Ezekiel Elliott showed promise his freshman season by averaging 8.73 yards per carry as Carlos Hyde's backup, and went into the 2014 season as the de facto starter at running back. Elliott started slow his sophomore year, as he was unable to crack 100 rushing yards in his first three games, before thrashing Cincinnati for 182 yards on 28 carries. From game four on, he averaged 7.19 yards per carry while racking up 1,737 yards and 16 touchdowns. Elliott capped his very good regular season with a spectacular post-season that thrust him into the national spotlight. He rushed for 696 yards and eight touchdowns versus the likes of Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, en route to a national title.
Well known for his crop-top look on the field, Elliott enters the 2015 season as a Heisman favorite and the bell-cow of the most explosive offense in the country. He possesses the attributes that make him the most dangerous running back in college football and a true, three-down back that has NFL scouts drooling. Barring a set-back, expect the former 4-star recruit to use his third year status to his advantage and become a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He will be challenged by Alabama's Derrick Henry, Pittsburgh's James Conner, Arkansas' Alex Collins and Utah's Devontae Booker at the top of the 2015 running back throne but with no disrespect, Elliott has a more complete game than all of them.
Here are Elliott's elite attributes that will cause defensive coordinators to lose sleep during the off-season:
The St. Louis product came to Ohio State as a four event champion at the Missouri State Track & Field Championship. He won the 100m, 200m, 110m hurdles and 300m hurdles his senior year. Per nfldraftscout.com, Elliott has a 40-yard dash low time of 4.32 and an average 40 of 4.42 seconds. His ability to find the hole, put his foot in the ground and explode vertically up-field is unparalleled in college football. Elliott had the second most 10+ yard runs (52) and was tied for the sixth most 20+ yard runs with 14 on the season.
Although he had 14 20+ yard runs, here is the run that most fans think of versus a certain Southeastern Conference team when his speed is mentioned...
Vision and patience
"Zeke" possesses the perfect vision and patience for a running back in Urban Meyer's offensive scheme. They run a zone blocking scheme which pushes defenders horizontally, rather than a man blocking scheme which designates a specific hole for the running back to go through.This blocking scheme allows Elliott to be patient with his offensive line before he makes his cut. If a linebacker makes the wrong read, Elliott constantly makes him pay due to his vision and patience.
One cut acceleration
Once Elliott sees a gap open in Ohio State's zone blocking scheme, he uses his elite trait of putting his foot in the ground and accelerating through the hole, before the defender can react to his movement. According to ESPN's Sports Science, the former trackstar has the ability to accelerate to 15.3 miles per hour in less than 1.5 seconds, leaving would-be-tacklers in the dust. His 85-yard touchdown against Alabama was one of the better examples of him being patient with his blockers, seeing a gap, putting his foot in the ground and accelerating through it for six.
Yards after contact
Combining his speed, strength and size (6'0, 225 pounds), Elliott is a battering ram of a runner. He is the type of running back who delivers contact to the defender, rather than taking it; plus he is constantly falling forward for extra yardage. Unfortunately there is not a statistic for yards gained after contact but if there was, he would be near the top of the list in college football. Elliott retains a strong base and core, which allows him to keep his balance after contact.
The amazing part of Elliott's 2014 campaign was that he played the entire season with essentially one hand. He fractured his left wrist before the start of the 2014 season and played with a cast on it in every single game. He was unable to carry the ball with his left hand or use it to batter defenders with a stiff arm.
Elliott told reporters in April, "I was just out there basically playing with one hand. I was one-handed," he said. "I couldn't carry the ball in my left hand, I couldn't punch with it. I couldn't do much with it. I was pretty handicapped."
With two working wrists, Elliott will be able to carry the ball properly, catch the ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage and potentially add a devastating stiff arm to his arsenal.
Not only does Elliott run hard but he could quite possibly be the best blocking tailback in college football. He is called on to be the lead or key blocker in most of the QB designed runs and when he is not out on a pattern, he does a sturdy job in pass protection. As noted, when he starts the 2015 season with two fully healthy wrists, he will be able to square up better in pass protection. Although he still did an admirable job in 2014, he should only get better in pass protection.
Watching Elliott on tape as a blocker is just as fun as watching him run the ball because he goes all out on every play, even when his number is not called. He thumps bigger defensive lineman and linebackers who are expecting number 15 to take a play off and puts them on their backside.
The St. Louis native may not be known for his pass catching out of the backfield, but he is actually a consistent and dependable receiving threat, catching 28 of 31 balls that came his way. Expanding upon his left wrist injury, Elliott caught those balls with primarily his right hand and was mostly used as a receiver running routes to the right side of the formation. Even with the array of options out of the backfield, Elliott is a true three-down running back.