Just four weeks into the 2021 season, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott suffered what was later revealed to be a partially torn PCL in his knee, an injury that would have ended the season of many players.
But Elliott forged ahead, playing through the pain for the the rest of the season and into the playoffs, putting up numbers that might not have been to up to his usual standard but were still outstanding considering the circumstances.
When asked about the difficulty of playing every week with such an injury, the 26-year-old only said he believes it was just what is expected in football, and he had never considered sitting out.
"I mean, I was hurt last year, but it's football, after Week 1 no one is going to be 100%. That's part of the game," Elliott said after Dallas' OTA workouts on Thursday. "I think I knew I was tough, I think I knew I could play through injuries … it was definitely tough, but hey, it's my job."
Even despite the injury, Elliott still started every game for the Cowboys, including Dallas' Wild Card Round loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He collected 1,002 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, adding another 287 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He finished with the seventh-most rushing yards and tied for seventh in the league in rushing TDs.
For many other running backs around the NFL, that would be a career year. But not Elliott.
The former first-round pick has consistently played at such a high level in his six years in the league, rushing for over 900 yards every season and over 1,300 in three of them, that he still feels that he still needs to prove himself this year after not playing at full strength last year.
"I think every year we've got something to prove,'' Elliott said.
And his continual dedication to the team has not gone unnoticed, as guard Zack Martin said the whole team recognizes how far Elliott has been willing to go in recent years in order to contribute to a team that has often found itself struggling due to injuries.
"He's a bulldog,'' Martin said. "He loves this team and he gives everything of himself for this team. The last two years, that's shown. Think back to 2020. Half of the offense is out and Zeke is still in there carrying the ball 20 times a game. So, we've got a lot of love on this team for Zeke, and we're pumped to get him back going the right direction."
At this point in the offseason, Elliott appears to be well on his way to regaining his former standing among the top running backs. After a few months of rehab, the PCL injury has fully healed, and coach Mike McCarthy even claimed that Elliott had been clocked at 22 mph in a recent practice. Elliott shook off McCarthy's words as an exaggeration, but a healthy Ezekiel Elliott would be a dangerous tool for a Cowboys offense that is looking to re-establish itself and make it back to the playoffs.