One of 2016’s greatest fantasy truisms is “all of the top running backs have warts.” We’ve got Le’Veon Bell’s marijuana use and/or inability to purchase an alarm clock, Todd Gurley’s lack of surrounding talent, Adrian Peterson’s advancing age and 2,381 career rush attempts (more than any employed running back other than Frank Gore), Jamaal Charles’s ACL recovery, David Johnson’s short time as a starter, and Ezekiel Elliott’s status as a rookie. So, how much should Elliott scare you, particularly compared to the other running backs going in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts? Let’s take a look at how each running back drafted in the first 15 picks of the NFL Draft since 2007 fared in their rookie seasons.
|Year||Player||Rush||Rush YD||Rush TD||Rec||Rec Yd||Rec TD|
I think it’s clear what we can learn from this; pretty much nothing. If you picked Elliott and got a season similar to Peterson, you’d be elated. You’d definitely be happy with Lynch, Moreno, Richardson or Gurley. You’d be mildly disappointed if you got Stewart. McFadden, Spiller, Mathews and Gordon would put you in a huge hole. This means targeting a highly-drafted running back could get you one of the top scorers at the position or someone who will absolutely murder your team. In other words, looking at him as a rookie is useless. We’ve got historical examples at each end of the spectrum, so let’s disregard “he’s a rookie” in our analysis. He’s getting treated differently from other rookies anyway. Let’s just look at him based on his talent and situation.
First, Elliott was the consensus top running back in this year’s draft. He’s not quite as athletic as Todd Gurley, but he’s close. He’s a great pass blocker and a good receiver who occasionally lined up outside or in the slot at Ohio State. Rookie running backs often come off the field in passing situations, but Elliott is more polished than most rookies. It’s likely he won’t come off of the field unless he needs a break.
There really isn’t anything he can’t do well. He could be compared to Edgerrin James or a slightly bigger LaDainian Tomlinson. You’ll recall both of those guys were top fantasy picks when they were healthy.
If his talent weren’t convincing enough, he’s also landed in one of the best running back situations in the league. He gets to run behind the consensus best offensive line in the league with a decent passing game if Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are healthy. Look no further than DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Darren McFadden in 2015. Murray won Offensive Player of the Year and promptly fell off the face of the earth after he left Dallas. McFadden hadn’t averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry since 2011, then averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2016. Elliott is more talented than both of them. And, because of that talent, I don’t see Alfred Morris or the injured McFadden taking too many of his carries. After all, the main positive trend from the chart above is the best fantasy seasons went to players with more than 200 carries. Elliott should easily eclipse that if he stays healthy.
Yes, he did give us a bit of scare during training camp with a hamstring injury, but he seems to be good to go. There’s no reason to knock him for his health unless he pulls up and limps to the trainers during the dress rehearsal.
As far as his draft position, I’ve got him as the second best running back behind Todd Gurley. I’ve seen some rank Elliott as the top running back overall, but I’m hesitant to take that plunge. Gurley has red flags, but he had the same red flags last year and was awesome. I can’t watch Gurley highlights and put Elliott ahead of him just yet. That’s not to say it won’t happen, though. Elliott is definitely in the mix to be the top overall fantasy running back this year. I say you start considering him around the fifth overall pick, and definitely snap him up if he’s there at the end of the first round.