Jim Schwartz Should Push Hard For Ezekiel Elliott

Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott participates in drills during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott participates in drills during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

New Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz Should Push Hard for Running Back Ezekiel Elliott In The Draft

Ball Control. Controlling the Clock. To a defensive coordinator, there are few transactions on the team offense that gives reason to smile. But if the truth be known, the one thing that could make Jim Schwartz smile would be to witness the Philadelphia Eagles draft Ezekiel Elliott. Perhaps Schwartz had an opportunity to speak with Elliott, who seemed to feel very wanted by the team after his visit this past Wednesday, April 13, 2016.

It’s been a long time coming for the Philadelphia Eagles fans to see strong defensive play. Ever since the passing of beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, the team and fans have struggled to find a defensive coordinator. Hindering that search was head coach Andy Reid‘s willingness to give offensive line coach Juan Castillo a shot at the defense, and later head coach Chip Kelly’s offense pitting the team’s defense into far greater number of plays than other NFL teams in a given season.

But somehow, this year feels different.  With the arrival of Schwartz, the team has already taken on the personality of the coach; a hard hitting never-back-down guy.  To help his defense manage the complexities of the opposing offense, Schwartz has simplified the defense.  So far, that has worked wonders, as Schwartz has had success on the defensive side of the ball.  But the curious matter of his success is that he has not owed any of that success to the offense.  At both Detroit and Buffalo, his offense had more success passing the ball than running it. So far, that is.

But the Eagles’ offense is an enigma today.  With the top three skill players being carved from the team by the misunderstandings of head coach Chip Kelly like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy, the offense is productive but somewhat anonymous.  The offense in 2015 really did not have much of an identity with the team using a committee at running back, and with a covey of young receivers who had good moments book-ended by bad moments.  The final record of 7-9 was not encouraging.

More from Eagles Draft

While the team is certainly pursuing a quarterback in this draft, the recent trade up to the first position of the Los Angeles Rams suggests that the Rams will likely take a quarterback at the first slot.  With the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers also in the quarterback hunt, the Eagles may find they have neither Carson Wentz nor Jared Goff available.  If that is the case, the team will still need to find an identity for the offense.

Elliott does that.  From the beginning of this off-season, the team has clearly elected to take a new path on both offense and defense.   Trading away Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, the team has severed the ties with the pricey free agents from a year ago, and in the process have moved up the draft board from 14 to 8.  That position should net the Philadelphia Eagles a true day one starter.   So why waste such a lofty pick on a running back, a position which has been deeply discounted in recent years?

He’s that good, or rather, he’s that good for the defense.

Ezekiel Elliott, as most rookies emerging into the NFL, has some areas where he will need to adapt to the rigors of the more physical professional game.  But he is an explosive downhill runner with exceptional vision, balance and body control. His wheelhouse is running between the tackles, but can also show an occasional burst of speed and quickness to test defenses at the corner on outside runs, particularly if they lean in. He has enough versatility to contribute as a receiver, while his pass blocking in the backfield is top-notch. While he had three-years at Ohio State with only 58 receptions, he has great hands  and his route-running ability could make him a dynamic weapon to feature in a diverse offense.  Considering his solid skills as a pass protector, Elliott is the most complete back in the 2016 class by a significant margin. He is not the fastest burner in the backfield however, and he will beat defenses with his deceptive power rather than blinding speed.

While it’s true that the running back is not as valued of a position as it had been in the past, the Eagles new head coach Doug Pederson has just come from the Kansas City Chiefs, and will likely try his utmost to replicate some of the quality of that team.   In the Chiefs arsenal, they rely heavily upon the legs and hands of running back Jamaal Charles.  Right now, the Eagles have just Ryan Matthews, who is quite capable of working with a rookie, but who has seen better days.  Meanwhile, the Eagles receivers are still young, and have not quite taken over the reigns left by the duo of Jackson and Maclin.

Next: Peter King Believes Philadelphia Eagles Can Win 12 Games

It comes down to who the team wants, and if the team was honest to Elliott, he is their guy.  It may be that a super bowl contender does not depend upon the legs of a running back any longer.   But until the Eagles enter the elite of the NFL, they will need to win games.  Right now, it appears that the team is structured to do just that with a stronger than hoped for defense.  The best compliment to that defense is a no turnover running offense.

Yes, the team can go in several directions in the NFL draft.  But if they cannot sign up the future franchise quarterback at eight, the next best thing would be to sign up the future identity of the offense.  It’s time to make the right moves.  If the Eagles go for Elliott in the draft, you know which direction the team is going.