For the struggles he had pass blocking on an island, Elliott is a fantastic chip blocker. All of his chip blocks were positive plays in the nine games watched. Every single one. He showed patience and knowledge to get into the correct position to lay the block, then added a strong blow that aided the other player’s block.
Sometimes, players will deliver a chip block that actually knocks a defender away from the blocker, but Elliott did not block in a way that hurt his teammate’s block. In some cases, he saved a poor block by a teammate, or took over the defender himself when appropriate.
Of the plays above, the fifth one is my favorite. That kind of aggression is something I wish Elliott would have shown in his one-on-one pass blocking.
Ohio State’s offense includes a lot of zone read plays, heavily uses WR runs such as jet sweeps, and also includes some power QB runs. This led to Zeke being a lead blocker quite often. NFL teams might not have much use for this skill, but some, like Carolina, would probably consider it a valuable addition.
Elliott matches his passivity when pass blocking with his aggressiveness as a lead blocker. His great vision with the ball in his hands translates over, and he shows great technique to open up running lanes for whoever has the ball.
On the first play, he does a great job of picking off the defender shedding the offensive lineman’s block so the defender can’t take out Barrett by the legs. It’s the same thing with two and three. On number four, he directly clears a path for the receiver to run through by knocking over a DB. On the final play, he does a great job of giving his QB a two way go by covering up his assignment.
There is one final major component to Elliott’s game that deserves scrutiny: he never carries the ball with his left arm. RBs should be switching the ball to their outside arm when running on the edge, but Elliott keeps the ball in his right arm even when along the left sideline.
He did not have fumble problems in college (the one fumble from these nine games was due to a poor exchange in Cardale Jones’ first start), but he did also fumble once when out of bounds:
As can be seen in the play, the defender is able to get a hit directly on the ball because Elliott is carrying it in the arm that is closest to the defender. There’s absolutely no reason for this to happen, because Zeke should be carrying the ball in his left arm, but he doesn’t switch.
This is something NFL players will key on and potentially try to exploit.
The current player I’m most reminded of when watching Elliott run is Johnathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers. Coming out of school, Stewart was a little heavier than Elliott projects to be, but he was a powerful runner with good quickness and great vision that was incredibly productive. Despite a rash of injuries over the past few years, Stewart had a very successful season in 2015 during the Panthers’ Super Bowl trip. In college, Zeke was used in a running system that is similar to the one the Panthers’ ran last year.
As far as comparing him to other players in this class, Elliott is the forerunner simply because of how complete he is. He has very few weaknesses to his game, and will also show strong, but not elite athletic talent. When looking at last year’s class, he would be the second best RB after Todd Gurley. Zeke simply does not have the natural talent that Gurley does, but he is a better player than Melvin Gordon was coming out of Wisconsin.
Projecting the draft is difficult, especially three months out. However, Ezekiel Elliott appears to be a first round talent. He should be the first running back off the board, and there are a number of RB needy teams in the draft. Going to the Cowboys at 4 would be too early, but a team like the Giants could take him, or maybe the Colts, who love adding skill position players in the first round and need a running back. Unless the Texans are in love with a QB, they will probably strongly consider him at 23, while the Seahawks might consider themselves lucky if he falls to their spot. It’s also possible a team from the top of the second could want to get a jump on their RB needy competitors and trade up to take him in the late first.
Ezekiel Elliott is a complete NFL RB. He shows power, explosion, speed, elusiveness, and great vision. He runs well in the open field and in tight spaces. He can do some damage after the catch, and is proficient as a blocker. He may not be a spectacular player or a transcendent talent, but few players are. Instead, he should be a strong and consistent contributor for whichever team drafts him. With his qualities, scheme shouldn’t be a big factor for his transition into the league. He has the vision and decisiveness to run in a zone scheme and the burst and power to run in a gap scheme.