You’ve heard me say it a million times that I do not want to pay a RB. I do not believe in it. It is the least important position on offense. Elite production can be found more readily later in the draft. Yeah I said it. And i've said it before. I also know that the Cowboys are going to keep Zeke. This isn't about that. A funny thing happens when I say I would not pay a RB. They point to Emmitt and other big time RBs that have led their teams to the promised land. They say they agree with me in theory but that I need to be more nuanced. I need to make exceptions for truly transcendent talents. So is Zeke that….a transcendent talent? That's the question right? I've always assumed he would be awesome. When we drafted him i'd assumed he would be awesome. As he's racked up awards I've assumed he was awesome. I was wrong. Let's investigate. The counting stats speak for themselves... Rushing yards: 2016: 1,631 || League Rank: #1; League Rank Per Game: #1 2017: 983 || League Rank: #10; League Rank Per Game: #1 2018: 1,434 || League Rank: #1; League Rank Per Game: #1 His receiving work has shown steady improvement Receptions Per Game: 2016: 2.13 2017: 2.6 2018: 5.13 Receiving Yards Per Game: 2016: 24.2 2017: 26.9 2018: 37.8 The awards speak for themselves. 2x Pro Bowl (2016, 2018) First-Team All Pro (2016) Second-Team All Pro (2018) PFWA All-Rookie Team (2016) FedEx Ground Player of the Year (2016) If you stop the analysis here Zeke is unarguably the most accomplished RB league wide since he has put on The Star. You could at least squint and make the argument that you pay transcendence. However, we are better than our fathers and grandfathers. We now know that efficiency is more important than volume in everything from financial analysis, to online marketing and yes also to professional football. So how efficient is Zeke relative to his peers? Well here we can look to PFF’s RB statistics. Now I don’t like PFF when they try to evaluate players but they can count things like a missed tackle or a fumble. And they do! Source: https://www.pff.com/news/pro-explaining-dallas-cowboys-rb-ezekiel-elliotts-2018-pff-grade Forced missed tackles per game among RBs 2016: 31st 2017: 40th 2018: 35th *Last year Zeke was 1st in total yards after contact but 18th in yards after contact per carry. Breakaway Percentage among Rbs (percentage of yards a RB gains on runs of more than 15 yards) 2018: 15th Fumbles among RBs 2018: 1st Yards per route run among RBs: 2016: 24th 2017: Did not qualify due to suspension 2018: 19th Put all together and PFF’s Eric Eager found Zeke’s production in 2018 was worth just 0.2 wins above a replacement player. Zero. Point. Two. For the laymen out there...that is not a lot. For reference Mahomes who led the league in the metric checked in at 7.49. That is 37.45 times higher than Zeke. If Zeke is worth 15MM a year what do should the Chiefs pay Patrick? Look this is not good. But what many have told me is that the Cowboys offensive line combined with Zeke is where his true value lies. Instead of having just a good running game with our line we have a great running game with Zeke. A truly overbearing force they say! So surely the results of Zeke and the line together is what is most important and we can point to that dominance right? The problem? We know rushing efficiency is not correlated with winning. We know passing efficiency is correlated with winning. Putting this aside we could argue that at the very least situational running is important right (think red zone work, short yardage situations to extend drives and running out the clock in the 4th quarter)? That is where Zeke can point to his value? Thankfully FiveThirtyEight ran the numbers. Source: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/ezekiel-elliott-is-not-worth-the-money-he-wants/ Because winning matters, let’s start with closing out games. If we look at all runs in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys were ahead we can look at how each run increased or decreased our win probability. Win Probability Added in the 4th: 2018: Cowboys ranked 7th overall (Hat tip to Dak) 2018: Zeke ranked 22nd Last 3 years: Zeke lead in attempts but ranked 26th in win probability added. Field goals in the red zone get teams beat. Surely Zeke shined in the red zone? Red zone runs by expected points added: 2018: Cowboys ranked 10th overall 2018: Zeke ranked 16th in EPA and 28th in success rate Last 3 years: Zeke ranked 11th in EPA and 10th in success rate Staying on the field and wearing opposing defenses down is something we have preached since Zeke was drafted. Hopefully this year we don’t fear sending out our defense as much as we have in our recent past. How much has Zeke helped our defense by extending drives on the ground? Short yardage runs in open field by expected points added: 2018: Cowboys ranked 4th overall 2018: Zeke’s EPA ranked 10th, his success rate of 67% was good for 11th Well Zeke helps Dak right? And QB is the most important position in all of sports right? Zeke draws extra defenders into the box and makes our play action more effective right? So yes QBs do well when they run play-action. No, we don't need an efficient RB/game to achieve that enhancement. Look, as I have long acknowledged and accepted and stated as much in this post….The Cowboys are very likely to pay Zeke, make him fabulously wealthy and set some benchmarks other RBs look to hurdle (cough) in coming years. So let’s talk about salary cap efficiency since we’re here “According to data from Overthecap, the share of average team salary allocated to all rostered running backs has fallen from 6.8 percent of spending in 2013 to 4.5 percent in 2019. Zeke’s salary alone in his optioned fifth year will represent 4.5 percent of the Cowboy’s salary cap. If Zeke signs an extension before the 2020 season, his cap hit combined with the rest of Dallas’s spend at the running back position will likely be double the league average.” So if Zeke is going to lead to the Cowboys spending roughly double what the league will then we should expect Zeke to be worth double what a replacement level back is worth, right? Well you remember his 2018 wins above replacement number? Zero. Point. Two. So is Zeke a transcendent talent? What exactly other than volume and counting stats would make you think he was? And before you answer take a look at this: ^^^ This is a good take. Speciilty backs who post big efficiency numbers on minuscule volume are likely not better than Zeke. If they were they'd get more volume! However, Zeke likely isn't appreciably better than a lot of RBs who are in committees and share the load. He's just higher paid, more famous and in a better offense. As we stand and breath nothing but the Cowboys stuffing Zeke with volume and inflating his counting stats points to Zeke being a transcendent talent. In fact you could say he’s been quite average. And this is depressing. When not wanting to pay Zeke I at least knew he was tremendous. I knew he was a special talent. At least we were paying a Hall of Famer! An objective look at his 3 years career to date presents a very different picture. Cognitive dissonance will cause many to dismiss this post. That's fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But no one is entitled to their own facts.