Projecting Ezekiel Elliott
The hype-train is full steam ahead for Zeke. The consensus at the moment has him as a top 5 RB in fantasy drafts. Dude had 6.7
yards per carry while at Ohio State, has what may be the best offensive line in the NFL in front of him, and is seemingly fully prepared for the NFL lifestyle as he's already being investigated for
domestic violence. Should we pump the proverbial brakes though? A lot of people seem to think Jerry's new thoroughbred is about to bust out of the gates much like Todd Gurley did a year
The Gurley comparison has some legs. Gurley is listed at 6'1 225. Elliott is listed 6'0 225. Gurley averaged 6.8 yards per touch in college. Elliott also averaged 6.8 yards per touch in college. Both were top ten picks in the draft. Both are from major cities below the Mason Dixon Line. I'd take 10/1 odds these guys are Eskimo brothers.
Gurley finished 7th among running backs in standard scoring last year. If he had played 16 games and kept up the same pace, he would've come in at 3rd. If Elliott is Gurley but on a better team, then he's a sure fire top 5 back.
However, let's look at the reasons to calm down. Obviously, not every running back picked high in the draft does what Gurley did. Think about the last decade of running backs taken within the top ten picks of the NFL draft. Before Elliott it was Gurley, Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, and Reggie Bush. That's two out of five guys that were worth taking early in your fantasy draft. I do remember a guy taking Reggie Bush as a rookie 1st overall in a draft in my basement in high school. Thanks for your entry fee, buddy.
NFL.com's draft profile on Elliott compares him to Edgerrin James. James had 1,553 yards his rookie season. That would have led the league last year. Hold on, though:, that was on 369 attempts which also would have led the league in 2015. Adrian Peterson did so with 350 while second place was Jonathan Stewart way down at 292. Today's NFL teams are not going to feed a guy that much. Now, the Cowboys did hand Demarco Murray the ball a whopping 392 times in 2014. However, they used him up and then let him go. They aren't going to ride their prized rookie like that especially knowing Elliott has had a heavy workload during his time at Ohio State. Also keep in mind that behind Murray in 2014 was Joseph Randle, whom the Cowboys drafted in the 5th round and recently got himself arrested for stealing underwear. Elliott will share the backfield with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris, two backs who both were in the top 15 in the NFL for rush attempts last season.
Don't forget that McFadden once upon a time was in Elliott's position. He was the outstanding talent being drafted as a franchise corenerstone. He was quietly 5th in the league in rushing yards while playing all 16 games for the second straight year. Run DMC did a fine job for the boys and has a one year head start on the scheme. Morris, during his rookie campaign, had some success in a blocking system similar to the one being used in Dallas. There's even Lance Dunbar who is coming off a serious injury but could see some third downs if he can get healthy.
I believe Elliott has every bit the talent and every bit the offensive line that Demarco Murray had in his 2014. He should be a better player than Murray. Most outlets have Zeke pegged for a 20 carry per game type season. I want to be more conservative projecting the number of attempts with that crowded backfield. He does run violently at times and he likes to get out and throw some big boy blocks. This could raise the risk of injury, but hey, this is the NFL. Everybody can get hurt. It's just one more thing to consider.
Even leaning towards a relatively conservative projection for carries, I have Elliot putting up numbers that could absolutely be a top 5 RB. I would recommend drafting Elliot as one of the first 3 RB's off the board. Due to Peterson’s age and Todd Gurley’s inferior supporting cast, Elliott’s upside is the greatest of any back this year. With that being said, the plethora of elite and proven commodities at wideout have me not wanting to take Elliott until the end of the first round.
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