Expectations are a funny thing. Some people conjure up unrealistic goals, while those of others are more grounded.
As often is the case, expectations vary wildly. Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott’s first-round average draft position scares off many drafters — often, I’m told, because most rookie rushers have flopped in recent years.
Each case is unique, though, so avoid such flawed thinking. Instead, practical application of data illustrates why Elliott has a high floor as a rookie.
In fantasy football, it’s not necessarily a player’s fault if he doesn’t meet lofty projections. All a player, particularly a rookie, can do is his job: Know the playbook and perform at an acceptable level.
- You have a production target for fantasy based on stats achieved.
- Elliott’s goal is probably higher than the standard anyone else holds for him.
- The coaching staff has what is arguably the most realistic expectation, and it has little to do with numbers.
If Elliott does his part, the coaches and his teammates will put him in the best situation to excel … the yin and yang of team sports. Should he be better than average, he’ll need to muster 4.23 yards per attempt to be on par with the top 50 backs in 2015 in rushing yardage. The running back position averaged 4.1 per carry last year.
Top 12 Fantasy Running Backs’ Averages in 2015
- 226 carries
- 979 rushing yards (4.32 YPC)
- 7.6 touchdowns
- 43 receptions
- 362 receiving yards
- 1.8 receiving touchdowns
- 190.1 standard fantasy points (232.6 in PPR)
Do any of those numbers look outrageous? While things change from year to year, each figure is easily attainable by Elliott. These numbers will be considered by many as a down year, however, based on his ADP.
Say he rushes 280 times (only Adrian Peterson topped 300 carries in 2015), and Elliott averages that 4.1 figure, he produces 1,148 rushing yards, an average of 71.8 yards over 16 games. That total would have placed third in the NFL last season. Following the 2015 average for touchdowns, he projects to 9.6.
Two seasons ago, then-Cowboy DeMarco Murray shocked the fantasy world and rushed an insane 392 times and caught 57 passes. Elliott won’t see that ridiculous workload in 2016. Approaching 300 carries isn’t unrealistic, though.
Some Risk Factors To Consider
- Elliott has been bothered by a tight hamstring, which linger as a tricky injury from which to recover.
- Darren McFadden should be ready by Week 1. He’s a quality pass protector and may be asked to relieve Elliott on third downs to shield Tony Romo.
- Two-time Pro Bowler Alfred Morris is hanging around as a third option.
- He’s coming off more than 600 touches over his final two seasons at Ohio State.
Working In Elliott’s Favor
- Oh, man, that offensive line. They’ll use it for ground work more than just about any team, in order to lighten Romo’s workload. Elliott may have today’s level of fantasy RB1 touches even in a three-back attack.
- With inferior talent last year, Dallas mustered 4.6 yards per carry as a team, good for T5 in the NFL.
- Elliott is arguably the most talented, best all-around rookie running back we have seen since Peterson.
Fantasy Football Outlook
Elliott is an exceptional talent playing behind an elite line. Naturally, some risk comes with picking a rookie, especially a running back. Remember, however, that the position is among the easiest to learn, and offseason reviews suggest Elliott is well on his way to stardom so long as he isn’t hamstrung by injury.
My projection: 288 carries, 1,382 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 30 receptions, 242 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdowns.
Happily pay for him in the late first round — or, wishful thinking, second-round — price.