Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard first NFL rookies to finish 1-2 in rushing

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For the first time in NFL history, two rookies stand atop the list of rushing leaders.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott easily won the NFL’s rushing title, finishing with 1,631 yards despite taking Week 17 off. And in something no one could have seen coming at the start of the season, Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard finished second, with 1,313 yards.

That has never happened before in the NFL: Before Elliott only 13 rookies had led the league in rushing, and in none of those seasons had the No. 2 rusher also been a rookie. (Rookies did go 1-2 in rushing twice in the AFL, in 1960 and 1968.)

Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the draft playing in a great offense, was expected to have a big impact as a rookie and exceeded expectations. Howard, the 150th overall pick playing in a bad offense, was a complete surprise.

And so the rookie seasons of Elliott and Howard may lead to some interesting debates heading into the 2017 NFL draft, which has what is expected to be a very strong class of running backs: Do you take a running back with a high pick, or wait for value on Day 3? The Cowboys and Bears took opposite approaches, but both are happy with the results.

42 responses to “Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard first NFL rookies to finish 1-2 in rushing

  1. Elliot sat out an entire game and still finished number 1 in rushing.

    If Dallas was keen on padding stats he could have probably broken the Earl’s record too. Elliot with fresh legs will be run into the ground in the playoffs.

    He’s gonna get fed.

  2. .
    Over the years the position of RB has been downgraded in importance as teams fell in love with the passing game. However, closer scrutiny has revealed that teams who cannot run the ball effectively are destined for disappointment.

    This year’s draft class could have as many as three first round RBs selected. That hasn’t happened in a while.
    .

  3. You know whats funny… i have a Bears fan as a friend who says Howard is better then Lev Bell…. hahaha

    Bears have had a few rookies run for 1000 and then what happened to them…? Google it… A-Train, Salaam… yea.. ONE HIT WONDERS… Last year Bear fans were in love with Langford… they hopped off that train REAL QUICK… NEXT STORY!!

  4. if zeke woulda been more patient in waiting for holes to appear in week one I believe he would’ve surpassed dickersons record. he needed to many yds to warrant him playing wk 17

  5. Make the most of it. 4 huge factors to shorten RBs’ careers:
    1) ever bigger linemen (seem 100lbs heavier than when I played college-level very briefly in the 70s before a career-ending knee).
    2) accumulative CTE concerns
    3) new bio-passports stopping older players juicing (or even just pain-controlling).
    4) mega-salaries allowing earlier retirement.
    All means we could be seeing more records like this by rookies in the future as RBs retire ever younger. “It’s a young man’s game” has never been truer.

  6. It is likely that Bell would have finished ahead of Howard (even though Bell missed 3 games due to suspension) if The Steelers game against the Browns meant anything and Bell would have played.

    Kudos to both these rookies. Hope Howard gets an improved offense next year.

  7. pastabelly says:
    Jan 3, 2017 8:37 AM
    Howard may have had a more impressive year because he was really the only key option Chicago had.

    llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

    LOL….

  8. It’s almost ashame that Howard’s magnificent rookie season has been overshadowed by Elliott’s as they both have been fantastic. Elliott is on his own level but Jordan Howard’s consistent production on a bad team is nothing short of amazing.

  9. Jordan Howard didn’t start until the first week of October. He had minimal action for 4 weeks.

  10. “It’s a young man’s game” has never been truer.
    ———
    Not to disagree but I just wanted to point out that Blount leads the NFL in rushing TD’s (18) at the ripe age of 30.

  11. And so the rookie seasons of Elliott and Howard may lead to some interesting debates heading into the 2017 NFL draft, which has what is expected to be a very strong class of running backs: Do you take a running back with a high pick, or wait for value on Day 3? The Cowboys and Bears took opposite approaches, but both are happy with the results.
    ——–
    That’s like asking if teams are better off waiting to draft a QB in the later rounds because Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins went 3rd round+. If you have a player rated high then go for it. Running back is still a very important offensive position.

    A strong running game helped Marriota take a leap in his development this year and took a huge amount of pressure off of Dak. Arizona disappointed this year but would have been horrendous without David Johnson, At times this season Lesean McCoy was the only offense Buffalo had. Bell carried th steelers down the stretch into the playoffs. No one says QB is devalued when QBs like Luck or Brees can’t get in the playoffs despite strong seasons.

    Elite 3 down backs with the skillset of Bell, David Johnson, Lesean McCoy, etc may be found in later rounds but you have to find them. If you get one in the first round like Elliot take him.

