The question of whether Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is a RB1 in fantasy football may come down to how many owners you have in your league.
His decline in production as a runner has led many to question whether Tony Pollard will push Elliott out the door. On the eve of the 2019 opener, the Cowboys and Elliott agreed on a six-year, $90 million contract. As result, he has the highest salary ($12.4 million) and cap hit ($18.2 million) of any running back in the league. In the NFL, that has historically been a problem.
Elliott will have no more guaranteed money on his contract after this season. If he is released or traded before June 1, 2023, the Cowboys would take a cap hit of $11.86 million in dead money. If he was cut or traded after June 1, that number would be split over the remaining years of the deal.
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There is legitimate reason for concern because Elliott’s rushing yards per game during his career have dropped every season – 108.7, 98.3, 95.6, 84.8, 65.3, and 58.9. However, that has been tempered somewhat in that he has become much more of a receiving threat, catching 210 passes over the last four years to provide needed fantasy points.
It took Elliott all 17 games to hit 1,000 rushing yards last year, but it should be noted he suffered a partial right posterior cruciate ligament tear in Week 4. He played through the remainder of the season, including wearing a knee brace in December and January for stability. He was clearly hobbled, but his willingness to play through pain speaks volumes when it comes to organizational loyalty.
Elliott turns 27 in July, so there is still plenty left in the tank, and he will need to regain his former standing as a player who can go off for 100 yards at any time — and do it often. With the trade of wide receiver Amari Cooper, passing game took a backward step, which may get Mike McCarthy and his staff looking for a more balanced attack that gives plenty of touches to both Elliott and Pollard.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Elliott is playing for his Cowboys life in 2022. Pollard is set to hit free agency at the end of the season, and Dallas will be facing a difficult choice. Potential or the past.
Has Elliott’s dominance come to an end? No.
He’s motivated. He has attacked his offseason program. He’s ready to reclaim his spot as one of the elite running backs in the league and not the guy who had 10 straight games with 52 or fewer rushing yards. He needs to stay healthy. In the first five games of the 2021 season, Elliott rushed for 452 yards – more than 90 yards a game. As he played through his PCL injury, in his final 12 appearances, he rushed for just 550 yards – just 46 yards a contest. However, in 17 games, Elliott had more carries than Pollard in all but one of them, even while clearly playing at less than 100 percent. He’s still the featured back.
Fantasy football takeaway
Elliott will likely be available at the back end of the top 10 running backs, if not beyond, but he is clearly still an RB1 option – just not for someone making an early investment in the position.
The old “what have you done for me lately” perception typically drives a player’s fantasy stock. Even through a down year by his lofty standards, Elliott finished RB7 in PPR scoring in 2021. For the first time his rookie season, Zeke is a value pick, with an ADP generally in Round 3. Selecting Pollard as a handcuff would be a wise decision, however.