Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio examines the tiny details that make a huge difference with Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The best four running back prospects that I’ve graded during the past 5-6 years are Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliott. Despite each having their own style, there was little difference between these four backs’ final grades.
Choosing which one I like the most is a fun subject for another time. Still, I’ll tell you that if I’m basing my criteria heavily on versatility and inside running, Elliott is tough to beat.
While we all understand that Elliott is still maturing off the field, his on-field greatness is undeniable. There’s an extensive list of things that contribute to Elliott’s greatness, However, if there’s an invisible thread that not only binds Elliott’s game into a complete package but also links all four runners, it’s the skill to execute micro-movements.
This four-yard run from Elliott should have been a big loss. As with a high percentage of football plays, you can give as much blame to the defense for its foibles as you may credit the offense. Even so, what Elliott does to exploit the openings his opponents provide remain laudable.
Elliott’s ability to execute with the tiniest extra motion makes all the difference on a run where the defensive end cuts off Elliott’s first option and the backside corner Eli Apple contains the cutback. Note the lift of Elliott’s knees during the initial jump cut, the pointing of the toes upon the landing of the cut to center his mass downhill, and then the attack with the outside shoulder that earns a first-strike on Apple.
These small details—micro-movements—are the underlying factors that maximize Elliott’s range of motion, change of direction, downhill acceleration, and contact balance. It’s one of the differences between good and great.
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