  12. “And in something no one could have seen coming at the start of the season, Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard finished second, with 1,313 yards.” Do us a favor, Michael David Smith: please stop speaking for other people. Maybe YOU didn’t see it coming, but TONS of football people saw a pathway to a starting job for Howard as soon as the day he was drafted, and naturally any starting RB who proves to have significant talent can be among the league’s leading rushers, especially when these days it only takes about 1,300 yards rushing to finish at #2.

  13. Howard too slow, he got caught from behind when he had the whole field in front of him I think against the Packers. Zeke would never be caught from behind. Zeke also led all RBs in yardage AFTER contact, so there goes your great offensive o-line argument.

  14. Keep in mind with Jordan Howard —who had an amazing season— that it hasn’t been uncommon over the years for runningbacks to have their best seasons while playing on bad teams.

    Defensive coordinators weren’t wasting a great deal of time trying to figure out how to beat the Bears. It becomes a lot tougher sledding when you’re the top team in the league and you’re playing prime-time football nearly every weekend.

    Again, Jordan Howard is special, but let’s not oversimplify this to “Zeke has a better offensive line.” Zeke also has to deal with teams selling out completely to stop him because teams know he’s great, they know his line is great, etc.

    Every backup RB the Cowboys had this year failed to hit 4.0 yards per carry. Food for thought.

  15. Plus Jordan Howard didn’t even start until week 4. Very impressive season. Chicago does have a nice o-line but had a lot of injuries to it this year. I think he’s gonna stick around for a while

  16. If Howard had gotten all of the 1st team reps those initial few weeks, he might have really challenged for the overall title.

    He has great vision and knows when to accelerate to the second and third level.

    Always nice to have a bright spot on a terribly awful team.

  17. The Boys coulda had Howard or Henry in the 2nd after taking Ramsey in the 1st and so would’ve STILL had a 1,000 yard rusher to go to with a shutdown corner rather than a slightly better RB and a guy who everyone knew wouldn’t play this year and may never get into a pro game ala Marcus Lattimore.

    Henry/Howard + Ramsey >>>> Elliot + Smith

  18. Jordan Howard is the truth. All the Bears need is an equivalent to him at QB, 4 of him starting in the D backfield and another one at TE and they will be close to having a competitive roster.

    As a Bears fan I’m glad he’s 1st Pro Bowl alternate but praying he doesn’t get called to actually play. With the injury mojo that was in Halas Hall this season he needs to be bubble wrapped till opening day 2017.

  19. Was at the Bears game Sunday, and you can say what you want about that team’s performance Sunday, but they ran the ball very effectively with Howard — he looks like the real deal. And better yet, he doesn’t beat his girlfriend or wear crop top shirts.

  20. Yards per carry:

    Howard: 5.2

    Elliott: 5.1

    Put Jordan Howard behind the Cowboys line and watch that number go up even more.

  21. Stop for a minute At the start of every game the concept is to win, not to gain yards rushing. At 3-13 the Bears seem to have lost track of that fact.

    If you don’t have a good or great QB all the other positions in the NFL game are not that big a deal these days.

    Howard had a great year and the Bears went backward in 16 from 15.

  22. bighoser says:
    Jan 3, 2017 11:13 AM
    The Boys coulda had Howard or Henry in the 2nd after taking Ramsey in the 1st and so would’ve STILL had a 1,000 yard rusher to go to with a shutdown corner rather than a slightly better RB and a guy who everyone knew wouldn’t play this year and may never get into a pro game ala Marcus Lattimore.

    Henry/Howard + Ramsey >>>> Elliot + Smith
    ——————————————————–

    Maybe this year. But, Elliot is a big reason Dallas is as good as they are this year. Next year if Smith returns to form, then I would take that combo any day.

  23. 6thsense10 says:
    Jan 3, 2017 9:57 AM

    That’s like asking if teams are better off waiting to draft a QB in the later rounds because Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins went 3rd round+. If you have a player rated high then go for it. Running back is still a very important offensive position.

    A strong running game helped Marriota take a leap in his development this year and took a huge amount of pressure off of Dak. Arizona disappointed this year but would have been horrendous without David Johnson, At times this season Lesean McCoy was the only offense Buffalo had. Bell carried th steelers down the stretch into the playoffs. No one says QB is devalued when QBs like Luck or Brees can’t get in the playoffs despite strong seasons.

    Elite 3 down backs with the skillset of Bell, David Johnson, Lesean McCoy, etc may be found in later rounds but you have to find them. If you get one in the first round like Elliot take him.

