From the moment Roger Goodell said “With the fourth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select Ezekiel Elliott,” the Fantasy Football world has fallen head-over-heels in love with the rookie running back out of Ohio State. But I’m here to tell you — Don’t draft Ezekiel Elliott in Round 1 of your Fantasy drafts!
The fervor over Elliott’s arrival into the league has grown to epic proportions, making Fantasy history as a matter of fact, and no one is tapping the brakes just a little bit.
That’s me. I’m the brakes. I’m pulling this bus over and I’m going to try to convince you to get off before it ruins your 2016 Fantasy season.
That’s not to say I think Elliott is a bad player, or that drafting him is a bad move overall. But instead, I’m saying don’t draft him in Round 1. I’m fine with Round 2, and we’ll get more into that later. But it’s doubtful he’s going to last until Round 2 in most leagues.
I wrote a point-counterpoint article on Elliott’s draft value on FantasyPros.com, going up against FFLockerRoom.com’s Adam Inman, so if you want to see his counterpoints to my thoughts, check them out there.
The Rookie Running Back Everyone Loves
As the NFL Draft approached, many scouts were comparing him to Adrian Peterson coming out of college, saying he was a three-down back for the pros and his next-level speed would separate him from everyone else. He was easily regarded as the best talent coming out of college football, and all of the hype surrounding him led to him becoming the fourth overall draft pick in Round 1.
Interestingly, I’m not talking about Ezekiel Elliott. That previous paragraph was talking about the 2009 NFL Draft, and Darren McFadden – the very tailback that Elliott is unseating!
The point I’m trying to make here is that many high-profile rookies come into the league as amazing prospects, only to end up disappointing us year after year. A shiny new rookie has so much more upside in our eyes compared to the NFL veteran that we’ve already seen be mediocre against NFL competition.
But the love for Elliott goes beyond anything I could have dreamed of. From the moment he was drafted, people like RotoExperts’ Jake Ciely was deeming him a top-five Fantasy running back. Even now, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone ranking him outside of the top 10 players at his position. Of course, I do, but that’s the whole point of this article!
Outside of the early ‘80s, when the L.A. Raiders drafted Marcus Allen and the L.A. Rams drafted Eric Dickerson have Fantasy owners really thought about taking a rookie in Round 1 – until Elliott.
Going Against Fantasy Football History
Never, in the history of modern Fantasy Football (dating back to the early ‘90s), has a rookie had a first-round Average Draft Position like Elliott does now.
Not when McFadden entered the league. Not when Adrian Peterson left college. Not when Marshall Faulk, Reggie Bush or Ricky Williams came into the league.
Not once has a rookie had a first-round ADP – until now.
That’s not to say a rookie can’t finish as a top-12 Fantasy player. Heck, Todd Gurley and David Johnson did it just last season, scoring over 175 Fantasy points.
The first-round ADP is telling you that as a group, the Fantasy Football community is fine with taking Elliott in Round 1.
If you follow the crowd, you’ll have to draft Elliott near the end of Round 1. I have Elliott ranked 13th among running backs right now, which makes him a late second-round pick by my estimation in non-PPR leagues.
Most people, though, talk about the first and second rounds as places you can’t win a Fantasy Football league – but they are definitely spots where you can lose your league.
Against All Odds?
The risk-averse people are smartly staying away from Elliott, at least in Round 1. Matthew Berry always said, “What’s the most likely thing to happen?” when preparing for drafts. Is the most likely thing that Elliott is going to be the highest scoring Fantasy rookie this season, posting enough points to warrant a first-round Fantasy pick?
There is nothing more risky than gambling that history is going to be made.
While others are pointing out that Elliott will be the featured tailback in a stellar NFL offense, behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, I’ve found some other reasons to knock him down a few pegs.
Don’t Draft Ezekiel Elliott in Round 1!
Darren McFadden, who’s currently sidelined with an elbow injury, had a stellar season with Dallas last year. Let’s not forget that McFadden is the greatest running back in the history of the University of Arkansas – the alma mater of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Then there’s the fact that the Cowboys signed Alfred Morris to a two-year deal in March, bringing in a road-plowing tailback to help push the pile forward. We’re not saying this is going to be a running-back-by-committee situation, but we are saying that the Cowboys have plenty of options. It’s not like Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman are Elliott’s backups.
Also, it would different if Elliott ended up being on a completely stable team, like Seattle, New England or Green Bay. But to end up with the Cowboys, where things are always influx, Elliott’s first-year future is not first-round worthy.
As far as Todd Gurley goes, his breakout last season with the Rams is the very reason why Elliott is being over-hyped this year.
During a podcast with CBSSports.com’s Jamey Eisenberg, who defends Elliott as a first-round Fantasy pick, he posited that Gurley would have been a first-round Fantasy pick last year if he didn’t tear his ACL with Georgia the previous fall. (I completely disagree with this, considering the Rams were churning through running backs, including Zac Stacy and Tre Mason, and banking on an unknown as a first-rounder would have been as incorrect then as it is now.)
Consider this: Since 2000, there have been 16 Fantasy seasons, which means 16 different rookies were the first rookie taken in their respective drafts. But of that 16, only three of them ended up being the top-scoring rookie that season: Cadillac Williams, Eddie Lacy and Knowshon Moreno.
Has rookie history in Fantasy Football taught us nothing?
The one thing a veteran Fantasy Football player knows is that we don’t know anything. And with Elliott, there are just too many unknowns, including how he’s going to react to being a pro, what he’ll do with all of the money he suddenly has, and how well he’ll learn a completely new system against some of the best athletes in the world.
Banking on a rookie as your best player is not how you’ll set yourself up for success.
McFadden was thought to be the very best running back coming into the league in 2008, in a class that was absolutely stacked (including Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Jonathan Stewart). McFadden finished as the seventh-best rookie running back in Fantasy points, and the 44th-best overall RB. Zoiks.
As I said, I’d love to draft Elliott in Round 2, but I’m never going to have the chance … which is fine by me. Take a stud receiver if you don’t like your RB options, then double-down on tailbacks later on.
Featured Photo Credit: MGoBlog
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.