Dynasty Player Profile: Ezekiel Elliott (2022 Fantasy Football)
Ezekiel Elliott Recent Production
*Based on PPR scoring
During his time at Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott was one of the best running backs in college football history. He had over 2,000 scrimmage yards in each of his final two seasons with the Buckeyes. Elliott also averaged 5.6 yards per rushing attempt in those two years. After helping Ohio State win the National Championship in 2014, Zeke was the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
While the Dallas Cowboys got criticized for drafting a running back instead of a defensive player like Jalen Ramsey, Jerry Jones made the right choice. Elliott led the NFL with 322 rushing attempts and 1,631 rushing yards in only 15 games as a rookie. His 15 rushing touchdowns were the third-most in the NFL and nine more than any other rookie running back.
Furthermore, Zeke was a fantasy superstar from the moment he stepped on the field in the NFL and finished as the RB2 in his rookie season. Elliott was the RB13 in PPR in 2017 despite missing six games because of a suspension. He has ended every season since as a top 10 running back. Moreover, Elliott had at least 1,250 scrimmage yards and eight total touchdowns every year of his career.
More importantly, Elliott has improved his game since joining the NFL. After 58 career receptions at Ohio State, Zeke had only 58 receptions in his first 25 NFL games. However, he became a more significant part of the passing game in 2018, with a career-high 77 receptions on 95 targets. In addition, he has totaled at least 47 receptions in each of the past three seasons.
Many are concerned the cliff is coming for Zeke. For those unaware of what the cliff is, it's the moment where running backs no longer become clear-cut fantasy starters. One year he is productive, and the next, he is no longer a fantasy starter. This happened to Todd Gurley a few years ago, and many believe it will happen to Derrick Henry this year. However, that doesn't appear to be the case for Elliott.
While his numbers have begun to decline, Zeke was an elite fantasy running back over the first 10 weeks of the 2021 season. He averaged 17.7 fantasy points per game, making him the RB7 during that span. Furthermore, Elliott scored at least 11.3 fantasy points in all but one of those games. That one game was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their elite run defense, which held running backs to only 1,083 rushing yards last season, the fewest in the NFL.
He then suffered a knee injury early in the Week 11 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Later on, Zeke revealed he played most of the 2021 season with a partially torn PCL. Elliott says he suffered the injury in Week 4 but aggravated it against the Chiefs.
After re-injuring his knee against the Chiefs, Elliott's production tanked. Many believe Tony Pollard picked up the slack and increased his production. However, that isn't the case.
Instead of picking up his play when Elliott was hurt, Pollard put up nearly identical numbers to when Zeke was healthy. Furthermore, Pollard had three games with over 9.5 fantasy points when Zeke was healthy (Weeks 1-10). He also had three games with over 9.5 fantasy points when Elliott was dealing with the torn PCL (Weeks 11-17).*Based on PPR scoring
General Prediction for 2022 and Rest of Career
After three years in the NFL, the Cowboys signed Elliott to a six-year extension worth $90 million. Between the remaining two years on his rookie contract and the six years on his extension, Zeke is under contract with the Cowboys through the 2026 season. However, the Cowboys can get out of his contract after the 2022 season.
If they release Elliott next offseason, the Cowboys will save $4.9 million in cap space while taking only $11.9 million in dead money, according to Spotrac. However, Dallas will save $8.3 million in cap space while taking on only $6 million in dead money if they wait until after the 2023 season. So whether it's after this year or the 2023 season, Zeke will likely become a cap causality for the Cowboys.
Furthermore, Pollard will be a free agent after the 2022 season, and the Cowboys might opt for the cheaper and younger running back.
That said, Elliott isn't dead and buried yet. Even while fighting through a torn PCL, Zeke averaged 11.6 fantasy points per game from Week 11 through Week 18, making him the RB16 during that span.
While the Cowboys released La'el Collins and lost Connor Williams in free agency this offseason, they still have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. They used two draft picks on the offensive line, including their first-round selection on Tyler Smith. Smith can play offensive tackle and guard. His versatility will provide the unit with options and an insurance policy for Tyron Smith at left tackle. While it's not the elite unit it once was, the Cowboys still have a talented offensive line led by Zack Martin.
Buy, Sell, or Hold?
There is no doubt about it; the cliff is coming for Elliott. It will be here sooner than later as he will turn 27 years old in July. However, Zeke is still a valuable fantasy asset.
Despite injuries and signs of slowing down, Elliott has finished as a top-13 running back every year of his career. Furthermore, he has missed only one in his career because of injury. You can't ask for more from a running back than only one missed game because of injury in 97 potential career contests.
Rebuilding teams need to trade away Zeke in the coming months. Now isn't the ideal time as his perceived value is lower than his actual value. Instead, you want to wait till the regular season to trade away Elliott. Allow him to show he's healthy and still has something left in the tank. Wait until after the Week 3 contest against the New York Giants. At that point, a contending team might be willing to part with a 2023 second-round pick or more for the veteran.
Contending teams should trade for Elliott now. If you haven't done your rookie draft yet, I suggest trading an early second-round pick (outside the top 12-15 selections) for Zeke. You will only get a year or two of production out of him. However, that's all that matters, as your window to win is now.
Ideally, you want to get Pollard in a deal with Zeke to handcuff him. He also has the potential to replace Elliott in a year or two as the starting running back for the Cowboys. However, don't let that keep you from making a deal for Elliott. The cliff is coming, but it's not here yet.
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