COLUMBUS — Ezekiel Elliott spoke fondly of not-so-old memories at Ohio State on Friday morning. The former Buckeye star running back said he remembered a grueling gauntlet of on-field drills when he first arrived on campus three years ago.
And now, as Elliott and so many of his teammates finalize preparations for the NFL Draft, things seemed like they were coming full circle at the school's Pro Day, where 22 players worked out for coaches and scouts from all 32 league teams and took questions from a gaggle of national and local media members.
"This is what we worked for our whole lives," Elliott said, "and it's fun to basically see our dreams coming together."
For Elliott — who is considered by many as the top running back in this year's draft class with a combination of power, speed and balance — reality might be more grand than any past dream.
Elliott on Friday reaffirmed such a notion during throwing drills, in which he caught passes out of the backfield from quarterback Cardale Jones and zipped up and down the sideline.
"I think I show versatility at the running back position," Elliott said, "and I'm a value on the field all three downs."
In a pass-driven league, Elliott seems to stand out with his soft hands, quick feet and, perhaps most of all, what he does without the ball in his hands.
"Regardless of what he was doing on a play, he was going to go full speed. I've said it a bunch of times before but some of my favorite plays of him were of him blocking people or cutting people," Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker said at the combine.
"He's going a million miles an hour and whoever is ahead of him is going to get hit. He loves it. He always talks about how he wishes he could be a lineman. He's kind of got that mentality and attitude."
Against that backdrop, Elliott is almost surely a first-round selection and there is a growing contingent that view him as a potential top 15 pick. But when faced with that prospect, the St. Louis, Missouri, native played down the buzz surrounding his draft stock.
"I don't want to say I deserve to be a top-15 pick — that's not my decision," he said. "All I can do in my power is go out there and show my ability and I feel like at the combine I did that."
Indeed, Elliott flexed his muscles in Indianapolis last month. The 6-foot, 225-pound back posted a 4.47-second time in the 40-yard dash and looked impressive in other workouts.
"Ezekiel Elliott is a game changer, he's got that potential," ESPN analyst Todd McShay told reporters on a conference call two weeks ago.
The Browns — who hold the second and 32nd overall picks — say they'll use them on the best players available, regardless of position. That, of course, includes running back.
And Elliott — who leaves Ohio State as the school's second all-time leading rusher behind two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin — could be the kind of impact player who thrives in Cleveland's offense under first-year coach Hue Jackson.
"Teams don't have to take me off the field if you're going to block every down, if you're going to catch out of the backfield," Elliott said.
Browns associate head coach Pep Hamilton — who will work closely with Jackson in shaping Cleveland's offense — said last month it was important to "have more than one guy" at the position, pointing to the duo of Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell, who have played key roles in both the run and pass games.
"I do feel like our backs are very talented. They can play without the ball. I think Duke showed that last year. He had 60-plus catches. Isaiah can do anything that we're going to ask him to do," Hamilton said.
"We'll ultimately need both guys, and we'll need someone else to step up as well. We'll find a way if a guy is hot to get him the ball, but we're going to need all those guys to step in and make plays for us."
Elliott could be another option.
"It's definitely a pass-first league," Elliott said. "Backs weren't always asked to do the things we're asked to do now. So I think when the game changed to a pass-first league, running backs were kind of left behind in that. But now, there's a lot of versatile backs in college ... I think that the running back is back."