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Ezekiel Elliott considers himself a 'slob,' which is a good thing

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick because of what he does while running with the football.

What mattered most in the evaluating process was his nearly 3,700 yards rushing in 2014 and '15 at Ohio State. He was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year as well as the running back of the year. He led the Big Ten with 10.6 points per game, 23 touchdowns and 156.9 all-purpose yards per game.

In the four games that mattered most -- either the Big Ten championship, bowl game or playoff game -- Elliott averaged 211.3 yards per game on the ground and scored 12 touchdowns.

But what separated Elliott from other running backs in the 2016 draft class and many in earlier draft classes, is what he does when he’s not running the ball.

He was a devastating blocker. He can still remember the kudos he received from the coaches from a game at Penn State as a sophomore when he came across the formation to, as he called it, “stone a guy off the edge.”

“I went out of my way to become close with those guys because I think that is important,” Elliott said. “They embraced me as kind of an honorary lineman. We call them the 'slobs' at Ohio State. I think what helped that is my willingness to block just like them. They kind of accepted me with open arms.”

Elliott views blocking as a way to help his running.

“The way I approach things is that I’m a physical player,” Elliott said. “Every play I’m trying to get as many shots on the opposing team as I can so when you get to the fourth quarter they obviously don’t want to be on the field anymore.”

The Cowboys have built their team through the offensive line. They have three Pro Bowlers in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin.

“As an offensive lineman, I do like to run block better than I like to pass block,” Frederick said. “But I do whatever I’m asked to do. But you can tell there’s a commitment there if they’re going to put as many resources into the run game as they have. But obviously the passing game works together with the run game, so what I love is that there’s not really a spot anywhere on our offense that you can see on our team that you can say 'Wow, that’s really just a weak part of our team. That’s really a weak part of our offense or a weak part of our running game.' It’s good to have that well-roundedness, and hopefully we can keep everybody together and get everybody on the same page.”

Not to minimize the importance of a running back’s ability to block, especially considering the importance of keeping Tony Romo upright, but a coach should be able to make any runner proficient enough at blocking.

What he can’t teach is vision and natural pass-catching skills. Elliott said he began his career as a slot receiver, so he developed those skills early.

In his final two years with the Buckeyes, Elliott caught 55 passes. That’s what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes. Darren McFadden caught 40 passes last year for 328 yards. In addition to rushing for 1,845 yards in 2014, DeMarco Murray caught 57 passes for 416 yards.

Going back to his last year in Detroit, Linehan’s top backs, Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, had more than 50 catches.

“He’s got real natural hands,” Linehan said of Elliott. “He’s got a really natural feel in the passing game, which is really unusual for a bigger back to be really well-rounded in the passing game. He’s had a lot of experience using his skills out of the backfield catching balls. I think they did a great job of using him in college that. That was one of the things I was really impressed with him leading up to the draft, in the workouts, was the passing game versatility he was able to show. That gave us a good feel for him to be able to use as a running back but also as an option in the passing game.”