Posted on August 9, 2016, by Travis Pulver
When the Dallas Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliot with the No. 4 pick in the draft, the immediate assumption was that he would get put to work early and often. Most teams take a running back by committee approach nowadays to limit the wear and tear on running backs, but the Cowboys were more than happy to feed the ball to Demarco Murray 392 times a couple of years ago.
Will the do so with their new workhorse? Well—maybe.
The team has talked like they don’t want to throw him to the wolves too fast, but with Darren McFadden out till the regular season, Elliot will likely be the clear-cut No. 1 when Week One rolls around. How much they rest him may depend on how well he does.
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Should he run well and the team gets ahead, they may give him a break late in the game. However, they may also want him to pound out some yards and eat up the clock. Should the offensive line perform as well as expected, he may not get hit as much which would also help keep him in the game.
At the same time, they team may choose to play it smart and not overwork the rookie like they did Murray (who has dropped from 4.7 yards a carry with Dallas to 3.6 with the Eagles last season).
Of course, it will all come down to production—can he be the beast he was in college in the NFL? Can he recreate that stretch run like he had at the end of the 2014 season when he carried the ball 20 times against Wisconsin for 220 yards, 20 times against Alabama for 230 yards, and 36 times against Oregon for 246 yards?
Can he average 6.3 yards a carry like he did his final year in college?
More than likely the answer is no. Yes, Elliot’s offensive line is going to be awesome, but he will be playing 16 defenses that will make most of the ones he saw in college look like Pee Wee teams. Defenses are going to be faster, pursue harder, and tackle better than he has ever seen.
So—when should fantasy players draft him? Is he a first round talent?
It depends on when you are picking. When it comes to your first round pick, you want the best player available and how much value can you really put on a guy that has never carried the ball in an NFL game before? With guys like Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and David Johnson, chances are good he will be the fourth running back off the board (fifth if someone is okay with taking Le’Veon Bell even though he will miss the first four games).
With how elite receivers are performing these days, there could be as many as five wide receivers taken in the first round (of a 12-team league). Antonio Brown is easily a top three pick, and Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones are top five worthy. DeAndre Hopkins will garner some first round attention as well A.J. Green. Should Brock Osweiler live up to the hype during the preseason, Hopkins could be a top 10 pick.
Dallas ran the ball 31.8 times a game in 2014 and 25.5 in 2015. Murray accounted for 24.5 a game in ’14, but last season McFadden only had 18-19 a game once the team committed to him down the stretch. Should Elliott get the same number of carries—many project him to get around 300 this season; some even believe he’ll reach as high as 375–it is not hard to see him doing well.
As for how well—it is hard to say until we see him hit a hole against an NFL defense. So what does that mean for his fantasy value?
Well, he would not be a bad choice if you are picking with the 10th, 11th, or 12th pick. If you like projections, he appears to be worth it. There is an element of risk to the move, of course. But sometimes you have to go out on a limb to be a champion.