RB Index, Week 12: Zeke is most important RB down the stretch

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As Ezekiel Elliott goes, so go the Dallas Cowboys.

He has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL since Dallas' bye in Week 8, leading the league in rushing yards (334) and scrimmage yards (500) in that span. His jump in production couldn't have been timed any better, with first place in the NFC East up for grabs on Thanksgiving Day. Ahead of Thursday's showdown between the 5-5 Cowboys and the 6-4 Washington Redskins, who just lost quarterback Alex Smith for the season, there are a ton of uncertainties surrounding the rest of the division. Colt McCoy, who has a 7-18 career record as a starter, is set to be Washington's QB1 the rest of the way. I'm not sure what's going on in Philadelphia (the Eagles are 4-6 after a four-game stretch in which they went 1-3 and were outscored 114-68), and the 3-7 New York Giants are trying to salvage their season after notching recent back-to-back wins.

So now the Cowboys, who have won back-to-back games for the first time this season, look to be the front-runners to win the NFC East, making Elliott the most important running back in the NFL the rest of the way.

His impact directly correlates with the team's wins and losses. In games Elliott has played in since 2016, the Cowboys are 24-5 when he rushes for at least 70 yards and 0-6 when he rushes for fewer than 70 yards, per NFL Research. This season specifically, Dallas is 4-1 when Zeke rushes for more than 100 yards in a game and 1-4 when he does not hit that mark. And the Cowboys are 5-2 when Zeke has at least 40 rushing yards in the first half and 0-3 in games in which he does not.

Like I said ... as Zeke goes, they go.

The Cowboys have leaned more heavily on their Pro Bowl running back since trading for receiver Amari Cooper during the bye week, and it's paying off. In the three games following the Oct. 22 swap with the Raiders, Elliott has averaged roughly three touches, 23 rushing yards, 53 scrimmage yards and 1.5 yards per touch more per game than he did in the seven previous games. He's also recorded three straight games with at least 100 scrimmage yards.

His ability to open up the passing attack and allow the defense to stay off the field has put the Cowboys in winning position. He has to continue to play at a high level down the stretch. If he does, Dallas will take the NFC East and head into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams.

Former NFL rushing leader and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2018 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 12.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 11's rankings.

1
Alvin Kamara
RB
Saints
1

Previous rank: No. 2

With his 37-yard receiving touchdown against the Eagles, the second-year pro surpassed 500 receiving yards on the season, becoming the fourth player in NFL history with both 500-plus rushing yards and 500-plus receiving yards in each of his first two seasons.

2018 stats: 10 games | 136 att | 617 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 11 rush TDs | 56 rec | 510 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

2
Kareem Hunt
RB
Chiefs
1

Previous rank: No. 3

Hunt had a solid performance on Monday night, posting 111 scrimmage yards and a receiving touchdown. He currently ranks third in the NFL in scrimmage TDs (14) and fifth in scrimmage yards (1,202). He is also the second Chiefs player with 1,200-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first two seasons, joining Abner Haynes (1960-61).

2018 stats: 11 games | 181 att | 824 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 26 rec | 378 rec yds | 7 rec TDs

3
Ezekiel Elliott
RB
Cowboys
3

Previous rank: No. 6

As I mentioned above, the Cowboys' offense is only as good as its running back. And it's hard to lose when Zeke amasses 200-plus scrimmage yards and a rushing touchdown -- like he did Sunday.

2018 stats: 10 games | 191 att | 953 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 42 rec | 341 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

4
Melvin Gordon
RB
Chargers

Previous rank: No. 4

Though the Chargers fell to the Broncos, Gordon had at least 150 scrimmage yards in a game for the fifth time this season (tied with Todd Gurley for most in the NFL).

2018 stats: 9 games | 143 att | 741 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 42 rec | 448 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

5
Todd Gurley
RB
Rams
4

Previous rank: No. 1

The Chiefs and Rams scored a combined 14 touchdowns Monday night, and Gurley didn't have one. That's right. Not ONE. That's insane, considering the Rams back had scored a touchdown in 13 consecutive games (going back to last season) prior to Monday. The only reason it make sense: Sean McVay's Tuesday revelation that Gurley suffered an ankle injury in the game. Luckily for the Rams, their bye week is Week 12.

