Editor's note: This profile originally published March 14.
I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
The NFL used to value running backs very highly in the draft. We know plenty of times where great runners were targeted and selected in the first few picks and nobody thought oddly at all. But, within the last decade -- no doubt in conjunction with the league becoming more and more a passing league -- the NFL stopped doing it almost completely. The last straws were likely the massive disappointments of Darren McFadden at pick No. 4, C.J. Spiller at Pick No. 9, Trent Richardson at pick No. 3, or even guys like Felix Jones, Beanie Wells, Jahvid Best, and Donald Brown all being wasted picks in the first round. But whatever the case, the NFL decided in about 2012 that they were done taking running backs in Round 1. In 2013 the top RB went at pick No. 37 -- Giovani Bernard to the Bengals -- and in 2014 the top RB went off the board at pick No. 54 -- Bishop Sankey to the Titans.
But, last year, along came the best prospect since Adrian Peterson (I thought so anyway when I wrote up his report, anyway) when Todd Gurley was selected at No. 10 and the Rams appear quite pleased with that decision. Then the took Chargers with Melvin Gordon at No. 15, who did not have an impressive rookie season.
So along comes Ezekiel Elliott whom others are suggesting might be the "best since Peterson" and his name is all over the top of the first round. He is 20 years old and possesses size and athleticism that is phenomenal. But, what really impresses you about Elliott is that he plays the game in a way that demonstrates how much he loves every component of the sport. He does everything and he does it with a commitment that suggests he is a team leader.
What I liked:He is a game-breaker and can get to top speed in the blink of an eye. Running out of that Urban Meyer spread, he is exclusively a shotgun back, but you see how he can use a turbo boost that puts him in the secondary in a blink. He also gets skinny through holes and is decisive in his reads. He changes directions well and with wiggle to lose guys. He dominates inside and outside as a back and runs with sub-4.5 speed and also the power you want from a guy who weighs 225. Then, he catches the ball out of the backfield with ease and can use that speed out on the edge. He will attack you in multiple ways. But, honestly, what makes him unique is that Ohio State asked him at times to be a lead blocker for others or a pass protector for his QB and almost without fail, he did it with maximum effort and proficiency. He has balance that allows him to stay on his feet with contact and he is ambitious to do whatever the team needs. He also doesn't really fumble much.
He is a very complete back who will help you in literally every aspect of the offense. There is no doubting his ability and skill set. The fact that he did not factor into the Heisman mix heavily in 2014 or 2015 is quite bewildering and a testament to the crop of RBs that college football is still able to produce annually.
What I did not like: He doesn't really have much as far as weaknesses go. I would say his ceiling is below Gurley's but not by a mile, and then the only reason you might not like the concept of Zeke in the top five is just a positional value conversation, which I tend to support. I think the career span of RBs in today's NFL suggests it is not a great use of resources in general. But, if you want a football player who is great at what he does and appears to have translatable skills to the NFL, I don't deny that this player looks like the real deal.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: The guy can do it all and would be a fantastic addition to any team. I liked Todd Gurley more but he isn't in this draft. Elliott is very young, strong, and healthy and would fill a real need for any team that needs a RB.
We happen to know a team that seems to have RB pretty unresolved right now, but it would seem foolish to spend a first-round pick in three out of four drafts on offensive linemen only to then invest even more heavily in the RB behind them. The whole point in making huge bids on Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick (and then paying them all handsomely) was that they could make the RB position more of a disposable asset and roll over any college talent at a minimal price. This would contradict the entire build in my opinion.
I like him a lot, but for me, the Cowboys have already invested heavily in a powerful running game. They need a young and talented RB, but the draft shows those guys can be found every season in the top 100 (Rounds 2-3). Let someone else spend for one in the top 10. The Cowboys need investment in too many other areas of their roster to afford this luxury item.