    ——————————-

    Arizona lost or tied five games because of special teams, mostly snaps and holds.

    They were top 10 in offense and defense. Their plus/minus was only 6 points less then Seattle at plus 56. If you’re wondering only THREE NFC teams had a better differential. The season finished 7-8-1.

    When David Johnson went out the last game early (which is likely why the whole rookie 1-2 thing happened) they slaughtered the Rams 44-6 without him.

    David Johnson has an amazing skillset. He had 2100 yards rushing+receiving and 20 TD’s behind the Cardinals injured OL (which is also one reason why Palmer fared worse). It should of been more.

    Palmer can make all the throws, but when Floyd is dogging routes, dropping balls, and DUI’ing, John Brown has sickle cell and is small, Jaron Brown goes down, J.J. Nelson is fast but small and is really your only major receiver after slot receiver Fitz who isn’t a #1 anymore behind that injured line. Our WR’s were basically Fitz in slot and two small guys, one with sickle cell.

    When your offense is predicated on the deep throw and you don’t have the receivers to run it, or the ol to block it. Yet still they did decent on offense. 418 points.

    The Cardinals WR core has some major wholes and despite what people think, we really need to draft TWO (or through free agency). Fitz is a slot receiver, not a #1. He may return, he many not. Floyd is gone.

    The Cardinals have a great roster, and everything that could go bad, did… except David Johnson doesn’t need surgery. That’s about the only break of the season.

    Think about it. Blocked punts, field goals, bad snaps on field goals, punts. Bad holds. Special teams screwed the cards, ol, and wr.

    It is hard to remember all the bad special teams juju, so I’ll recap it.

    Week 1: Bad snap at game end led to missed field goal as time expired against what turned out to be the 14-2 Patriots (without Brady). At home.

    Week 4: 47 yard punt return to Tavon Austin in 4th quarter giving Rams win. At home.

    Week 7: Against Seattle, tons of special teams issues in what was a defensive beat down against Seattle. Was 6-0 Cardinals until the Refs nearly handed Seattle the victory. Throw in a jump over the center field goal block. Only to then have a questionable snap throw off the timing and missed a game winning field goal in overtime. Luckily Hauschka did too and the game ended in a tie. Even though the Cardinals defense dominated Seattle for about 5X minutes.

    Week 11, Cordarrelle Patterson ran opening kickoff of the 2nd half 104 yards for a TD, plus some other bs. Cards lost 30-24.

    Week 14, three missed kicks, a PAT blocked and returned for 2 points, and giving up a big punt return when it counts the worst loses the game 26-23.

    If it only happens once or twice Cardinals are in the playoffs. But five times? They are 7-8-1.

  24. Oh I also forgot the Bills game. Where the Cards were in it, until a bad snap on a fg went over the holders head and they returned it for a td. This led to Palmer pressing, which is why he had those 4 4th quarter INT’s. There was also a Honey Badger whiff on a fumble three times until it went out of bounds.

    …and there’s more stuff but that’s enough. As you can see, special teams killed the cards, and OL/WR injuries didn’t help.

  25. Howard is just another example of why I would never waste a first round pick on a running back.. also I don’t care what people think, I’m taking Howard over elliot all day. Howard put his yards in way less games, as he barely played the first 3 weeks and was litterally the only thinges defenses had to stop and still made plays.. elliot will get all the ink but the better player, at least hi his arms was Howard.

  26. Also, not to denigrate Howard, but the Bears O-Line was actually a pretty solid unit for them this year, despite multiple lineup changes made necessary by injury. If the QBs, WRs and secondary had been half as capable as the Bears O-Line they could have won at least 3 more games than they did.

  27. Lost in this discussion is the news of Bears RB coach Stan Drayton leaving to help coach the Texas Longhorns. He recruited and developed Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State AND was Jordan Howard’s running backs coach this season. Not bad when both your guys end up #1 and #2 in the rushing stats.

  28. Yet another Cowboy benefitting only from his O-line. Elliott’s good, but he’d have tough sledding with a mediocre line. Not the first clown Dallas has had who got the luxury. That might be why Barry Sanders has more consideration as best RB of all time rather than the career rushing title holder. Put Barry behind the line Smith had, he’d have set the record in the short time he played. Give it a year, other teams besides the Giants will figure out how to stop Dallas if they haven’t already. Seattle, GB, NY, or Atlanta will end Dallas’ season before the SB. All playoff tested teams with deep postseason pushes unlike the Cowboys.

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