With free agency looming, roster turnover isn't far away. However, a significant portion of the 2020 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with running back Ezekiel Elliott:
What's Been Good:
On the field, what hasn't been good for Zeke Elliott? In four seasons with the Cowboys, he has amassed 5,405 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns. He has finished in the top five in the NFL in each of his three full seasons – the one time he didn't was his suspension-shortened 2017 campaign.
Even by the lofty standards of his enormous new contract, Elliott continues to produce. Fresh off his $90 million extension, he touched the rock 355 times for 1,777 yards and 14 touchdowns. With opposing defenses keying on him weekly, he still managed to take the second-most carries in the league, and he averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
Perhaps most importantly, given the amount of money involved, Elliott continues to show his durability. Through four NFL seasons, he has appeared in 59 of 67 possible games. Six of those absences were due to suspension, and the other two were healthy scratches in Week 17 games held before the playoffs.
If the Cowboys are going to pay top dollar for the running back, it's a pretty big benefit that he's always available.
What's Been Bad:
Hopefully 2020 will be a season that Elliott can literally hit the ground running.
The Internet jokes that the Pro Bowl running back was ever "fat" have always been ridiculous. But it's fair to say that, even if Elliott was diligently training during his six-week holdout last summer, that's not the same as the weeks and weeks of training camp reps that he missed.
His strategy ultimately worked, as he earned himself his $90 pay day just before the 2019 season. But it certainly looked like he was playing his way into shape over the course of the year.
That's not to say he was ineffective. Elliott hit the 100-yard mark in two of his first three games back, and he rushed for four touchdowns in the first five weeks of the season. But he did seem to lack some explosiveness and some burst. It doesn't feel like a coincidence that his three longest runs of the season came in the final month of the year.
It's a bit of a nitpick – which is understandable when you're critiquing a Pro Bowler. But hopefully this approaching season will see a full training camp followed by a faster start.
Here's another nitpick, given that Elliott was one of the most productive backs in the league last year: Hopefully Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys' new coaching staff can use him a bit more efficiently.
For years, people have lamented the fact that Elliott was underutilized in the passing game. On the surface, it sounds silly. He caught 77 passes in 2018 and followed that up with another 54 catches in 2019. But if you watch the games, it's obvious that this was not the most creative use of his abilities. Elliott's role as a receiver in recent years has been largely as a safety valve, with an occasional screen pass mixed in.
Elliott is versatile to do more as a receiver, and he's too dangerous with the ball in his hands not to do it. He averaged 7.8 yards per reception last season, and it's realistic to think he could be up closer to nine or 10.
McCarthy spoke the obvious at the NFL Combine in February, saying Elliott would be a primary focus.
"Zeke will touch the football plenty in our offense," he said.
It will be interesting to see what exactly that looks like. In addition to his already-proven abilities as a workhorse runner, some small tweaks could make a big difference.