Ezekiel Elliott is making quite a bit of news before we even get to fantasy football draft time. The Dallas Cowboys running back is in the headlines for off-the-field issues, and the possibility of a suspension of indeterminate length is looming.
So it is at this point that I should tell you, that for fantasy football purposes, you should relax, and if your league mates are skittish and risk-averse, pounce when the price is right.
We don’t know what the penalty for Elliott will be. It’s easy to get caught up with each passing headline, now that the attention is squarely on Elliott. But I would be stunned if any suspension exceeded 4 games, and I would put the over/under below that. The domestic violence accusations are troubling, and arose before his tenure in the NFL. No charges have been brought. The bar incident? More details need to emerge, but he wouldn’t be the first to be linked to something, and not much more come of it. You probably have forgotten that Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy had stories come out in the last few years. Speeding? That never happens.
So while the convergence of incidence in the news is a concern, don’t get too skittish. Let’s say that he gets four games, though.
Ezekiel Elliott is such a talent that getting him for 11 games of a fantasy football season, and knowing that you can replace him for others, is better than taking most backs for 15.
Last year, Elliott averaged almost 19 fantasy points per game (non-PPR). That was the 3rd-highest average for a rookie, behind only Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. They both continued with great second years. Elliott is the presumptive #1 pick overall if you knew he was available to start the year. So let’s do some quick math to see how far he should fall.
Here’s the thing about Elliott missing perhaps some games early in the year: you can plan ahead and start other backs. You can play matchups. You can draft his backup, Alfred Morris, because you know he is worth a few early starts. It was the same situation last year with Le’Veon Bell, and if you let Bell slip outside the top 4 a year ago, you made a mistake.
But let’s say the guy you have to replace him with averages about 10 fantasy points a game. That’s about what players like Jonathan Stewart, Ryan Mathews, and Terrance West averaged a year ago. That’s your fallback worst case option if you miss out on Morris.
DRAFTING ELLIOTT WITH REPLACEMENT OPTIONS
19 x 10 = 209 points (for games projected with Elliott, minus a bye week as well)
10 x 5 = 50 points (for other options)
259 points total
To match that performance, you would need another RB1 to get 249 points in 14 weeks. That equates to 17.7 points a game. So basically, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson, in most leagues. You can be more conservative if you are in a truly deep league (14+ teams) but in most leagues, with bye weeks not coming early and being able to plan at the draft, I would not pass on Elliott.
As of right now, you might bump Elliott below those two (David Johnson, Bell) while we await further news, but I wouldn’t go any further. Elliott’s upside when he returns is too great. Everyone below those two have question marks of their own when put up against an elite talent running behind the best line.