*Blocking has been a big factor in the development of Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott as an elite prospect. He hopes it will carry him towards a top pick in this year's draft. *
He'll certainly have to prove his point, but Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott believes that the recent trend of passing over running backs – de-valuing them based on their shorter shelf lives in the league – is starting to change again.
"I think the guys last year that were first-round picks like Todd Gurley, they set a standard for the younger generation coming up," Elliott said. "I feel we're going to bring it back."
Gurley, drafted 10th overall by the Rams, played in 13 games last year, rushing for 1,106 yards on 229 carries along with 188 receiving yards, which earned him offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Elliot would like to continue what Gurley started, which is to say he feels like he can contribute in a variety of ways that make him extremely valuable.
"I think the thing that sets me apart is my versatility," Elliott said. "I'm a guy that can play three downs. You don't have to take me off the field. I value blocking more than anything. I obviously love to run the ball and I think I have great hands out of the backfield."
In three years at Ohio State, which included a National Championship in 2014, Elliott rushed for 3,961 yards, averaged 6.7 yards per carry along with 43 touchdowns. He compounded that with 449 receiving yards and a touchdown, part of the versatility he feels strongly he can bring to the NFL.
It hasn't just been about the highlights and statistics for Elliott. Part of his love for football extends in his other responsibility as a running back: blocking. When he first started playing football at seven years old, Elliott was a fullback and his primary role was blocking for his teammate behind him.
"When I first got to Ohio State I realized I wasn't going to be the biggest or fastest guy, I was only 17 playing with a bunch of 22- and 21-year old guys, so I was trying to find something that would set me apart," he said. "And that day I realized it was just effort. Not everyone is willing to go out there and play with a lot of effort. And blocking is another thing that running backs aren't really willing to do. That's a part of my game. I really made it important to me to become very good at."
After his freshman year, Elliott progressed in learning blitz pickups at the college level, enhancing a valuable skill that NFL coaches often still dedicate time to teaching.
For the advanced help, Elliott can thank his former running backs coach Stan Drayton, now a member of the Chicago Bears staff.
"He was hard on me since I got on campus. He's really the biggest reason why I'm here today, why I'm the back I am today," Elliott said. "He made sure when I learned this position that I learned it thoroughly, that I learned not just what I do but what the guys around me do. That made me understand the game so much better. He taught me how to anticipate instead just off of reactions off of instinct. That made me play faster and made me into a great player."
According to a Pro Football Focus study, Elliott turned in the best pass-blocking grade at his position and dropped just one pass on 27 catchable passes this past season. Scouts believe that he could crack the Top 10 of this year's draft mainly because of his three-down durability.
And while Gurley found a home where he could excel as the lead running back right away, Elliott isn't going to waste time worrying about the breadth of his role somewhere he has no idea about yet.
"Honestly that's something I can't really control," Elliott said at the NFL Combine. "All I'm going to do is go out tomorrow, compete and give teams a reason to pick me."