FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott was in the original group of college players to go through something resembling the NFL playoffs when Ohio State won the national championship two years ago.
Now the Dallas rookie running back and a handful of young pros are seeing how the experience translates. For the NFL rushing champion, there’s an easy place to start.
Win as the NFC’s top seed in a divisional game against Green Bay on Sunday, or watch along with quarterback and fellow rookie sensation Dak Prescott as a magical season goes “poof.”
“We got to come into this playoff hot,” said Elliott, one of three rookie All-Pro selections . “It doesn’t matter what we did coming up to now. We’ve got to come in there clicking on all cylinders and ready to rock and roll.”
That was certainly Elliott’s experience during the 2014 season, when he rushed for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in a three-game run that carried the Buckeyes to the title. That makes him the best example so far among what figures to be a growing group of players bringing the College Football Playoff experience to the NFL.
There are four others from one or both of the first two years of the CFP with at least minor contributions among the eight teams in the NFL’s second round: Houston nose tackle D.J. Reader (Clemson), Kansas City linebacker Terrance Smith (Florida State), New England cornerback Cyrus Jones and Seattle defensive tackle Jarran Reed (both Alabama).
“I think the biggest thing for all of our players is to use the experiences you have up to this point, whether it’s NFL playoff experience, college playoff experience or whatever it is in your life,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “To get you prepared for a new experience you rely on some of the experiences you have up to that point. No different for him than any of the other guys.”
But Elliott is somewhat unique. For instance, he sat out the regular-season finale at Philadelphia because the Cowboys (13-3) had clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. As a result, it will be three weeks between games for him, almost as long as he sat between Ohio State’s win in the Big Ten championship game and the national semifinals.
“All I really focused on, which was really important, was just kind of maintaining my wind and making sure I’m in playing shape going into this next game,” Elliott said.
And to help with that, he wore a hoodie in practice Wednesday to crank up the heat.
“I didn’t get those same reps those past couple of weeks. And so just getting used to being tired out there and still having to perform mentally, because that’s a big part,” said Elliott, who had 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season. “I think it’s great just to feel fresh, be fresh and go out and produce.”
A look at those other players with college playoff experience in the NFL postseason:
READER, TEXANS: A fifth-round pick after Clemson lost the title game to Alabama last season, Reader played all 16 regular-season games, starting seven. He had a sack in the regular season and added another in a 27-14 wild-card win over Oakland. He says the experience translates.
“So it’s like now every play counts, every moment counts,” Reader said. “So I think we understood that and it helps us out a lot as players.”
REED, SEAHAWKS: A second-round pick after two CFPs with the Crimson Tide, Reed started five of 15 games before getting another start in the 26-6 wild-card win over Detroit. “We would play long into the season, and in college, practices are usually more intense. And so with the job coach Pete (Carroll) and the staff do of helping us keep our bodies clean and we’re still playing so long makes it that much easier,” Reed said.
JONES, PATRIOTS: After winning the title with Alabama last season, Jones was the first pick by New England in the second round after the Patriots lost their first-round choice in the “Deflategate” saga. He had fumbling issues as a punt returner, causing him to be a healthy scratch four times in a six-game stretch.
SMITH, CHIEFS: Undrafted a year after losing in the semifinals with Florida State as a junior, Smith has been mostly a special teams contributor. But his role could expand because of a late-season injury to veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson.