How Much Should Ezekiel Elliott Scare You?

by Derek Norton
Aug 26, 2016

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is in the mix to be the top overall fantasy RB this season

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.

Start preparing for your league now with our NFL Draft Simulator >>

Year Player Rush Rush YD Rush TD Rec Rec Yd Rec TD
2007 Adrian Peterson 238 1,341 12 19 268 1
2007 Marshawn Lynch 280 1,115 7 18 184 0
2008 Darren McFadden 113 499 4 29 285 0
2008 Jonathan Stewart 184 836 10 8 47 0
2009 Knowshon Moreno 247 947 7 28 213 2
2010 C.J. Spiller 74 283 0 24 157 1
2010 Ryan Mathews 158 678 7 22 145 0
2012 Trent Richardson 267 950 11 51 367 1
2015 Todd Gurley 229 1,106 10 21 188 0
2015 Melvin Gordon 184 641 0 33 192 0

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.

He’s an excellent power runner, too. Per Pro Football Focus, Elliott was only one of two college players to gain over 1,000 yards after contact. The other player (Derrick Henry) had 105 more carries.

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.

Subscribe: iTunes | StitcherSoundCloud | Google PlayRSS

Derek Norton is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Derek, visit his archive, follow him on Twitter @mdereknorton.

What's your take? Leave a comment

Fantasy Games
DRAFT photo
Get a FREE FantasyPros upgrade with first deposit
FanDuel photo
Play for your share of $1m+
for FREE with first deposit
CBS Sports photo
Serious Fantasy Football
Get our Mobile App!

Enter your phone number below, and we'll text you a link to download the app.

1Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
2Le'Veon Bell (PIT)RB
3Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
4Antonio Brown (PIT)WR
5David Johnson (ARI)RB
6DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
7Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
8Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)WR
9Kareem Hunt (KC)RB
10Saquon Barkley (NYG)RB
 View All Rankings 
11Julio Jones (ATL)WR
12Michael Thomas (NO)WR
13Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
14Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
15A.J. Green (CIN)WR
16Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
17Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
18Davante Adams (GB)WR
19Mike Evans (TB)WR
20LeSean McCoy (BUF)RB
21Devonta Freeman (ATL)RB
22Jordan Howard (CHI)RB
23Rob Gronkowski (NE)TE
24Doug Baldwin (SEA)WR
25Tyreek Hill (KC)WR
26Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
27Jerick McKinnon (SF)RB
28Adam Thielen (MIN)WR
29Travis Kelce (KC)TE
30Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
1Mike Trout (LAA)CF
2Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
3Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
4Trea Turner (WSH)SS
5Mookie Betts (BOS)RF
6Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
7Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)1B
8Bryce Harper (WSH)RF
9Giancarlo Stanton (NYY)RF
10Clayton Kershaw (LAD)SP
 View All Rankings 
11Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
12Kris Bryant (CHC)3B,RF
13Carlos Correa (HOU)SS
14Corey Kluber (CLE)SP
15Chris Sale (BOS)SP
16Joey Votto (CIN)1B
17Manny Machado (BAL)3B
18Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B,3B
19Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B,2B
20J.D. Martinez (BOS)RF
21Aaron Judge (NYY)RF
22Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
23George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
24Josh Donaldson (TOR)3B
25Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,LF
26Stephen Strasburg (WSH)SP
27Noah Syndergaard (NYM)SP
28Gary Sanchez (NYY)C
29Jose Ramirez (CLE)2B,3B
30Brian Dozier (MIN)2B
1Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
2Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
3James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
4Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
5Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
6Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
7Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
8Kawhi Leonard (SAS)SG,SF
9LeBron James (CLE)SF,PF
10Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
 View All Rankings 
11John Wall (WAS)PG
12DeMarcus Cousins (NOR)PF,C
13Chris Paul (HOU)PG
14Damian Lillard (POR)PG
15Jimmy Butler (MIN)SG,SF
16Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
17Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
18Hassan Whiteside (MIA)C,PF
19Myles Turner (IND)PF,C
20Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
21Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
22Draymond Green (GSW)SF,PF
23Kristaps Porzingis (NYK)PF,C
24Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
25CJ McCollum (POR)PG,SG
26Mike Conley (MEM)PG
27Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
28Klay Thompson (GSW)SG,SF
29Marc Gasol (MEM)C
30Gordon Hayward (BOS)SG,SF