As Ezekiel Elliott goes, so do the Dallas Cowboys.

He has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL since the Cowboys‘ bye in Week 8, and his peak 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 with the 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 Washington’s QB1 the rest of the way. I’m not sure what’s going in in Philadelphia, and the New York Giants are trying to salvage their season with recent back-to-back wins.

That said, and after winning back-to-back games for the first time this season, the Cowboys look to be the front runner 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. Since 2016, the Cowboys are 24-5 when Elliot rushes for at least 70 yards in a game 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 in games when Zeke has at least 40 rush yards in the first half and 0-3 in games 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 Amari Cooper during the bye week, and it’s paying off. The Since the trade, Elliott has averaged roughly three touches, 23 rushing yards, 53 scrimmage yards and 1.5 yards per touch more per game. 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.

Alvin Kamara

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

Kareem Hunt

Previous rank: No. 3

Hunt had a solid performance on Monday night with 111 scrimmage yards and a receiving touchdown. He currently is third in the NFL 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

Ezekiel Elliott

Previous rank: No. 6

As I mentioned above, the
Cowboys‘ offense is as good as its running back. And it’s hard to lose with Zeke amassing 201 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

Melvin Gordon

Previous rank: No. 4

Despite losing 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

Todd Gurley

Previous rank: No. 1

Chiefs and
Rams scored a combined 14 touchdowns Monday night, and Gurley didn’t even have one. That’s right. Not one. That’s insane considering the
Rams back has scored a touchdown in 13 consecutive games prior to Monday. His performance — and limited opportunities at that — makes more sense after
Tuesday’s report that Gurley was limited by an ankle injury.

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

Saquon Barkley

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). Barkley impressively 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

Adrian Peterson

Previous rank: No. 9

Peterson is having a good season but is going to have to do a lot more with
Colt McCoy under center the rest of the way. First place in the division 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

Christian McCaffrey

Previous rank: No. 8

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

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

Mark Ingram

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

Aaron Jones

Previous rank: No. 12

Jones had one of his best performances of the season against the
Seahawks with 103 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing). His last four games have been very productive with 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

James Conner

Previous rank: No. 5

Jaguars held Conner and the
Steelers‘ rushing attack to just 26 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

Kerryon Johnson

Previous rank: No. 13

The rookie had a big game against a solid Carolina defense with 15 carries for 87 yards and touchdown. Unfortunately,
a sprained knee injury suffered in the
20-19 win has Johnson’s status as week to week. Bad timing with the
Lions playing on
Thanksgiving Day.

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

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 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

Phillip Lindsay

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, and 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

James White

Previous rank: No. 15

A reset is just what the
Patriots and
James White needed after a poor performance in Week 10. Looking for him to have a big effort next week against the 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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