Quarterbacks always grab most of the attention, but the Dallas Cowboys most impressive rookie in 2016 has been Ezekiel Elliott, who might be on the path of a historic season. Not just for rookies, but good enough to place him among the greatest running back campaigns of all time.
How’s he doing so far? Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards with 1005 through 9 games. He’s had 198 carries, resulting in nine rushing touchdowns. His 111.7 rushing yards per game are also the best in the NFL, carrying the ball 22 times per game. Melvin Gordon of the San Diego Chargers (217 carries) is the only player with more rushing attempts than Elliott. Elliott is also the NFL leading in yards from scrimmage with 1255. He’s caught 18 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown. Not a huge part of the passing game, but at a capable receiver especially with room to run.
Projections? If he’ll keep his current pace of 111.7 rushing yards per game and play all 16 games this season, he’ll reach 1786 rushing yards this season. If we add that to his receiving numbers, he’s projected to finish with 2231 yards from scrimmage through 16 games.
Place in history? There are 7 players in NFL history with a 2000-yard rushing season, each player doing it once. The record is 2105 yards by Eric Dickerson from 1984. Adrian Peterson came agonizingly close (2097) in 2012, when he won the MVP. Elliott is being mentioned as an MVP more and more recently, especially after his finish against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His projected 1786 rushing yards would place him 23rd on the all-time list, bumping Emmitt Smith and his 1995 season (the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl) down a spot.
As for yards from scrimmage, his 2231 projection would place him at 17th on the all-time list, pushing James Wilder and his 1984 season down a spot. The all-time best is Chris Johnson with 2509 yards in the 2009 season. An interesting comparison would be DeMarco Murray from the 2014 season: His 1845 rushing yards from that year are 18th all-time; his 2261 yards from scrimmage place that season 13th on the all-time list.
Elliott had a slow start to his NFL career: He rushed for just 53 yards on 20 carries in the week 1 loss to the Giants. He improved in week 2 with 83 yards in Washington. Since then, he hasn’t rushed for less than 92 yards or 4.3 yards per carry in a game. In his week 3 through week 10 stretch he has averaged 5.55 yards per carry and 124.42 yards per game. Assuming he keeps up that pace through the next 7 games, he’ll end up with 1875 yards, which would put him just outside the top 10 on the all-time list.