seasons.

But as so often happens with NFL running backs, Elliott flamed out under the weight of his early workload. He had four great seasons to start his career, but he declined precipitously after that. By his final season in Dallas, in 2022, he tallied 58.4 yards per game and a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. Last year with the Patriots, that dropped to 3.5 yards per carry.

Still, it is a concern that the Cowboys have so little proven talent in the running back room heading into the depths of the summer. They could yet add another body, but as it stands, the Cowboys have Elliott, last year’s backup Rico Dowdle, 2023 sixth-rounder Deuce Vaughn.

Cowboys Passed on Rookie RBs

Even a bigger concern was the Cowboys’ decision not to pick up a running back during the draft, when the opportunity presented itself. Heading into the draft, it appeared a near-certainty that Dallas would select one of a thin crop of incoming backs.

But, when given a chance to pick a running back with the 87th pick in the third round—MarShawn Lloyd from USC was the next player drafted, with Jaylen Wright and Bucky Irving leading a fourth-round run on backs—the Cowboys instead went with Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau. Linebacker was a need, no doubt, but running back appeared to be much more pressing.

Team VP of personnel Will McClay said after the draft that the team passed on a running back because of the way the board unfolded, and that having Elliott as a backup plan was good enough for the team.

“I think the running back position this day and age is not that old-school No. 1 guy as the lead back and the others fill in. It’s a group by committee,” McClay told the Dallas Morning News.

“What (Elliott will) add to that group, we’re excited about, as well as the other pieces with it and how we add that to the offense and use them for their skill sets in adding something to our group.”


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