Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended six games for his alleged involvement in a domestic violence case, despite being cleared by local-area police. It is as logical to assume Zeke will appeal the suspension as it is that he won’t win.
As the No. 3 overall fantasy pick in non-PPR scoring and a fourth in PPR, Elliott missing any time is a crushing blow to fantasy owners. No matter how good he is on the field, it is obviously meaningless when he isn’t there. This can go a couple of ways, assuming the suspension holds up:
- Zeke returns and is dominant. Fantasy owners find a way to weather the storm for the early portion of the season. This happened last year with Le’Veon Bell. He returned to average 26.5 PPR points per game, which topped all running backs over the course of the year. Tom Brady came back from his league-imposed vacation to average 24.7 fantasy points as the fifth highest per-game figure among quarterbacks. Both players were integral to championship success, so surviving and thriving is indeed possible.
- Elliott struggles to find his rhythm for several weeks. Football is about timing and chemistry, especially in the backfield. Without valuable experience of practicing and playing with his teammates, perhaps it takes him multiple games to return to form. This way basically sentences fantasy owners to a longer suspension, if you will, in terms of how much slack needs to be picked up by other players on the roster.
A six-game suspension means with a Week 6 bye that Elliott returns in Week 8 at the Washington Redskins. While no one wants their leading player to miss time, it may not be all that bad considering Dallas’ opponents before the bye. Gamers also are not forced to sit him during a bye week in this case. The ‘Boys have the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers, respectively, to open the season in Weeks 1-5.
Weeks 9-16 bring the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Redskins, Giants, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks — a potentially brutal playoff sked. Elite players find a way, and it isn’t like anyone would sit him.
Darren McFadden will be the primary fantasy factor without Zeke in the lineup. He will be utilized more on third downs because of his blocking ability and hands. Veteran Alfred Morris could see the bulk of the two-down rushing work and come off the field in obvious passing situations. Both backs are worth owning.
Playing either depends on the scoring system and the matchup. DMC has much more value in PPR than Morris and can be relied on regardless of the matchup as a flex. Morris, in standard scoring, can be tossed into the lineup if you are trying to bet on a cheap touchdown. His yardage totals should be low, however.
You already drafted
Did you draft Elliott? Don’t freak out. Hopefully gamers in this situation had the foresight to add McFadden and/or Morris. In the event you could not handcuff either to Elliott, a strongly built roster of running backs should get you through the worst of this stretch. Check your waiver wire for these backs in the event no one bothered with drafting them, but that is highly unlikely in competitive leagues.
Yet to select a team
This becomes obvious: Target McFadden and/or Morris, even if you don’t draft Elliott. PPR owners want to put DMC atop their handcuff list.
What happens if you have a top-four pick? This year, wide receivers provide enough flexibility that after Bell and David Johnson go, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Mike Evans and A.J. Green all offer midround value in the first. Don’t inflate other running backs just because you intended to take a back here. LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman are not now automatically worthy of the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in drafts. Regardless of the scoring system, Brown is the safest pick at No. 3.
How soon is too early for Zeke?
Clearly it isn’t as precise as this, so understand we are showing you an illustration. Shave the six games off of his 2016 season and we’re talking the No. 10 overall running back in non-PPR over 17 weeks. He would have been 11th in point-per-reception scoring. Since most fantasy leagues run 16 weeks, he dips into the fringe RB1/RB2 area.
The league changes a fair amount year over year, particularly at running back. We are not saying to assume Elliott will be the same back as a year ago, so if we shave a game off of his average to account for rust, he is still an elite RB2 in both scoring systems.
Comparatively, based on current average draft position data, Elliott’s general placement is a central second-round pick along the likes of Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley. The figure pushes to the late second round in PPR. Now that is expecting an owner doesn’t overvalue Elliott and draft him earlier based on name value, his team, the memory of what Bell/Brady did for them last year, etc.
To answer the heading’s question, anything before the first 15 picks is too early. This kind of placement would require him to exceed last year’s awesome season just to break even on your investment.
Elliott is a special talent in a powerful offense. Believing he will fall off the map is unrealistic. Expecting a little bit of rust is reasonable. Drafting him requires some adjustments to strategy but not a wholesale reworking of the plan. Target these backs as relatively cheap, short-term replacements: Jacquizz Rodgers, Rob Kelley, Duke Johnson, Thomas Rawls, Jeremy Hill, D’Onta Foreman, Jamaal Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Several of them could provide season-long utility with a few breaks.