Comparing Ezekiel Elliott and Eric Dickerson
Ezekiel Elliott has had an incredible rookie season handling the bulk of the workload at running back for the Cowboys' offense. Per our efficiency rankings, the two rookies, Elliott and his quarterback, Dak Prescott, have led the fifth most efficient offense in the NFL. Interestingly, if it weren't for Elliott's own rookie quarterback, he would easily be the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award.
Elliott draws a unique comparison when you break down his rookie season thus far: Eric Dickerson. Dickerson played ten seasons in the NFL; a long career by today's standards for running backs. He was drafted in 1983, second overall to the Rams. Elliott was drafted fourth overall last year. Similar to Elliott, Dickerson carried the load for the Rams' offense for his first four seasons. The Rams made the playoffs each year on his back.
Both players draw size comparisons, as well. Dickerson was a few inches taller than Elliott at around 6'3", but both weighed in around 220 pounds. Despite a larger frame for a running back, they both have a style of grace and power unlike most runners. Their size allows taking on similarly sized defensive players, while running by or through smaller defensive backs.
As we've only got Elliott's first nine games, we're not going to jump to conclusions and call him a Hall-of-Fame running back as of yet. However, we can compare what each back accomplished in their rookie season. Elliott has carried the rock on 33% of the Cowboys' offensive plays. In 1983, Dickerson ran the ball on 38% of his offense's plays. When we consider that offenses rushed the ball 48% of the time in 1983 and only 40% this season, one could argue Elliott is carrying a very similar share, relatively.
Within those carries is where the comparisons are even tighter. Dickerson rushed for 4.6 yards per attempt. Elliott has gone for 5.0 yard per attempt. Even though Elliott is running behind the best offensive line in football, we'd expect that number to regress somewhat closer to Dickerson's end of the year total as defenses should start centering on Elliott and making Prescott beat them with his arm.
In a yards per game standpoint, Dickerson ran for 113 yards per game on 24.4 attempts on average. Elliott has rushed for 111 yards per game on 22.1 carries on average. Dickerson did catch the ball out of the backfield a bit more than Elliott, which will give him an edge in receiving yards and yards from scrimmage.
In Dickerson's second season, he set the NFL record for rushing yards in a single season at 2,105. It is inconceivable that someone would break that record considering the allure to throwing the ball in today's NFL. However, if someone were to break that record soon, one would think Elliott would be the front-runner to do so while running behind that great offensive line and the Cowboys' rush-heavy offense.
Some would argue that Dickerson's effectiveness and heavy use from the Rams was his eventual downfall. Dickerson was traded in his fifth year with the Rams to the Colts. He would only play two full seasons out of his remaining six years for a number of teams. We are by no means suggesting that Ezekiel Elliott is a no-doubt Hall of Fame candidate after nine games, but nevertheless, the comparisons are warranted and he looks to be in for a great career if the Cowboys are able to preserve his usage.