Ezekiel Elliott and the Best Rookie Rushing Season

Dallas Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott

There is a ton of buzz surrounding Ezekiel Elliott and rightfully so with rookie drafts underway and re-draft leagues on the horizon. The talent is unquestionable between his ability to find lanes and explosiveness once he picks his spots. Elliott shows an ability to impact the pass game as well. For most, if not all fantasy football analysts or players a dream scenario occurred with the best running back in the draft ended up in the best landing spot there is, with the Dallas Cowboys. The have a ready built offensive line that is among the NFL’s elite. He will be getting the ball from a quarterback that is in the upper tier when healthy. With Dez Bryant on the outside stacking the box likely won’t be a factor for Elliott. All of this sets up Elliot to put himself in the conversation of best season for a running back in NFL history.

The recent transition from a league full of run based offenses to ones that lean more heavily on the pass may lead some to believe that days of a rookie running back being an instant bell cow that an offense is built around to be a thing. Todd Gurley was the latest in a long line of players to excel in their rookie season. He put up 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns last year for the Rams in only 13 games.


In 2012 not one but two running backs were given the opportunity to be the feature back for their offense. Both Alfred Morris and Doug Martin eclipsed the 300 plus carry mark in their rookie seasons. Morris ran for 1,613 and 13 touchdowns. Martin went for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Year Player Carries Rushing Yards Rushing tds Receptions Recieving Yards Recieving TDs Fantasy Points PPR Points
1999 Edgerrin James 369 1,553 13 62 586 4 315.9 377.9
2002 Clinton Portis 273 1,508 15 33 364 2 289.2 322.2
2012 Doug Martin 319 1,454 11 49 472 1 264.6 313.6
2012 Alfred Morris 335 1613 13 11 77 0 247 258
2007 Adrian Peterson 238 1341 12 19 268 1 238.9 257.9
2008 Chris Johnson 251 1,228 9 43 260 1 208.8 251.8
2015 Todd Gurley 229 1,106 10 21 188 0 189.4 210.4

Another talented running back joined an offense to add balance to an already dynamic passing attack. When Edgerrin James played his initial season he carried the ball 369 times for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns. He did this while Peyton Manning threw the ball 533 times for over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. It’s the best season by a rookie running back in recent history. These numbers may feel aggressive projections for the Elliot in his first year it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Alfred Morris Cowboys

Tom Fox – The Dallas Morning News

So what is standing in the way of Elliot and incredible rookie season. The Cowboys signed Alfred Morris during the offseason to a 2 year deal that guarantees him $2 Million. The likelihood of Morris getting little to no work this season is simply unreasonable. That doesn’t mean Elliot will not be great or not be worth of a high draft pick come draft day. Darren McFadden as of now anyway, is in the mix. He was a valuable contributor especially down the stretch. He ran for 1,089 yards in 239 attempts.

Two seasons ago when the Cowboys were a run based offense they ran the ball 508 times with DeMarco Murray getting 392 of those carries. While nobody should predict a total that high for Elliott, they are said to want to get back to the ground game in a big way this season. If you give Morris and McFadden around 250 carries that should leave Elliott with 200 carries from which to produce with. Likely building up his workload as the season moves along. Projecting numbers somewhere between what Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson did in their inaugural seasons doesn’t seem crazy. My early guess would be 1,200 yards and 8-12 touchdowns with the opportunity to be even better if Dallas gives him the work. They clearly believe in the talent taking him with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. And unlike Gurley he will not be coming off of a major injury.

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