How do you define an NFL playmaker? There isn’t a strict definition, but for us, we’re talking about players who can do the remarkable any time they’re on the field. It can be a quarterback who can improvise or uncork a 50-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye. It can be a running back who can use power, speed, or elusiveness to create something out of nothing. It can be a wide receiver who does the seemingly impossible while making a catch. It can even be a defensive player capable of that game-changing strip sack or a defensive back who can end an opposing possession just like that. These are the biggest game-changers, the guys who can make the biggest plays.
Here are the 20 best playmakers in the NFL.
20) Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
The only thing that has held Zeke back has been his suspension. Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game for the second consecutive season, though his mark of 98.3 was lower than his stellar 108.7 yards per game as a rookie in 2016. He has 12 career 100-yard rushing games and is very often rushing for at least 80 yards in a game. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry as a rookie and had a big play of 60 yards. Expect him to continue breaking big plays and consistently ranking among the league’s best rushers in 2018.
Ezekiel Elliott has a chance to reclaim his spot as one of the best running backs in football if he plays a full season in 2018, but the NFL Network is going to make him earn it. The Cowboys star is clearly feeling up to the challenge.
When NFL Network released its annual list of the league’s top 100 players a year ago, Elliott checked in at No. 7. He tumbled all the way down to No. 54 this year, but he insists he is not sweating it.
“It is what it is. I missed six games,” Elliott said, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “I know the player I am. You guys know the player I am. Every player in the league knows the player I am. I don’t really need verification from a Top 100 list.”
Elliott, of course, was suspended for six games last season stemming from his role in an alleged domestic violence incident. With no restrictions on how much he can play this season, he expects his ranking to shoot back up a year from now.
“It should be,” he said.
The NFL Network’s Top 100 list is always controversial, and one player already expressed his frustration over where he was ranked. Elliott should have plenty of motivation to bounce back in 2018, and his low ranking can only help.
- Ezekiel Elliott
Dez Bryant may no longer be a member of the Dallas Cowboys, but he still has Ezekiel Elliott in his corner.
Elliott took a break from tweeting about the Eastern Conference Finals to express his support for Dez.
Doubt 88 all you want. He gone ball regardless #ThrowUpTheX
— Ezekiel Elliott (@EzekielElliott) May 16, 2018
“Doubt 88 all you want. He gone ball regardless,” Elliott said of Bryant.
Not a ton of Cowboys talked about Bryant after the Cowboys released him in the offseason, perhaps because they were told not to. But Elliott has supported him all along, calling the move “tough” last month.
Bryant remains a free agent following his release by the Cowboys and seems to indicate that is by intention. His former teammate Jason Witten thinks Dez will end up signing with one NFC North team.
Ezekiel Elliott knows that losing Dez Bryant was not easy.
The Dallas Cowboys running back spoke about the team’s decision to release Bryant, who had been with the franchise for eight years.
Ezekiel Elliott to @JJT_Journalist on Dez Bryant being released: “That was tough. Dez is someone that we are all very close with. He was a leader on our team. He was one of our better players. It’s just the nature of the game. It’s a business, and it just shows you that.”
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 23, 2018
“That was tough. Dez is someone that we are all very close with. He was a leader on our team. He was one of our better players. It’s just the nature of the game. It’s a business, and it just shows you that,” Elliott told Jean-Jacques Taylor, according to Jon Machota.
Bryant’s release was somewhat anticipated given some of Stephen Jones’ comments about the wide receiver. It’s also clear that Dallas preferred to just move on from Dez because they didn’t even offer him the chance to take a pay cut.
Finding a receiver to replace Bryant won’t be easy, but signing Allen Hurns and adding someone via the draft could help.
It’s safe to say Ezekiel Elliott wants Richard Sherman to join him on the Dallas Cowboys.
Sherman had posted to Twitter thanking everyone for his support after his release along with a message to many fans telling him to sign with their team.
Thank you to everyone for the kind words. This is just another chapter in the journey. This will be an ongoing process and I am excited to take on this challenge. To the fans urging me to join your team, I am humbled but I can only look at the teams that have reached out.
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) March 10, 2018
Elliott decided to go a step further than the fans, openly calling on Sherman to join the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl.
Come over here and get another ring. https://t.co/MKBry2TbwU
— Ezekiel Elliott (@EzekielElliott) March 10, 2018
The bad news for Sherman is that, at this point, he doesn’t appear to have a visit with Dallas on his schedule, though Elliott may be able to greet him if he joins up with an NFC rival.
Ezekiel Elliott has found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on more than one occasion since he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, but the team is not planning to monitor him more closely this offseason than other players.
Or so they say.
On Tuesday, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones complimented Elliott for the way the 22-year-old has handled himself since his suspension. Jones also said the team will not take extra measures to make sure the running back stays out of trouble.
“You can only do so much” he said, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “These are grown men. I have a lot of confidence that Zeke has learned a lot. Hopefully he has. Because if he has and he changes his behavior and he’s able to stay on the field, we all know he can be one of the greatest to ever play the game, if he takes care of himself and takes care of his business off the field. I think Zeke wants that. He’s a competitor. I think he wants to be one of the best.”
Elliott’s domestic violence case received the most attention and was ultimately what resulted in him getting suspended for six games, but that is hardly the only incident that landed him in the headlines for the wrong reasons. He was also accused of breaking a man’s nose at a bar and infamously exposed a woman’s breast during a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
While the idea of having personal babysitters may seem absurd, the Cowboys have reportedly done it in the past to make sure Dez Bryant fulfills his responsibilities to the team. Even if Jones says the team has no plans to do the same with Elliott, you can bet the former Ohio State star will be getting more phone calls this offseason than some of his teammates.
- Ezekiel Elliott
The Seattle Seahawks did an admirable enough job of keeping Ezekiel Elliott from hurting them too much in his first game back from suspension, and they took motivation from an interesting source.
After being mauled a week earlier by Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, the Seahawks knew that they had to keep Elliott from beating him. It looked like they were in trouble after a 51 yard first quarter, but buckled down to keep him at 97 yards and no touchdowns.
It turns out that Seahawks defenders had taken note of Eric Dickerson’s comments about Elliott going for a 200-yard game, and they didn’t like it much.
“He had that bet,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner, via Jori Epstein of SportsDay. “We wanted to make sure he didn’t win it.”
Cornerback Justin Coleman admitted that mimicking Elliott’s celebration in the Salvation Army kettle after a pick six on a pass that was intended for the running back wasn’t coincidental.
There was a lot of hype around Elliott’s return. It turns out it all had a side effect of giving the Seattle defense a lot of bulletin board material that they used to their advantage.