Dak Prescott is leading an offensive juggernaut. With elite talent headlining every positional unit, the Cowboys trot out one of the most talented and versatile attacks in the league. Against Philadelphia week three the offensive line was the star of the show, blowing holes wide open with regularity. 24 of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard’s 28 runs were blocked soundly. 11 of those were strong wins for the unit, with wide lanes providing the talented backs over four offensive line yards per attempt.
But Monday Night was not just about the big fellas. Zeke is back. The former All-Pro spent the offseason slimming down and getting in the (infamous) best shape of his life. It has paid off. Elliott is noticeably slimmer, has regained much of his quickness that had seemed to expire over the past two-ish seasons, and has not lost any strength. In fact, Zeke is playing with the elite precision, power and drive that garnered those first-team All-Pro honors his rookie year and make him an absolute load in short yardage situations.
Elliott’s game has never been built on elite speed or burst, but returning to starter levels in those areas couples extremely well with the ruthless craft that has always been his hallmark – laser-guided pad placement, efficient decision-making, slippery elusiveness, and unparalleled scheme reliability. At his best, he is a strong contender for best all-around back in the game. Importantly, his rock-steady nature in both phases of offense keeps him on the field for passing downs and has earned him the lion’s share of running back targets, despite backfield-mate Tony Pollard’s background as a hybrid receiver-runner at Memphis. This week Elliott earned five targets (two were erased by penalties) to Pollard’s one, including three in the redzone.
But don’t mistake praise for Zeke as a lack of appreciation for Pollard. In fact, Pollard added 1.4 yards to his attempts this week, equaling Elliott. Pollard wins differently with a game built on light feet, sudden burst and excellent contact balance. The literal change-of-pace between the backs helps earn Pollard advantageous open field angles, and Pollard is no slouch between the tackles, manipulating second level defenders with pace and leverage. For fantasy, Pollard’s upside is capped by Zeke’s elite passing game reliability and short yardage skillset, but he is a dynamic complement and is talented enough to produce at elite levels in this offense if Zeke were to miss time.
This offseason Javonte Williams was the trendy name in both casual and NFL scouting circles. In college the former Tarheel produced highlight runs to rival any back in the class, with a game built on thundering power through collisions, a rare ability to regain his balance and string moves together, and excellent hands. Those flash plays pushed NFL insiders to compare him to Nick Chubb, and Teddy Bridgewater to draw parallels to Alvin Kamara.
But those comparisons missed a glaring hole in Javonte’s game. He is a poor processor and decision-maker, with undisciplined eyes and a penchant for guessing. The lack of sound process and scheme execution is especially damning on zone runs, where Williams struggled at UNC and even more so this preseason.
His first three regular season games have been marred by negative decisions, contrary to the excitement his occasional highlights continue to produce. Sunday was no different, as he lost almost half a yard per carry relative to what his offensive line provided.
I graded Williams negatively on five of his 12 attempts with each negative grade attributable to errors in executing his reads and keys properly. While Melvin Gordon is not an elite NFL back, he is a quality starter who is more reliable in his scheme execution.
Gordon outcarried Javonte 18-to-12 against the Jets and added 0.6 yards to his runs on average, a full yard better than Williams. The carry trend is worrisome for Javonte, who edged Gordon 27-24 over the first two games. Don’t expect Gordon to fade away or be traded to a running back-needy team this season. Denver needs him to carry a significant portion of the load while Javonte works on his craft and becomes a more reliable decision-maker.