Draft season kicked off back in August, but with the bowls complete and the early entrants declared, it is just halftime of the scouting process. In his Inside The Pylon debut, Chris Dougherty delivers Ezekiel Elliott on two: a look at the vision and patience of the former Ohio State running back.
The emphasis on talented tailbacks might be returning to the NFL. The success of St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley might be a roadmap for 31 other teams this draft season. But there is always a flip side, as the struggles of San Diego Chargers rookie Melvin Gordon indicate that scheme fit is also something to consider when drafting a RB.
Ezekiel Elliott came into the 2015 campaign with Heisman Trophy aspirations after dominating 2014 in wrecking-ball fashion. The Ohio State tailback is headed to the NFL, and is expected to be one of the top, if not the first, running backs selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. While Elliott is not exactly the top-tier back that Gurley was, he has high upside and a very short injury history; a topic that came into question with Gurley during the draft evaluations last season.
Below we’ll be looking for key traits NFL coaches and scouts believe are necessary in a professional running back.
A player’s ability to anticipate the play developing is one of the most integral traits sought in a running back. It’s crucial that the back can see beyond what has already developed. Historically, top-tier backs tend to have pristine vision, which contributed to their greatness.
Elliott has exceptional vision, which positions him as one of the premiere backs in the 2016 draft class. He is a running back that thinks and sees with anticipation, rather than simply taking what’s given to him.When breaking down his tape, there were a few key plays that stood out and truly showed his elite vision:
This was a designed stretch play off the right tackle, but Elliott sees tackle Taylor Decker (#68) seal off the right side, opening a cutback lane and allowing him to break the play wide open. These are the types of plays where vision – more than skill – earns extra yardage, and in this case a touchdown:
This is one of my favorites: A simple sweep left, with a pulling weakside guard, presents Elliott with two choices ‒ he can either follow the hole between left guard Billy Price (#54) and wide receiver Noah Brown (#80), or he can take the lane devloping behind the pulling right guard Pat Elflein (#65). That split-second decision presents two entirely different opportunities for the Buckeyes, and the choice Elliott made ultimately led to another score:
As seen above, Elliott can either cut left between the sealing guard and wide receiver, or follow Elflein through the hole where Decker is sealing off the inside. Elliott is a great decision maker when it comes to recognizing the path of least resistance, as he follows Elflein, who seals off the left side, creating a true rushing lane.
Elliot finds 12 yards of open field through the B gap, and uses his elite vision again on the play, cutting off of a Corey Smith (#84) block, for another seven yards.
Elliott possesses phenomenal patience out of the backfield, another trait that makes him such a coveted prospect. His feet and his eyes are continuously moving, allowing him to wait for the blocking to develop, and creating new rushing lanes.
There are two lanes available, one between wide receiver Johnnie Dixon (#5) and Decker, and the other between Dixon and the remainder of the offensive line. Elliott chooses to cut off the left hip of Dixon, noticing that Decker has sealed off his defender.
Elliott is able to find a lane behind his blocker for a nine-yard gain.
Split-second decision making by creates big plays for Elliott. His ability to anticipate where lanes will be created by his blockers, paired with his patience and vision, enables him to deliver in key moments:
It’s not just the breakaway 50-yard runs that make a running back valuable; it’s the six yard chain-movers that keep drives alive, and keep the offense on schedule. In the play above, Elliott has the patience to wait for lanes to develop, allowing him to gain a first down.
What Role Fits Him Best?
Ezekiel Elliott is at his most valuable when he’s utilized as the featured back. While he’s not as dangerous as a receiving threat, Elliott is a true, downhill runner. Elliott has experience in numerous offensive styles; including the spread-option and a traditional one-back system. Elliott may be more valuable than a player like Gurley, because of his ability to stretch the field, whereas Gurley is more likely to remain most effective inside the tackle box.
Using his strength and compact body frame, Elliott to punishes defenders inside the hash marks, but can just as easily utilize his athleticism and shiftiness to create plays along the boundary as well.
Where Can He Improve?
Elliott is not the most efficient pass-catcher and is a below-average route runner. While it is rare that a traditional power back is a passing game threat, this limitation might take Elliott off the field in 3rd and long situations. In terms of pass protection, Elliott is adequate. It’s clear that he leans into blocks and doesn’t use his impressively strong legs to body blockers at the point of impact.
What Is He?
Elliott is the premiere back of the 2016 draft class. His vision, patience and anticipation, all combined with his sound footwork and NFL-ready frame, are what makes him such a coveted prospect in the 2016 draft. Elliott is the perfect blend of size, speed and athleticism, but arguably has higher upside in the NFL than what he showed at Ohio State. Elliott’s vision and patience remind me a lot of Frank Gore; a player known for his ability to run compact between the tackles, while also maintaining his ability to use his breakaway athleticism along the boundaries.
Elliott’s best fit in terms of scheme at the next level would be a traditional one-back system where he’ll be the featured runner. With the NFL broadening their horizons to the spread-based offenses, Elliott could be selected by a team that doesn’t feature a single back approach, and that could limit his production at the next level.
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Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking down matchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.
All video and images courtesy Draft Breakdown.