Eric Dickerson offered a deep chuckle. “Yes, it has happened before.”
Marshall Faulk said it. Steven Jackson did, too. So did Ricky Williams, as well as Mark Ingram.
Over the years, many brash young running backs have approached Dickerson as they were about to begin their NFL careers. All had the same message for the Pro Football Hall of Fame honoree: They were going to go after his rookie rushing record.
So, Dickerson wasn’t shocked when Ezekiel Elliott told him the same thing before this season. Dickerson figured Elliott was just like all the rest before him and wished him luck.
However, once Dickerson – who keeps close tabs of today’s running backs – saw Elliott do his work with the Dallas Cowboys, he decided that Elliott actually does have a chance to do what the others weren’t able to do.
“He has a chance,” Dickerson told All22.com in a phone interview on Wednesday. “He really has a lot going for him. I love the way he reads his blocks. He has a great offensive line and that’s a big part of it, too. I don’t care how talented you are, you need a good offensive line. And that line doesn’t give up any penetration in the backfield. … He’s just doing a great job overall with everything he has to work with.”
Elliott, the fourth-overall choice of the draft, has 703 rushing yards through six games for the Cowboys, who are 5-1 and on their bye this week. Dickerson set the rookie rushing record in 1983 with the Los Angeles Rams with 1,808 yards. Dickerson had 793 yards through six games.
So, Elliott has Dickerson’s record in sight.
Dickerson is happy to see it. He has kept in touch with Elliott, and in fact, he gave him some early season advice when he started fairly slowly. Elliott had 51 yards on 20 rush attempts in the season opener against the New York Giants. The next week, he had 83 yards on 21 carries against Washington.
Dickerson said he watched Elliott’s slow start and offered some encouragement.
“I texted him and told him to just relax and let it happen.” Dickerson said. “When that happens with backs, you see them start having success.”
Elliott has certainly relaxed. His lowest yardage total in the past four games was 134 yards. He is the first rookie running back to have four straight games of 130 yards or more. Dickerson said he wants Elliott and all running backs to have success.
“I’m a back and I hate when people say the running back position is dead,” Dickerson said. “It’s not like when I played when almost every team has a good running back. There aren’t that many. But there are some, and I want to see all those guys do well.”
Dickerson likes Elliott’s patience and how he works with his blockers and he believes he has a chance for long-term success.
Dickerson said the toughest part of his rookie season was adjusting to the NFL schedule. Dickerson didn’t have his first 100-yard rushing game until his fourth game. However, in games 4 through 11, Dickerson broke the 100-yard mark every game but one. Then, however, he started to fade. He had 100-yard games in just two of this final five games of the season. The Rams played two playoff games that season and Dickerson had 99 yards in one and 15 yards in the other.
So, while Elliott is on pace for a rookie record 1,875-yard season (Dallas receiver Dez Bryant recently predicted Elliott would rush for 2,000 yards this season), he will have to be aware of the dreaded rookie wall.
“You come in and you are used to playing 11-12 games in college and then you have to play 16 games,” Dickerson said. “I hit that wall and kind of stuck there. I was worn out. I dropped from about 225 pounds to 212. I honestly was ready for the season to be over because I wasn’t used to it. By the next year, I knew what to expect and I was ready for it and I got 2,000 yards (an NFL record 2,105) that year. … I think all rookies had to deal with that. So (Elliott) will have to be ready for the stretch run. It gets really hard for the rookies.”
The way Elliott is going, he has the best chance to challenge Dickerson’s record. Edgerrin James has the second-most rushing yards by a rookie; he had 1,553 yards rushing for the Indianapolis Colts in 1999.
Dickerson has set the bar high. Many have targeted his record and Elliott is just the latest to do so. But, most importantly, he looks like the one who actually has a chance to erase the 33-year-old record.