Ezekiel Elliott Recent production
*Based on PPR rating
During his time at Ohio State, Ezekiel Elliott was one of the greatest running backs in college football history. He had over 2,000 scrimmage yards in each of his last two seasons with the Buckeyes. Elliott also averaged 5.6 yards per rush attempt over those two years. After helping Ohio State win the National Championship in 2014, Zeke was the fourth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
While the Dallas Cowboys were criticized for drafting a running back instead of a defensive end like Jalen Ramsey, Jerry Jones made the right choice. Elliott led the NFL with 322 rushing attempts and 1,631 rushing yards in just 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.
Additionally, Zeke was a fantasy superstar from the moment he stepped onto the field in the NFL and finished as an RB2 in his rookie season. Elliott was the RB13 in PPR in 2017 despite missing six games through suspension. Since then, he has finished every season as a top-10 running back. In addition, Elliott had at least 1,250 scrimmage yards and eight total touchdowns every year of his career.
More importantly, Elliott has upped his game since joining the NFL. After 58 career receptions at Ohio State, Zeke only had 58 receptions in his first 25 NFL games. However, in 2018 he became a more significant part of the passing game with a career-high 77 receptions on 95 goals. In addition, he has completed at least 47 receptions in each of the past three seasons.
Many are concerned that the cliff is coming for Zeke. For those who don’t know what the cliff is, it’s when running backs cease to be definite fantasy starters. One year he’s productive, and the next he’s not a fantasy starter. This happened to Todd Gurley a few years ago, and many believe it will happen to Derrick Henry this year. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Elliott, however.
While his numbers began to dwindle, Zeke was an elite fantasy running back through the first 10 weeks of the 2021 season. He averaged 17.7 fantasy points per game, making him the RB7 in that span. Additionally, 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 running defense, which held running backs to just 1,083 rushing yards last season, the fewest in the NFL.
He then suffered a knee injury early in the Week 11 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Zeke later revealed that he played most of the 2021 season with a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament. Elliott says he picked up the injury in Week 4 but made it worse against the Chiefs.
After injuring his knee again against the Chiefs, Elliott’s production plummeted. Many believe that Tony Pollard closed the gap and increased his production. However, this is not the case.
Instead of resuming his game when Elliott was injured, Pollard put on numbers almost identical to when Zeke was healthy. Additionally, Pollard had three games above 9.5 fantasy points when Zeke was healthy (weeks 1-10). He also had three games above 9.5 fantasy points when Elliott was struggling with a cruciate ligament rupture (weeks 11-17). *Based on PPR rating
General prediction for 2022 and the rest of the career
After three years in the NFL, the Cowboys signed Elliott to a six-year, $90 million extension. Between the two years remaining on his rookie contract and the six years of his renewal, Zeke is signed with the Cowboys through the 2026 season. However, the Cowboys may opt 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 just $11.9 million in dead money, according to Spotrac. However, Dallas will save $8.3 million in cap space and take on just $6 million in dead money if they wait until after the 2023 season. Whether it’s after this year or the 2023 season, Zeke is likely to become a cap causality for the Cowboys.
Additionally, Pollard will be a free agent after the 2022 season and the Cowboys could opt for the cheaper and younger running back.
That said, Elliott isn’t dead and buried yet. Even while struggling through a torn PCL, Zeke averaged 11.6 fantasy points per game from week 11 through week 18, making him the RB16 during that time span.
While the Cowboys fired 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 pick on Tyler Smith. Smith can play offensive tackle and guard. His versatility will give the unit options and an insurance policy for Tyron Smith at left tackle. While 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 comes for Elliott. It will be here sooner or later as he turns 27 in July. However, Zeke is still a valuable fantasy asset.
Despite injuries and signs of slowing down, Elliott has finished every year of his career as a top-13 running back. He has also only missed one game in his career due to injury. You can’t ask for more from a running back than one missed game through injury in 97 possible career competitions.
Rebuild teams will need to trade in Zeke in the coming months. Now is not the ideal time as its perceived value is lower than its actual value. Instead, you want to wait until the regular season to trade in Elliott. Let him show that he is healthy and has something left in the tank. Wait until after the Week 3 contest against the New York Giants. At that point, a rival team might be willing to part with a 2023 or more second-round pick for the veteran.
Competing teams should now trade for Elliott. If you haven’t made your rookie draft yet, I suggest trading an early second-round pick (outside the top 12-15 picks) for Zeke. You’ll only get a year or two of production out of it. However, that’s all that matters since your window to win is now.
Ideally, you want to get Pollard into a deal with Zeke to handcuff him. He also has the potential to replace Elliott as a running back for the Cowboys in a year or two. Don’t let that stop you from closing a deal for Elliott, though. The cliff is coming, but it’s not there yet.
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Mike Fanelli is a featured author at FantasyPros. For more from Mike see his archive and follow him @Mike_NFL2.