2018 stats: 11 games | 210 att | 1,043 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 13 rush TDs | 43 rec | 441 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

6
Saquon Barkley
RB
Giants
1

Previous rank: No. 7

In Sunday's win over the Bucs, Barkley set career highs in rushing attempts (27), rushing yards (142) and rushing touchdowns (two). Impressively, Barkley gained 124 of his 142 rushing yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.

2018 stats: 10 games | 158 att | 728 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 64 rec | 540 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

7
Adrian Peterson
RB
Redskins
2

Previous rank: No. 9

Peterson is having a good season, but he's going to have to do a lot more now that Colt McCoy will be under center the rest of the way. First place in the NFC East is on the line Thursday, when Peterson's Redskins and Ezekiel Elliott's Cowboys face off. The back who has the better day will lead his team to victory.

2018 stats: 10 games | 171 att | 723 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 14 rec | 168 rec yds | 1 rec TD

8
Christian McCaffrey
RB
Panthers

Previous rank: No. 8

McCaffrey has been good the last three times out, averaging 20 touches and 135 scrimmage yards per game, while scoring a total of five TDs, in that span.

2018 stats: 10 games | 136 att | 632 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 60 rec | 496 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

9
Mark Ingram
RB
Saints
1

Previous rank: No. 10

With 103 yards in the Saints' win over Philly, Ingram crossed the 100-yard rushing mark in back-to-back games for the first time this season. The Saints' offense was dangerous before his Week 5 return, but it has separated itself with Ingram back in the fold.

2018 stats: 6 games | 79 att | 388 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 11 rec | 120 rec yds | 1 rec TD

10
Aaron Jones
RB
Packers
2

Previous rank: No. 12

Jones had one of his best performances of the season against the Seahawks, recording 103 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing). His last four games have been very productive; in that span, he's recorded 16 touches and 111.5 scrimmage yards per game and five scrimmage TDs.

2018 stats: 8 games | 84 att | 534 rush yds | 6.4 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 16 rec | 141 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

11
James Conner
RB
Steelers
6

Previous rank: No. 5

The Jaguars held Conner to just 25 rushing yards. Now that the RB1 job is his for the remainder of the season, he must get back to his high level of play down the stretch.

2018 stats: 10 games | 173 att | 796 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 45 rec | 411 rec yds | 1 rec TD

12
Kerryon Johnson
RB
Lions
1

Previous rank: No. 13

The rookie had a big game against a solid Carolina defense, notching 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, a sprained knee suffered in the Lions' 20-19 win will keep Johnson out of Thursday's game against the Bears.

2018 stats: 10 games | 118 att | 641 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 32 rec | 213 rec yds | 1 rec TD

13
Joe Mixon
RB
Bengals
2

Previous rank: No. 11

Twelve carries for 14 yards? Yikes! He did have a touchdown against Baltimore, but that kind of performance won't get Cincinnati (1-4 over the last five games) back in the win column.

2018 stats: 8 games | 128 att | 584 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 24 rec | 177 rec yds | 1 rec TD

14
Phillip Lindsay
RB
Broncos
NR

Previous rank: Not ranked

Lindsay had himself a day in an upset win over the Chargers, finishing with 11 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns, plus four receptions for 27 yards. When the rookie has at least 100 scrimmage yards in a game, Denver is 3-1 this season -- the only loss was to Kansas City in Week 8.

2018 stats: 10 games | 121 att | 670 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 24 rec | 187 rec yds | 1 rec TDs

15
James White
RB
Patriots

Previous rank: No. 15

A reset via their Week 11 bye is just what the Patriots and James White needed after a poor performance in Week 10 (one carry for negative-5 yards and five catches for 31 yards). Looking for him to have a big effort Sunday against Gang Green.

2018 stats: 10 games | 61 att | 230 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 66 rec | 562 rec yds | 6 rec TDs

Dropped out: Tarik Cohen, Bears (previously No. 14).

The Ground Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

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