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Spagnola: Wonder If 'The Kid' Comprehends Magnitude Of His Rookie Numbers

FRISCO, Texas – The kid in him seems to surface daily.

         Take Wednesday of this week. He decided to throw straws at Dak Prescott during the quarterback's weekly session with the media. And when that was not distraction enough, he then started firing spit balls through a straw at Dak.

         Then on Thursday, after someone pranked him by stashing seemingly a hundred of those Halloween-sized bags of M&Ms into his locker's upper compartment, he seemed unperturbed as a whole bunch of those bags flowed onto the floor all around his shoes.

         Oh these kids, they just want to have fun.

         So, please meet your NFL 2016 rushing champion, one Ezekiel Elliott, who seems to bounce off walls as frequently as he bounces off would-be tacklers.

         Look, I know there is one more Sunday of games to be played, but good gosh, we can call this race, can't we? With 94 percent of the results already in? The Cowboys rookie running back leads with 1,631 yards. His closest competition is Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell (1,268) and Tennessee's DeMarco Murray (1,266).

         Why, even if Zeke didn't play on Sunday at The Linc, Bell would need to rush for 364 yards to overtake him. Not going to happen.

         So here, Zeke, we can confidently give you the rushing crown, a pretty big deal. But when asked what's the best thing he's done so far this year, Zeke was reticent.

Maybe winning the rushing title?

Maybe putting 15 rushing touchdowns in the bank with a game to go?

Maybe playing on a team with a 13-2 record, earning the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC.

Naw, Zeke chooses to say, "Ahhh, I don't know." And smiles.

Well here, let us help. We know.

Ezekiel Elliott will become the first rookie to win the rushing title since the Colts' Edgerrin James (1,553 yards) in 1999, 17 seasons ago.

Zeke will become the first Cowboys rookie to win the rushing title … ever.

And unless the Eagles decide to play a six-man defense, his final rushing total will fall short of only Eric Dickerson, who owns the rookie record of 1,808 yards set in 1983. He probably won't play long enough in a game with little at stake for the Cowboys to rush for the needed 178 yards to catch Dickerson.

But to further understand the magnitude of his rookie season, consider some of this:

  • In the post-World War II Era of the NFL, only six other rookies have ever won a rushing title.
  • Since Jim Brown won the rushing crown during his rookie season of 1957, only four other rookies have claimed the title, and that's some pretty fancy company when you consider the winners were Earl Campbell (1978), George Rogers (1981) and then Dickerson and James. Consider also Campbell and Dickerson are Hall of Famers.
  • And when contemplating the significance of Zeke becoming the first Cowboys player to win the rookie rushing title, along with obliterate the team's previous rookie rushing record of Tony Dorsett (1,007 yards in 1977), please consider three of the franchise's former running backs reside in the Ring of Honor – Don Perkins, Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, with Dorsett and Smith in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

That's hanging out in high cotton there.

Now Zeke, he seems to shrug off this accomplishment. When asked if he is aware of the last rookie to win the rushing title, his guess was Adrian Peterson. Close. Peterson led the NFC his rookie season with 1,341 yards in 2007. But that was the year San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson won the crown with 1,474 rushing yards.

When told it was James, the 21-year-old from St. Louis at least knew of James and that the Colts "really ran him" during his career. He's right. Took James 369 carries to rush for his league-leading 1,553 yards.

Zeke would have been all of 4 years old at that time.

"He doesn't really pay too much attention to it," running backs coach Gary Brown says. "He's so much younger than those guys playing before him."

But you can bet Brown knows the magnitude of Zeke's accomplishment, becoming the fifth rookie to win the rushing title after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Come on, that spans 46 years, and spans the career of the NFL's all-time rushing leader Smith, the previous record-holder Walter Payton and the likes of Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Marcus Allen, Franco Harris, Curtis Martin, John Riggins and Thurman Thomas.

 "For me watching it happen, it's pretty awesome," says Brown, a former NFL running back himself. "I mean, 1,600 yards as a rookie. That just doesn't happen."

Well, it's only happened five times now, and only two with more than Zeke's current 1,631 yards: Dickerson with the 1,808 yards and Rogers with 1,674 yards, just 43 more than Zeke currently has. And those two guys had far more carries than Zeke has going into the final game (322), Dickerson with 390 and Rogers with 378.

The other two rookies with 1,600-yard seasons are Alfred Morris (1,613) when he was with Washington (2012) and Ottis Anderson (1,605) with the St. Louis Cardinals (1979).

But let this sink in: Of the six guys, Zeke, with one game to go, has the best yards-per-carry average, currently at 5.1, with Morris and Anderson a close second at 4.8 per carry.


Now for Zeke, you bet, yards are one thing, but touchdowns are another, and as Brown says, the object always is "You want to score points, and he's a guy who can go the distance from anywhere."

Ah yes, touchdowns, and Zeke enters this final game of the regular season with 15 of those rushing and another one receiving. Well, the totals of rushing touchdowns and overall scores are both the most by a Cowboys rookie.

And get this: Of all the top running backs in franchise history, Perkins, Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Emmitt and Murray, only Emmitt during his career has rushed for more than Zeke's 15 touchdowns, and did so three times, setting the franchise and at the time NFL record with 25 in 1995, then had 21 in 1994 and 18 in 1992.

For a little more perspective on these touchdowns, just think, Zeke has 16 total touchdowns. Last season the Cowboys scored just 26 … as a team. And when it comes to rushing touchdowns, Zeke has nearly doubled last year's team total of merely eight with his current 15. Eight now, and the leader ended up being Joe Randle with four, barely more than a fourth of the rookie's current total.

What a difference 'The Kid' makes.

When it comes to the league, Dickerson in that 1983 season also set the record for most rookie rushing touchdowns with 18. And to think Zeke is just three short of that mark. And as for multi-rushing touchdown games in the NFL by a rookie, Zeke with five is in a six-way tie for second, behind only the six of Dickerson.

"What he's doing is pretty darn amazing," Dez Bryant says. "He's come in and done his job and earning everything he's getting. He's been ballin', I'll tell you that."

Darn right about that, a mere 21-year-old winning the NFL rushing crown, but a babe in a grown man's game.

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