Is NFL prospect Ezekiel Elliott the next LaDainian Tomlinson?


Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. (Bradley Leeb/AP)

Most of the chatter surrounding the 2016 NFL Draft has revolved around the big trades.

The Tennessee Titans sent the No. 1 pick to the Los Angeles Rams last week and the Philadelphia Eagles moved up to the No. 2 spot in a deal with the Cleveland Browns Wednesday, presumably to select quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

We don’t know which QB will be taken first but one thing we do know, however, is Ezekiel Elliott will be the first running back off the board. The Ohio State star helped lead his school to a Big Ten championship in 2014, a Sugar Bowl win in 2015 and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in his final college season.

The 20-year-old “blocks better than any back in this class” and already “has the skills that often take time for young backs to learn,” according to Pro Football Focus’s scouting report.

He played behind current 49ers running back Carlos Hyde as a freshman and, like Hyde, Elliott possesses excellent lateral movement and vision near the goal line.

While not a flat-out speedster, Elliott has displayed the ability to burn defences for long runs once he gets beyond the first wall of defenders. He ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

Elliott is a consensus top-10 talent but there is real mystery in regards to where he’ll be selected.

Running backs being drafted high in the first round is becoming increasingly less common. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were taken 10th and 15th, respectively, in last year’s draft but there have only been six running backs taken in the first round since 2010.

As of Thursday, there’s no doubt that Elliott will be the highest-drafted Ohio State running back since Beanie Wells went 31st overall in 2009.

Certain mock drafts, including Sportsnet’s resident mock drafter Jeff Simmons, have Elliott going as high as No. 4 to the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas boasts one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and ranked ninth in rushing yards last season despite having to rely on veteran Darren McFadden. Elliott could certainly excel there but adding a running back isn’t the Cowboys’ top priority. Also, Dallas recently signed Alfred Morris.

Others have him falling to as low as No. 13 to the Dolphins. Miami has Jay Ajayi whom they took in the fifth round last year but they lost Lamar Miller to the Texans in free agency.

Elliott is easily the most well-rounded back in this draft class. He is great between the tackles, he can bounce it outside, he’s an excellent pass blocker and he’s a solid pass catcher out of the backfield (he managed to catch 92.9 per cent of his targets in 2015). A true three-down back.

He is drawing some comparisons to current stars Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison he’s getting, though, is with Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.

NFL writer Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report recently wrote a feature called “Ezekiel Elliott and the Myth of the Replaceable Running Back” where he says Elliott is a unique talent and not simply another running back that should be placed in the type of run-by-committee system many teams employ.

“There are still special running backs who can do things a committee cannot replicate, guys who can run like CJ2K at his peak or enter Beast Mode or just be Adrian Peterson. There may only be three or four of them in the draft every five years, but when they do arrive…it makes no sense, analytically, economically or old-school football-wise, to pass on a player like that,” Tanier writes. Ezekiel Elliott is one of those special players. His game film reminds me of LaDainian Tomlinson. His skill package, from power and speed and big-play ability to blocking, places him a thick notch above interchangeable.”

Regardless of which teams he winds up with, all signs point to Elliott being able to take the reins and produce in the NFL as a rookie next season. Whether he has a career even remotely resembling that of Tomlinson’s is a completely different story. Either way it will be interesting to watch unfold.

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