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Mailbag: Is Ezekiel Elliott Underappreciated?


NFL analysts keep saying that Zeke had a down year last season, ranking him as the 7th-best back in the league. They ranked Saquon Barkley as the 6th-best back and he has only played a handful of downs the past two seasons. With all of the documented turmoil the offensive line experienced last season, it seems like everyone is getting a pass except Zeke. Do you expect him to have a better year if the offensive line stays healthy and where would you rank him against the other starting running backs in the league? — MARK SOMMA / GAINESVILLE, VA

David: It's probably not fair that Zeke is catching so much criticism, but nobody cares about fair when you make $15 million per year. On top of that, offensive line issues shouldn't have an impact on fumbling, which was Zeke's biggest problem last year in my opinion. I think it can be simultaneously true that Zeke had a very disappointing 2020 season, and can also bounce back in a big way in 2021. I expect him to. As far as where he ranks, I think 6th or 7th sounds fair. I don't know how you could currently rank him much higher than that, compared to some of the guys ahead of him.

Rob: I believe he's still in the top five when he's healthy and he's got effective blocking up front. And I believe he'll prove that. He didn't have a good year by his standards, just like the entire team. To me, some of his fumbles resulted from trying to do too much and losing sight of fundamentals. But I do think it's unfair to ignore Dak's injury and the line's injuries in 2020. I don't care how much money you're making; name a great running back who was effective without a consistent line in front of him. Maybe Barry Sanders? The offense might not be as run-heavy as they were in, say, 2016, when he had over 1,600 yards and won the rushing title. But can he get to back to well over 1,000 yards and 4 per carry? Yeah, absolutely.

I know it is early and training camp hasn't started yet, but when Dallas is in a four-man defensive front, who do you feel will be the four starting players? — VINCENT VINCI / LAURENC HARBOR, NJ

David: My favorite part about this question is that we have less than a week until we get to find out for sure. If I'm taking an early guess, I think it would be DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory at end, with Neville Gallimore playing three-technique and Brent Urban playing one-technique.

Rob: Yeah, don't forget we might see a base 3-4 look at least some of the time, as Dan Quinn has said. But I'll guess DeMarcus Lawrence, Brent Urban, Neville Gallimore and Randy Gregory. It'll be interesting to see how much Osa Odighizuwa can push for early snaps inside, too.

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