Ezekiel Elliott was the consensus number one pick in dynasty rookie drafts this offseason but it seems as if that same fantasy football community is still skeptical of Elliott being considered a 1st round pick in redraft leagues this year. Why would you take a rookie in the 1st round? He hasn't even played a down in the NFL yet. People said Trent Richardson was a can't miss prospect. How did that turn out?
Well lets just start right there. Yes, Trent Richardson's career has gone about as well as Draymond Green's 2016 so far, but he did put up over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 12 TD's as a rookie. T-Rich was a legit RB1 for fantasy purposes his first year in the league.
While we're at it lets try to tackle the notion that rookie RB's are rarely the difference makers they're made out to be. Just in the past 10 years there have been 11 rookie RB's who have put up elite production. So it does happen.
Some other notable names who just missed this list but still accumulated over 1,200 yards from scrimmage is the aforementioned Trent Richardson, Le'Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Now that Bell is suspended it seems as if David Johnson and Todd Gurley are now battling one another for the preseason RB1 crown. They're both entering their second season. David Johnson fell short of making the list above but was a rookie who won leagues for people last year. UDFA Thomas Rawls carried fantasy owners to the playoffs. It also wouldn't hurt to mention the slew of other rookie RB's who made major contributions at times last year: Jeremy Langford, Matt Jones, TJ Yeldon, Buck Allen and Duke Johnson.
Elliott was the 4th overall pick because he is a pretty special running back prospect. Where he shines compared to most rookies is his work in the passing game. He isn't a liability in pass protection or as a receiver. Per Pro Football Focus, Elliott allowed only one pressure on 102 snaps as a pass blocker. Elliott is also a skilled receiver out of the backfield hauling in 55 receptions over the past two years. All this goes to show is that there will be no need to have a complementary back to pair alongside Elliott. He's not your typical rookie and he can handle all the responsibilities of a vet. When you combine this with his outstanding balance, vision and power as a runner he really is a complete package fit to excel in any scheme. Every carry Elliott is seemingly carrying a defender or two an extra couple yards.
When you pair Elliott's talent with the Cowboy's offensive line the sky is the limit. Dallas' incredible offensive line already boasts 3 All-Pros in their prime and is arguably going to be a better all around unit now that the human bulldozer, La'el Collins, will spend the whole year at LG. For those unfamiliar with Collins he was a projected 1st Round pick who the Cowboys were able to sign for pennies as an undrafted free agent last offseason. Backup Ronald Leary, who would be a starter for many teams, provides depth if any Cowboy player were to get injured. The Cowboys offensive line is a frightening group for defenses and the running backs who have played behind this juggernaut the past two years have all produced.
Take Darren McFadden for instance. The former #4 overall pick in the 2008 draft, had averaged 3.34 yards per carry over his prior 3 years in Oakland. McFadden then chose to sign with Dallas and ultimately resurrected his career. Run DMC racked up over 1,400 yards from scrimmage on his way to an RB13 finish in fantasy. These are impressive number considering the fact that McFadden only started 10 games. McFadden initially shared duties with the troubled Joseph Randle and took over the starting duties in Week 6. From that date on McFadden averaged 107.8 total yards per game, best in the league among RB's over that span. Over that stretch he compiled 960 rushing yards on 202 carries, good for 4.75 YPC. I should also mention that McFadden put up the majority of these numbers on a decimated Cowboys team that was without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Teams could put stack the box and Dallas was still able to run the ball with ease.
In 2014, DeMarco Murray racked up 2,261 yards from scrimmage and 13 TD's on his way to a RB1 finish. His season is most famous for the absurd amount of carries (392) but he still averaged 4.7 YPC. Murray was also busy in the passing game as well, catching a career high 57 balls.
Believe it or not that isn't even the best season by running back associated with Dallas Cowboys OC, Scott Linehan. Back in 2006 when Linehan was named the St Louis Rams Head Coach he was able to get his hands on a 23-year old RB named Steven Jackson. Linehan's Rams road Jackson to one of the most impressive season ever by a running back - 346 carries, 1,528 rushing yards, 13 TD, 90 receptions, 806 yards, 3 TD. Jackson's 2,334 yards from scrimmage is the 6th highest total in NFL history.
The Cowboys aren't afraid to have a bellcow back and you shouldn't worry about Elliott being able to carry the load. His last two years in Columbus he averaged a tad over 300 touches per year. He doesn't wear down late in games and certainly doesn't as the season progresses as he carried Ohio State to a National Championship in 2015 and a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2016. These touch totals also don't include the hits he takes serving as a lead blocker at times in Urban Meyer's spread attack.
Jerry Jones is getting older and is desperate to put a winning product out on the field. When the Cowboys were healthy in 2014 they road Murray to a 12-4 regular season and were one controversial play away from possibly making the NFC Championship Game. I look for the Cowboys to use that same formula this coming year with Elliott. MMQB's Peter King recently threw out a 375 carry number for Elliott. While that number isn't out of the question, as we saw the Cowboys run Murray into the ground in 2014, I think it's fair to say that Elliott should get around 300 carries and 40 receptions. If he indeed gets that workload his numbers might look something like this:
300 carries, 1,410 yards, 4.7 YPC, 40 receptions, 320 yards.
1,730 total yards is a crazy number to just assume for a running back but I don't think it's that out of the question. A dormant Darren McFadden put up over 1,400 yards in a year where he didn't obtain the starting job until Week 6. The Cowboys ran the ball 508 times in 2014 and 408 times in 2015. Those two seasons were complete opposite of one another so lets just split the difference right now and imagine that Dallas runs the ball 458 times this year. That still leaves 100 carries for lets say McFadden, 50 for Alfred Morris and 8 for Lance Dunbar. Seems reasonable enough. The projections above aren't even including touchdowns, which are fickle and hard to predict. Murray had 13 total touchdowns when the Cowboys offense was running on all cylinders in 2014.
I understand the skepticism that comes with drafting Elliott. It's much easier to rationalize taking someone who has already performed at an elite level. The Cowboys have a fairly accomplished duo behind Zeke in McFadden and Alfred Morris, but Dallas didn't use the #4 pick on Zeke so he could be apart of a timeshare. Again I can't state enough how perfect of a spot Dallas is for a running back. It's what gives him the edge over the likes of Gurley, Johnson, Miller and Peterson at this moment. With the Cowboys uncertain future I believe Jerry Jones viewed Elliott as the missing piece of the puzzle to his new age Big 3 of Romo, Zeke and Dez. Time will only tell if they reach the heights of AIkman, Emmitt and Irvin.