Is Ezekiel Elliot A Dark Horse Candidate For Comeback Player Of The Year?

Cowboy's Ezekiel Elliot

When we think of the Comeback Player of the Year (CPOY), we typically think of guys coming off significant injuries, like Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (who happens to be the favorite at most sportsbooks).

However, Prescott is not the only candidate in the Cowboys backfield. Ezekiel Elliot’s name is in the conversation as well.

How can that be? Well, it is because there is not a hard rule as to who is eligible for CPOY. Injured guys are the obvious choices. But it can be anyone that had something to overcome, like coming out of retirement, losing your starting job and getting traded, or simply having a bad year.

That is where Elliot joins the conversation.

Elliot has only been in the NFL for five years. In that time, he has won the single-season rushing title twice and could have won it a third if he had not been suspended for six games in 2017. He followed up his last rushing title (2018) with a respectable effort (1357 yards in 2019). But last year was not a good year for him.

The former first-round pick had a down year. He almost hit a new career low in carries (244; he had 242 in 2017 when he only played in ten games). But he did set a new low in production with just 979 yards, a per-carry average of just 4.0 yards, and six rushing touchdowns.

Those numbers were still good enough for him to rank 11th in total yards last season. While some teams would love to have a guy that ran for almost 1000 yards, Elliot is supposed to be a bell-cow back; he is supposed to produce like an elite running back—especially since he is getting paid like one.

He might not be someone people would typically think of as having a ‘down year,’ making him part of the COPY conversation, but he had a down year. That is likely why BetMGM has his CPOY odds listed at +3000.

There are several excellent candidates with better odds than him, including Prescott, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Burrow, and several others. At +3000, he has a 3.23 percent chance of winning. But that is why he is a ‘dark horse’ candidate and one that could win.

It all comes down to production, of course. For a running back, that means touches and a healthy offensive line. PFF has the Cowboys offensive line ranked sixth-best in the league entering the season. But the trick here will be whether they can stay healthy.

They could not last season, which was one of the reasons Elliot’s production was as low as it was.
Not having the threat of a passing game was another reason, but with Prescott back, that will not be an issue. However, whether he will get the touches (carries and receptions) is. Dallas will want to make the most of Prescott now that he is making $40 million/season.

That means making the most of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup—but it could also include Elliot.

Elliot had a good year in 2019 with Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator. He still had 301 carries for 1357 yards, along with 54 receptions for another 420 yards. As for touchdowns, he had 12 on the ground and two via the passing game.

That kind of production is a good start, but it will need to be better. However, with the physique Elliot has been showing off in workout videos on social media, it is not hard to imagine him stepping his game up this season.
Will he get the touches he needs even to get the opportunity to produce like he needs to? That is a good question, as is whether the offensive line can stay healthy. But if they do and he does—well, that is why he is a dark horse candidate.

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