The Cowboys have completed their OTAs and minicamp practices. The offseason is history. Training camp in Oxnard is up next in late July.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – are attempting to answer 20 pressing questions as the team gets ready for camp and the 2016 season.
Today, our staff continues the series focusing on whether fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott will meet high expectations as the Cowboys' earliest draft pick since Russell Maryland went first overall in 1991.
No. 3) Will Ezekiel Elliott Meet First-Round Expectations?
David Helman:The allegations that surfaced last week certainly threw me for a loop, but Elliott and his family have insisted on his innocence, while Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Tuesday he expects his rookie running back to be on the field for the start of training camp. Bearing all that in mind, I absolutely expect him to deliver on the sizable hype. People from around the league – not just within this organization – say that Elliott is one of the most well-rounded running backs to go pro in recent memory. He can read his blocks, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can pick up the blitz. He's ready to contribute right now, and he'll be running behind an All-Pro line. He's also got Pro Bowlers at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end to take some of the pressure off him. All he has to do is tote the rock, and he's got the talent to be a true gamebreaker – which the Cowboys haven't had in a while. At his best, I don't think even DeMarco Murray had the highlight reel ability that Zeke brings to this offense. So, yeah. I'm a big-time buyer on the Elliott hype. Let's see how he handles it.
Nick Eatman: This question just got a tad harder to answer over the last week. It's not that his skill level has changed or anything, but the hype train surrounding him has certainly increased. All eyes will remain on Elliott all year and it's not easy to live up to. He's already considered to be a Top 10 Fantasy player, meaning he's supposed to be a great player that will produce a lot of stats and points. You typically don't see that from any rookie. But this isn't supposed to be just *any *rookie. I think Elliott will be really good, but I have a hard time thinking he's going to live up to the crazy hype, because it might be too difficult for anyone to do. That doesn't mean I'm hating on him or that I don't think he's going to be great. But the hype surrounding him is through the roof and it's going to take a 2,000-yard, 15-TD season to be able to match it.
Bryan Broaddus:If there is one thing that could hold Ezekiel Elliott back on the field, it would be his knowledge of the blitz pickup. Not the willingness or technique but the understanding of what he has to do assignment wise. It was clear that while studying him at Ohio State, he is not afraid to stick his nose in there and pick up his man. Where it will be different for him is scheme wise, his responsibility will be more complex. Defensively, NFL teams do a better job of disguising pressure than what he saw week in and week out in the Big 10. What should help Elliott is that he is working with a veteran offensive line that does a really nice job of sorting things out pre-snap. You see the communication between Travis Frederick and Tony Romo before the play in order to set the protection. Elliott must gain the trust of not only his teammates but the coaching staff as well. Missed assignments get the quarterback hurt. Believe the hype on Elliott but there is more to this game than just running and catching the ball.[embeddedad0]
Rob Phillips: The biggest change Elliott can bring the running game is reaching the end zone. The Cowboys' leading touchdown rusher last year was Joseph Randle (4), who wasn't even on the roster after the seventh game. So often we focus on yards from a running back, and as the fourth overall pick, fans and media are probably expecting him to challenge for a rushing title quickly. But the Cowboys need a backfield scoring option from inside the 20, inside the 10. As stated above, Elliott has the complete game as a runner and receiver. They need a back to get the tough yards they didn't always get in short yardage and the red zone last year – and most importantly, get past the goal line.