In today’s NFL, the ability to catch passes out of the backfield, as well as the ability to protect the passer, is necessary for an RB to see the field for all three downs. Zeke shows both traits.
He is a serviceable pass catcher out of the backfield, and has the elusiveness to make the first defender miss and get solid yardage in the short passing game, although he does not have a strong catch radius and really cannot execute routes of WR level complexity.
Blocking, however, is a different story. For a college RB, he’s phenomenal as a pass protector. He shows a comprehensive understanding and great ability when helping chip. One-on-one, he has the right ideas but his execution needs to improve in some cases. Finally, due to Ohio State’s offensive play calling, he displays another intriguing blocking trait: the ability to lead block, which he does very well.
As was touched on above, Elliott is not a great receiver. He can function within an offense, but he’s not a real weapon catching passes out of the backfield. He doesn’t display route-running savvy. He should be used in typical RB receiving situations, like swing passes and screens. An occasional wheel route could be used to take advantage of his speed, but lining him up in a WR position isn’t going to help your team much, as seen below:
The first play shows Elliott running a vertical route, and while he gets by the LB it’s based on his speed alone. He doesn’t have a great drive off the line, and really only gets by the LB because he was faster.
The second play shows similar poor route running. It looks like he’s supposed to be running a whip route, which initially breaks inside and then the receiver “whips” around to the outside. This is supposed to fake the defender out, creating separation. It doesn’t work when you run straight in to the defender, which Elliott does here. This caused the Buckeyes to have to punt with a third down incompletion.
The third play shows a poor catch radius from Elliott, as he can’t reel in a pass over his head. Despite being a short throw, it’s not an easy catch, but it is one good receiving backs make. When Zeke does catch the pass, however, his natural running abilities take over and he uses them to be successful after the catch.
He uses elusiveness and power to get a first on the fourth play, and shows his burst off on the last play, as well as great sideline awareness.
RBs need to be effective in one-on-one matchups against blitzers. For the most part, Elliott is. Sometimes, however, he is susceptible to being beaten. When blocking alone, he tends to be too passive as a blocker. This can lead to him getting rocked back by bigger blitzers.
His cut block is also inconsistent, he was successful about half the time, but also whiffed badly a few times. He did display strong recognition skills to figure out who he should block and good reaction time to late blitzers.
On the first play, Elliott is simply too passive. Sure, he acts as a wall against the blitzing DB, but his hand position gives away how passive he was. The DB actually hit him before Elliott shot his hands out, which leads to the RB putting a hand on the defenders back. Had the QB needed longer to throw, this easily could have turned into holding.
The second play contrasts with the poor first block, as here he’s able to attack the defender and control him, turning him upfield and out of the play completely. This was a pretty common success for Zeke.
The third play shows some aggression but really poor form, as he just sticks one arm out. It works out, as the defender ran into his teammate and fell down, but that’s definitely poor blocking form.
The fourth play is a fourth-and-10 situation, so the Buckeyes need good pass protection. They don’t get it from the offensive interior, but try to ignore that. What they do get is a great cut block by Zeke. It’s textbook, and he puts his helmet on the defender’s opposite hip, knocking him to the ground.
The last play shows Elliott’s lack of consistency in cut blocking, as he clearly fails on this cut block because he did not get across the defender.