Sullivan: In Today's NFL, Rookie Record Not Happening For Zeke

The revolution appears all but concluded, and indeed, it was televised. It's impossible to say exactly when it began, am guessing around 2004 or so. And it makes Ezekiel Elliott's goal of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards whatever is beyond impossible. A few galaxies removed from over the rainbow.

This certainly isn't a shock to anyone who has been following the NFL and really football in general the past decade or so. It's all about throwing the ball around the yard. Spreading it out. The running game, the ground-and-pound, the days of 3 yards and a cloud of dust are long gone, a distant memory of another time and place. In Week 1, two backs rushed for 100 yards, and one of those, DeAngelo Williams, is 33 years old and isn't even his team's starter. The other, Houston's Lamar Miller, needed a Week 1 league-high 28 attempts to reach his 106 yards, not even 4.0 yards per carry.

There were 11 players, however, who cracked 100 receiving yards. Grip it and rip it, Philosophy 101 of the NFL.

Further proof: In 2003, which isn't exactly pre-merger, 18 players rushed for at least 1,000 yards, led by Jamal Lewis with 2,066. Fred Taylor finished sixth with 1,572 yards, which is nearly 100 more than Adrian Peterson tallied last season in winning the rushing title. Only seven backs reached the 1,000-yard barrier in 2015, including the Cowboys' Darren McFadden, who finished fourth, despite not starting six games, with 1,089. That total would have placed him 15th in the league back in 2003.

For those of us who have been playing fantasy football for longer than we may care to admit, drafts back in the day would consist of 11 running backs and Peyton Manning in the first round. Taking a wide receiver or a tight end was unheard of until the second or third round. I recall one year, might have even been 2003, when 22 of the first 24 players taken in my league were running backs.

Over the last seven NFL campaigns, with the exception of two outliers (Adrian Peterson in 2012 and DeMarco Murray in 2014), no one has rushed for more than 1,616 yards. In the decade before that, there were 20 such rushing totals, including three alone from LaDainian Tomlinson.

What has also changed is teams feeding a specific back, running him 30 times a game or more. Since 2009, only one back has carried the ball more than 358 times, that being Murray in 2014. No one expects the Cowboys to feed their prized rookie like they did Murray, though. And yes, it's a small sample size, but the carries in the opener are probably what they have in mind for the time being, 20ish for Zeke and seven to eight for Morris.

We have pointed out numerous times the last few months that rookie running backs can be successful immediately; there's not that learning curve of the other positions, but even the Cowboys, who were determined to establish the run against the Giants, ended up throwing 45 passes. With a rookie quarterback in his debut. Seven quarterbacks attempted at least 40 passes in Week 1, and all but six tossed 30.

The game has evolved so much over the last 10 years. It's all about accurate passing now. Of the eight quarterbacks who didn't complete at least 56 percent of their passes in Week 1, seven suffered losses.

There were also only 18 interceptions thrown. That's stunning. That's barely one per game. Even the top-tier guys used to average one per game. Brett Favre threw at least 18 eight times. As recently as 2013, Eli Manning threw 27. Since then, though, no quarterback has thrown more than 18 in a single season.

Maybe 15 years ago, Elliott would have mounted a legitimate challenge for that rookie rushing mark, but it's not happening in today's game, even behind Dallas' offensive line and even with the Cowboys wanting to eat up chunks of clock. After rushing for just 51 yards in Week 1, "Zeke" would have to average more than 117 yards per game the remainder of the season. Peterson led the NFL last season with 92.8.

Realistically, a better, more attainable goal for Elliott would be breaking the team rookie rushing record of Tony Dorsett, which is 1,007. In today's game, that would be a pretty solid opening act.

Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.*

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Advertising