(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys are set to depart for training camp on July 24. During this final month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif., the staff of DallasCowboys.com is going to preview the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018.)
FRISCO, Texas – What a rollercoaster ride it was for Ezekiel Elliott in 2017? His six-game suspension was looing over his head all season and he eventually served it in November, which likely led to the Cowboys' offensive struggles in November and December.
Still, Zeke nearly reached 1,000 yards rushing again and his 98.3 yards per game led the entire NFL.
So what happens in 2018? This offseason hasn't included the same kind of headlines for Elliott as the previous two.
But it begs the question just what kind of response we will see from the running back as he enters his third pro season.
4) How does Zeke respond after challenging 2017 season?
David Helman: I don't think he really has a choice – he has to be great. The first challenge is being available for all 16 games, and if he's capable of doing that then he needs to be firing on all cylinders. To put it simply, the Cowboys know their opponents aren't going to respect their passing game at the outset of the season. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are gone, and every defensive coordinator with a pulse is going to be keying on Zeke. He's been the engine of this offense for two years, but he's going to have to be even more than that in 2018. He's going to have to carry the load until these receivers establish themselves. Fortunately, I think he's up to that task. This is going to sound crazy, but as far as my expectations, I'm looking at 2,000 all-purpose yards as the floor.
Lindsay Draper: It's always best to listen to the pro's in these instances. You know, the former Cowboys. They all tend to raise their eyebrows and throw up a prayer for opposing defenders on the Cowboys' schedule this season, because Ezekiel Elliott is going to be one rested and angry runner. Just 17 yards shy of a 1000-yard season in 2017 – in only five games – whew! Also, I know most of us have moved on – but close your eyes and try to think back to the drama surrounding and clouding Zeke during the 2017 season. Can you imagine the weight lifted off of him going into this year with a clean slate? No looming suspensions, meetings, holding patterns, or unknown. All ball. I think that will take us back to the look of his rookie season. Answer: Ezekiel Elliott responds with revenge.
Bryan Broaddus: There is a side of me that believes deep down, Ezekiel Elliott was crushed with the way that things played out for him. When he went out of the lineup, he and his teammates were coming off an impressive victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. They were rolling in the right direction, then Elliott was suspended and the wheels fell off. The team was never able to fully recover from this. I see Elliott putting all this behind him and getting back to that same player we observed during his rookie season and part of 2017. Scott Linehan wants to run the ball and Elliott is more than willing to carry it. I also expect that we will see more from Elliott as a factor in the passing game as a receiver. He has proven that his hands are more than dependable and when they get him in space, good things happen.
Mickey Spagnola: Zeke will be coming on like gangbusters this season, motivated to make amends for playing only 10 games last season because of his suspension. Plus, think about this: It's not as if with all the court proceedings hanging over his head the first eight games of last season, along with playing the final two games without having practiced for six weeks, he struggled. My gosh he ran for 983 yards on 242 carries and led the team with nine touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving). Come on, 17 yards short of another 1,000-yard season. Now if you factor those numbers out over 16 games, he played on pace for 1,573 yards and 14 touchdowns. Now consider playing to that level with a clear mind? To me, he responded better than anyone realized with that thunderstorm hanging over his head for 2017. Now with a clear mind, Zeke might even improve on his 2016 rookie season when he led the league with 1,631 yards rushing. And on top of that, remember, over the second half of last season the Cowboys most missed his ability to run for touchdowns, like the 16 he totaled from scrimmage that rookie season.