To be considered as a potential 1st round selection, you have to be special. Ezekiel Elliot is no question one of the 10 best players in the 2016 NFL Draft class. But unfortunately, Elliott is a running back, a position that has only had six players selected in the last five years. If history has shown us anything in the past few years, he very well could still be available after the Denver Broncos make their selection to end the 1st round on next Thursday. While that is unlikely to happen, the running back position has not received much love via the draft in years past. That is partly because the league is geared more towards the passing game, but also because there have been very few “game changers” to come into the league.
There are two sides to the coin on drafting a running back in the early part of the NFL Draft. Not too many organizations are willing to mortgage their future on a skill player that is guaranteed to take a beating week in and week out. Last season Trent Richardson, who recently signed with his 4th team this week, a former 3rd overall selection in the 2012 Draft was out of football last season. On the other end, reigning NFL Rookie of the Year, Todd Gurley who was drafted 10th overall in last years draft, gives hope to a lot of general managers that they would be making a wise decision to draft someone to carry the load, especially considering that if you’re drafting that high, chances are your offense is not very good or you have a young QB already.
Watch the film on Elliott and you’ll see that he may be the game changer that even in a quarterback driven league, teams secretly crave. Zeke finished fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division I, with over 1,800 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns this season. Over the past two years, he tallied 3,699 rushing yards, 41 TDs and topped that off with 55 receptions.
Look at those numbers and you will see an elite three down back who has the potential to thrive at the next level. Pair that with the measurables—size, athleticism, pass catching as well as good blocking skills, and Elliott should come out the games as a very productive back in his rookie season.
While he does not have any off the field character issues, Elliott has faced scrutiny for voicing his frustration. After a heartbreaking loss to rival Michigan State, a game in which he only had 12 carries for 33 yards, with only two touches in the 2nd half, he informed the media that the loss would be his last home game for the Ohio State University. Some call it passion for the game, whereas others consider it grandstanding his coach. What a lot of people don’t know is that Elliott was hospitalized with a skin infection and a cyst on his right shin for three days earlier that week. He wanted the ball when it mattered most. Not many players in any sport can say that, at any level.
NFL teams have never ran away from players who exude passion. If you look at the teams with the Top 15 selections, there are definitely three organizations with a glaring need at running back. One particular NFC East team moved into the Top 10 and recently traded away their running back, which was the prize of last years free agency. If Elliott were to drop past Philadelphia at #8, he could very well fall out of the first round, unless a team trades back in to take him.
Bottom line is, a running back has to be special to get drafted inside the top half of the 1st round of the NFL Draft as a running back. Ezekiel Elliott is rare. Which team will throw analytics out the window and take a chance at something special?