Friday mailbag time once again as we get authentic emails and questions from you the devoted and loyal football enthusiast. Let's reach in today and see what everyone has on their pigskin minds.
Q: Which NFL running back(s) would you compare Elliott to in terms of style and ability?
For me, as I was preparing for the draft and watching him play at Ohio State, I would keep coming back to the same guy - LeSean McCoy. Now, McCoy is not exactly as big - Elliott should have about 10-15 pounds on him, but the style is very similar. He will plant his foot and go with decisive cuts and downhill acceleration. I like that. I have also heard Jamaal Charles, but now we are really talking a size difference. But, in all 3 cases, we are talking about guys who can check every box in terms of an RB who is more than a 2-down back. He can run with it, catch it, pass protect, and every other component that a team would seek in a 3-down guy. The issues will always be how much his body can handle. He is built in a durable sort of way, making you think he should be a candidate for 600-700 snaps. I think McCoy is a good comp and one that should fire Cowboys' fans up.
While we are here, a few moments on snap counts for RB. Only 2 RBs in the entire NFL played more than 700 snaps in 2015 - Devontae Freeman for Atlanta had 768 snaps and, surprisingly, DeAngelo Williams of Pittsburgh hit 702. Given that most teams range between 1,000-1,200 snaps in an offensive season, you can now see why RB is often not considered a premium position to over-leverage in contracts or draft position. Adrian Peterson plays on less than 2 out of every 3 snaps for the Vikings (65%), for instance. Todd Gurley played 456 snaps for the Rams last season as a rookie to do all of his damage. So, for Elliott, we assume the Cowboys have much bigger plans and aspirations, but only time will tell if they can actually do it. Teams try to play their RB1 about 40 of the 65 snaps to keep him fresh, and frankly, they try to avoid their best RB from having to take on blitzing LBs on a regular basis. Why? Because you want your big collisions to be on plays where he has a chance to take the ball to the end zone. Using his collisions for pass protection should be done very sparingly.
Q: What do you think are reasonable expectations for Elliott, assuming he starts Week 1?
I would hope that if he is healthy and able for the whole season, that he hits 1,600 yards next season - 100 per game. That sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately, in the last 6 years, there have only been 6 seasons of 1,600 from any RB in the NFL. Adrian Peterson 2012, DeMarco Murray 2014, Arian Foster 2010, Alfred Morris 2012, LeSean McCoy 2013, and Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011. That is the entire list. Nobody did it last season. But, I still think 1,600 should be the bar for Zeke in 2016. The Cowboys have gone all-in on this style and now they need to make it pay off.
Q: How much concern should there be about the nerve issue with Jaylon Smith's knee? Will that set his rehab back significantly?
Lots of concern. This is a very significant injury that has very significant concerns about a full recovery. I would like to think that the Cowboys are less concerned than your average team about his recovery given their relationship with his doctor. But that doesn't mean that Smith's nerve is firing to eliminate "drop foot" yet, and there is absolutely no promise that a nerve returns to the previous levels of performance. And for an elite athlete that does elite things, this is a very big deal.
However, we can only hope that the Cowboys' confidence level that they exhibited by taking him over perfectly healthy and talented players pays off for them. I think Jaylon is a superb player who will be special in Dallas if his body will allow it. But, he also plays a high punishment position and it will be vital that he is able to stay on the field once he gets back healthy. I am hopeful and optimistic.
Q: Seeing that most people are saying Rico Gathers was worth a flyer late in the sixth round. What do you think? Would that pick have been better spent elsewhere?
Well, we have to understand the probability of what you can normally expect at pick 217. Basically, in the last decade, there have been nearly 400 players taken at pick 217 or later in the draft. With the exception of Julian Edelman, Steve Johnson, Justin Forsett, Cary Williams, JR Sneezy, and perhaps, Malcolm Smith, there have been almost no NFL starters taken. That means you are looking for special teams contributors and projects about 98% of the time. If a guy makes your team, that is a very significant accomplishment. So, if the Cowboys and 26 other teams were at his workout at Baylor and saw something that they want to see about, then why not take a shot at the most interesting guy at that spot?
I have no big problem with it - partly because I am using the context of what the Cowboys normally find beyond pick #200.
Once upon a time they used to find great players down there - Kevin Gogan, Jay Ratliff, Patrick Crayton, Larry Brown, and Chad Hennings were all in that group. Heck, Herb Scott and Larry Cole, too! But, in the last decade, the best players they found after pick #200 were Alan Ball and Sean Lissemore.
I think you take the guy who you like the most to maybe turn into something. Now, they get to work to see if they can do anything with it.
Q: Saw where you said you think Derrick Henry could have been a monster for Dallas. Do you feel the same way about Elliott?
Of course! There is no question that Elliott is a more complete prospect than any other RB in this draft. I want that to be clear, because during this draft season my feelings about draft value have been mistaken for not appreciating Zeke Elliott.
I was sure that Henry's build and style would fit magically with the Cowboys' offensive system and his downhill style would destroy teams in the 4th quarter with defensive backs not wanting to tackle him for fear of their own well-being. And, for one final time, he would cost between 10-20% of what Elliott would cost.
But, the Cowboys went a different direction and I have moved on. They wanted the best RB in the draft and the favorite for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. They got him. Now, we see how well their decision making process works.