Beware of the optimistic NFL offseason headlines. Every year, when the regular season is still months away, promising headlines are everywhere in the NFL media. Just about every player promises to be in the best shape of his life. If you take a look at local news outlets for any given team, you’ll find at least one player who’s “never been as healthy as this year.” The Dallas Cowboys star running back is no exception.
According to Dak Prescott, Zeke is – you guessed it – in the best shape of his life.
Dak Prescott on Ezekiel Elliott: “Zeke’s in the best shape of his life; looking fast, his cuts…when he’s healthy and doing his thing, he is the best running back in the league.”
— Brianna Dix (@DixBrianna) June 9, 2021
Throughout the offseason, plenty of players and analysts have commented on this. Videos have gone viral among fans showing Elliott looking sharp on workouts and position drills. Although it’s tough to objectively evaluate a player in these drills, it’s easy to get excited about a player as beloved as #21.
Ezekiel Elliott looked really quick/explosive during his work in today’s OTA practice pic.twitter.com/wIOQeSAJZv
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) June 3, 2021
Ezekiel Elliott has been one of the best running backs in the league since 2016, but he’s had a few hiccups along the way. In fact, nothing has been quite the same since taking the NFL by storm as a rookie.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll insist that he’s one of the best running backs in the league. But injuries and poor offensive line play have kept him from being a consensus elite running back.
In 2020, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, and Zack Martin missed a combined 36 games. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years is that the offensive line is the most important factor in the running game over the running back himself. The Cowboys have struggled in this department, impacting Elliott’s level of play directly.
There’s no denying Elliott’s decline over the past few years, whether you choose to look at it through traditional stats or advanced ones. Zeke’s yards per attempt have lowered from 5.1 in 2016 to 4.7 in 2018 and 4.0 in 2020.
Most importantly, the Cowboys’ running back explosive runs have also reduced in the past few years. He’s stopped being a home-run threat for a Cowboys offense that would benefit tremendously from him becoming one again.
In 2021, Ezekiel Elliott should be in a position to have a better year. Contrary to traditionalist’s beliefs, Zeke will benefit from the Cowboys’ focus in the passing game with Dak Prescott under center. The passing game will open un the running game as defenses will not be able to focus their attention on the run while covering Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup.
Also, if healthy, the Cowboys’ offensive line should be a better unit than it was in 2020 when it was a carousel of various backup-caliber players.
So beware of the optimistic NFL headlines, but with a little bit of luck, there might be something to all the offseason hype surrounding Elliott. And if this offense gets an explosive version of Zeke again, it will be tough stopping them at all.
Featured Image Via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports