Ezekiel Elliott may not feel like his body has worn done during his NFL career, but the Cowboys are smart to lessen the load on their star running back.
Part of what makes Ezekiel Elliott so unique as an NFL running back is his durability. He’s handled a lot of carries during his three professional seasons and he seems to get better the more he touches the football. That doesn’t mean the Cowboys should ride him until he collapses.
For what it’s worth, Elliott doesn’t think his body has “worn down yet.” That’s quite a statement considering the fact that he carried the ball 43 times more than anyone else in football last year. His stat line of 304 carries for 1,434 yards and six touchdowns easily illustrates the fact that he’s one of the NFL’s most prolific offensive weapons.
Credit the Cowboys front office for understanding this isn’t a feat they want to see Elliott accomplish again in 2019. Instead, they opted to draft two additional running backs to help diversify their ground game. Neither Tony Pollard or Mike Weber is going to give the Dallas offense the same kind of juice that Elliott does when he’s on the field, but they should help to steal some carries from him early in games.
Team officials hope that will allow Elliott to be even more explosive in the fourth quarter. It remains to be seen whether or not that will actually occur. Elliott is right that his workload hasn’t seemed to slow his body down so far. It’s very possible he will maintain the same level of production per carry even if he’s required to tote the football a few less times per game.
The real benefit to the Cowboys and Elliott will come by extending the potential prime of his career. It may seem silly to talk about how long a 23-year-old running back can remain productive, but there’s no position in the NFL with a shorter window of productivity than running back. Most players at Elliott’s position are seen as over-the-hill once they approach the magical age of 30.
Lowering Elliott’s workload now may not help him be a Pro Bowler once he does reach 30 years of age, but it greatly increases his chances of staying productive through his late-20s. That’s going to be very important for a Cowboys front office that wants to lock Elliott down to a big-money extension in the near future. The team’s salary cap can’t bear the pressure of paying serious cash to a running back who is experiencing a sharp decrease in productivity due to age and/or workload.
Elliott might bristle at losing a few carries this season, but it’s smart business by the Cowboys. They’re protecting one of their most valuable assets even if he doesn’t agree with their decision.