Ezekiel Elliott's ribs aren't simply touching right now -- they're rubbing against one another. The two-time All-Pro is starving to do two things in 2021: reunite with Dak Prescott on the field and to help lift the Dallas Cowboys out of disappointment and into a deep playoff run. Notice the absence of a third goal there, namely to prove he's the best running back in the NFL, having done so on at least two occasions before with his rushing titles in 2016 and 2018.
That's because Elliott has often made it clear it's not about his individual numbers, but with that said, it is most certainly about winning and respect. And everyone in his circle will tell you he feels the latter falling short of where he'd like it to be, but he's also not naive as to why. Given the changes to his offseason training regimen heading into 2021, however, all signs point to a return to form -- and possibly one the NFL hasn't seen yet.
"Zeke looks great," Prescott told media at the close of minicamp. "He's in the best shape of his life -- looking fast. Everybody's seen the clips of him working out independently with his running back coach. His cuts, just how explosive he is.
"Excited to have a full year with him again and getting him healthy throughout the whole season. When Zeke's healthy and Zeke's doing his thing, he's the best running back in the league. It's just exciting to see him in the best shape of his life, or [at least the] best shape he's been in the NFL. That's going to be special for us moving forward."
Kellen Moore, the team's newly re-signed offensive coordinator could not agree more.
"I think he looks really, really good," said Moore. "Just fast, crisp. In and out of things. He looks really good and we're excited."
Elliott is coming off of his worst statistical season in the NFL, and it was fueled by several factors.
He suffered a rash of turnovers last season and the absence of Prescott was devastating to the offense as a whole -- with opposing defenses no longer fearing the Cowboys passing attack (i.e., keying in solely on Elliott). The carousel of poor QB play also stifled the run game on the whole, because Dallas was consistently forced to play from behind and become one-dimensional as they tried to claw their way back into games. In the end, Elliott finished with a career-low mark of 979 rushing yards and tied his career-low in rushing touchdowns (6), while his fumble tally (6) were tied for career-high.
Still, when looking at the entire pie and the crust as well, rumors of his demise might've been greatly exaggerated. The three-time Pro Bowler produced 1,317 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns with only two fewer receptions (52) than his career-high mark (54) set in 2020 with Prescott under center, and his efficiency was still mostly impressive when considering his snap count (69 percent) was the lowest since 2017, when he missed six games due to suspension, and he did it all while battling a calf bruise on the back half of the season and after contracting COVID-19 in the summer.
Additionally, quiet as it's kept, five of his six fumbles were from Week 1 through Week 6, with Elliott fumbling just once from Week 7 through Week 17 -- a complete about-face in that category that stands to carryover into 2021.
In other words, don't go throwing Elliott's career in a casket just yet, especially considering his last full slate with Prescott saw him deliver 1,777 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns (that TD tally being second-best only to his record-setting rookie season). Also only two seasons removed from breaking the 2,000-yard mark in scrimmage yards, a leaner, quicker, faster and more determined Elliott is looking to do serious damage in 2021 -- particularly with his QB1 back under center.
"He's definitely been locked in," said running back Tony Pollard of Elliott. "I can tell he's [taken] the right step forward this offseason -- getting his diet right and getting in shape. Me and him, you know, we worked out a lot of times during the offseason. So, we're both locked in this offseason getting ready
"... [He's] just being hungry. Our whole goal here is to win it all. ... We want to win it all."
Elliott is taking measures to make sure that if the Cowboys do hoist a Lombardi this season, he'll be a key reason for it. Having seen most of the league begin shifting it's RB attention to other deserving players like Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, etc., it's beginning to feel as if Elliott is somehow becoming an afterthought for those who believe he'll never regain his throne because of his presence and/or the wear and tear at the position.
But still just 25 years old and, by all accounts, in better shape than even his breakout rookie year, he's scraping his fork and spoon together this offseason -- hungry to remind everyone of a few things they might've forgotten when it comes to his abilities.