Star Evaluation: After Amazing Rookie Year, What's Next For Zeke in 2017?

The roster turnover is already underway. Free agency has now begun and the 2017 NFL Draft isn't far away. Over the next few weeks, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.

For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones who will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys' 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

Today we'll continue the series with running back Ezekiel Elliott.

What's Been Good:Just about everything, especially when it came to his on-field performance. When a team drafts a running back with the No. 4 overall pick, the expectations are through the roof. For Zeke, he exceeded them by leaps (literally) and bounds. With 1,631 yards, Elliott became the third rookie since 1970 to lead the NFL in rushing, which not only smashed the franchise rookie record but ranked fifth among all-time Cowboys' seasons. His 1,994 all-purpose yards also ranked third all-time among NFL rookies. Obviously, Zeke's totals could've been higher had he not been held out of the second half of the Week 16 game against the Lions and the entire regular-season finale in Philadelphia. His presence alone strengthened the Cowboys' identity as a team that can be physical at the line of scrimmage and grind out yards to win games. 

What's Been Bad:When it came to showing up ready to play and excelling on the field, few players in this entire league did better than Zeke, who was the youngest player in the NFL this past season. However, there have been times when that youth and inexperience has surfaced off the field. This might not qualify as "bad," but Elliott has flirted with some potential issues, ranging from an NFL investigation on an assault case during his time Ohio State that has already been dropped, to walking into a smoke shop in Seattle the day before a preseason game, to the latest parade incident in Dallas when he exposed a woman standing next to him. At this point, none of these incidents appear to have Elliott in danger of facing more legal issues or even missing playing time.  

2016 Highlight:So many to choose from here, but to pick one game, it'd have to be at Pittsburgh. Not only did he have a go-ahead touchdown run in the final two minutes of the game, but Zeke also had to come back again with yet another, leading the Cowboys to a dramatic 35-30 win thanks to 32-yard touchdown burst up the middle with nine seconds to play. If that wasn't enough, Elliott had an 83-yard touchdown catch off a screen pass, which ranked as the second-longest scoring catch from a Cowboys rookie in team history. All of that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.[embeddedad0]

What's Next:That's a great question for all young players, but especially one that excelled to the level Elliott did as a rookie. There's no doubt he will have his sights set on a 2,000-yard rushing season and perhaps even as high as Eric Dickerson's NFL record of 2,105. However, his production could increase and his rushing yards might not. If Elliott becomes even more of a three-down player and serves as the team's primary third-down back, he'll likely get more catches and receiving yards. With that, we could be looking more at Zeke's all-purpose yards than just his rushing.

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