Are The Best Years of Ezekiel Elliott Behind Him?

April 5, 2022
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Ezekiel Elliott will be 27 years old when the 2022 NFL season starts. That is certainly not “old” for a running back just yet. He may not be near the end of the line, but there seems to be more concern about Elliott’s outlook. 

Once thought to be a major key to the Cowboys making a deep playoff run, the team has never advanced past the NFC Divisional Round during his career. We all know he carries a huge cap hit, and now Elliott is coming off two disappointing seasons. 

Have we seen the best of Ezekiel Elliott already? And are the Cowboys saddled with a declining running back that carries too much of a dead cap hit to cut and would be very difficult to trade? 

Ezekiel Elliott: What Does He Have Left?

Carrying A Big Load For Several Seasons

Elliott has accumulated over 1,900 touches from scrimmage in six seasons. So even though he may not be right on the verge of the dreaded age-30 marker for running backs, he certainly has a lot of wear and tear on him. A running back’s age may not be anything more than a blanket digit that is inapplicable when you consider the workload over six seasons. 

It is well established that the prime years of a running back don’t last very long. At six seasons, Elliott may have already surpassed expectations for the position; studies indicate that the average career length for an NFL RB is in the three-year range. Some certainly last longer than that, but a five-plus-year prime may be a lot to ask for. 

Elliott last looked like a true standout in 2019, when he rushed for 1,357 yards and 12 TDs. Then came the major falloff in 2020, when he ran for a career-low 979 yards, and his rushing TD total was sliced in half. But there was a significant factor to consider when evaluating that campaign. 

Dak Prescott missed most of that season, putting Elliott in the defensive crosshairs and limiting his TD chances in a broken offense. It wasn’t time to consider him as a fading performer just yet. He worked very hard to prepare himself for a rebound year in the offseason. He showed some signs of his better self early in the 2021 season. 

Elliott rushed for five TDs in the first five games of the 2021 campaign, and he rushed for 243 combined yards in Weeks Four and Five. But then he dropped off the rest of the way; he did not reach the 70-yard mark again until the season’s final game. Elliott, however, played through a partially torn PCL for the rest of the year after reportedly suffering the injury in Week Four.  

In short, the Cowboys’ offense was not healthy in 2020, and Elliott himself was not healthy in 202. Understandably, it may not be time to start writing a frustrating conclusion to his time with the Cowboys. Elliott does have a potential out in his contract after this season; we can bet that he will be very determined to prove he is not done. You might find some strong betting odds value on Elliot props to start the season if you’re a believer.

Will Ezekiel Elliott Give Way To Tony Pollard?

Many fans and NFL observers are already circling with heavy criticism of Elliott’s contract and what a burden it has become for the organization. There are widespread calls for the team to start preparing Tony Pollard for a much larger role on offense. But at least publicly, the Cowboys maintain heavy faith in Elliott and have no plans to move on from him soon. 

“I want that guy on my team,” Stephen Jones told ESPN recently via NFL.com. “You talk about playing through some injuries. He’s a competitor. I think he’s a damn good running back. Obviously, his money is guaranteed. He’s going to be here. There’s no question. We’re fortunate to have him.”

With Pollard on the ascent and Elliott having put so much mileage on his tires, a time share between the two seems possible for 2022. In such a scenario, Elliott would not be overworked. Furthermore, the Cowboys could benefit from his efficiency rather than relying on him as a volume RB as they have in the past. 

Elliott would be a very expensive split-carry back; but he can still be a very important part of the offense in such a role. The benefit for the Cowboys would be keeping both RBs fresh, wearing defenses down with two good RBs, and lessening the chances that either could be exposed more to injuries with a heavy workload. 

Of course, the size of Elliott’s contract and the respect he has garnered in the organization could afford him another opportunity to show he can still be a very effective lead back. It would make sense to see how he performs early on; and if he does recapture much of his better form, Elliott would certainly deserve to be the true lead RB. 

So, have we seen the best of Ezekiel Elliott as the 2022 season looms? We genuinely do not have an answer to that question just yet. Elliott himself will answer that in what appears to be the most pivotal season of his career. 

Author: Scott King; @scotteTheKing