At least one prominent draft analyst believes Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott will be selected within the first four picks of the 2016 NFL draft.
ESPN’s Louis Riddick, a former pro scout and NFL personnel executive, said on Twitter he would be “shocked” if Elliott isn’t picked before or by the fourth pick, which is currently held by the Dallas Cowboys.
“Have not heard the kind of praise for a running back like I have heard for Ezekiel Elliott as far as his football intelligence,” tweeted Riddick, who also called Elliott a “special combination of skills and character.”
The Cowboys look like his most likely landing spot inside the top four, considering the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers won’t be expected to target a running back at the top of the draft. Dallas has a potential need at the position, even with Darren McFadden coming off a 1,000-yard season in 2015.
Elliott is entering the NFL after back-to-back seasons with over 1,800 rushing yards for Ohio State. He helped the Buckeyes win a National Championship in 2014, when he abused Alabama (230 yards, two touchdowns) and Oregon (246, four) in back-to-back games in the College Football Playoffs. Elliott finished off his collegiate career with four touchdowns in Ohio State’s win over Notre Dame in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl.
Asked which NFL team he wanted to play for, Elliott had a quick answer.
“The Dallas Cowboys,” Elliott said. “I want to go play behind that great offensive line they have down in Dallas.”
A running back hasn’t been selected in the top-five picks of a draft since 2012, when the Browns took Trent Richardson at No. 3 overall. Last season, the Los Angeles Rams took Todd Gurley with the 10th pick, while the Chargers later drafted Melvin Gordon at No. 15.
In a draft lacking star power, an elite running back like Elliott could sneak into the first five selections.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared Elliott to former Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James, who was the fourth overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft. He went on to rush for over 12,000 yards and 80 touchdowns.
The Cowboys have been linked to a variety of players at No. 4 overall, but Elliott and his diverse skill set might be tough to pass up for a team that won 12 games behind NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray in 2014.