With the 2016 NFL Draft (Thursday, April 28) just a few days away, I wanted to take an early look at some of the top prospects.
I’m going to start with running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott College Stats
Weight: 225 lbs
Elliott burst onto the college football scene at Ohio State in 2014. He turned 273 carries into 1,878 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. In 2015, he followed up that performance with 289 rushing attempts, 1,821 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns.
While he wasn’t used excessively as a pass-catching back, Elliott averaged 27.5 receptions per year and 213 receiving yards per year from 2013 to 2014.
At the 2016 NFL Combine, Elliott put up a 40-yard dash time of 4.47 seconds. He’s hailed as a complete back, and if he gets the right opportunity, Elliott could make an immediate impact.
Of course, Fantasy Football players are already asking, “Should I draft Ezekiel Elliott in my 2016 Fantasy Football draft?”
That will largely depend on where he is drafted…
Potential Landing Spots for Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott certainly has the talent to make a Fantasy impact, but he needs to land on a team where he can receive a large workload.
After all, it doesn’t matter how talented you are if you are buried on the depth chart.
According to College Football 24/7 Editor Dan Parr, Elliott is linked to four teams with early picks:
Dallas Cowboys: No. 4 pick
New York Giants: No. 10 pick
Chicago Bears: No. 11 pick
Miami Dolphins: No. 13 pick
Elliott couldn’t ask for a much better landing spot than the Cowboys, as the offensive line for Dallas has ranked first by Pro Football Focus in back-to-back seasons.
The rushing attack for the Cowboys was a mess last year, and hopefully you listened to me and stayed far away from Joseph Randle. Keep in mind that Darren McFadden was still able to rush for over 1,000 yards and averaged 4.6 YPC, but Dallas is looking for more stability.
As far as competition, though, it’s not going to be a walk in the park for Elliott. He still has to beat out McFadden, Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar to carve out a meaningful role. Even if he does show he is more talented, he still could be stuck in some type of committee with McFadden or Morris.
Could he beat out all those backs and be the main back by Week 1? Sure, but just remember that he still could lose touches.
The Giants are probably the riskiest team Elliott could land on in terms of short-term Fantasy success. New York tried way too hard to split up carries between Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, and Andre Williams in 2015.
It finally seemed to sink in for the coaching staff that Jennings should handle most of the workload, and he averaged 108 rushing yards per game in his last four performances. Vereen started to have a bigger role as a receiver, and he averaged 5.3 receptions and 45.3 receiving yards per game in his final three performances.
The Giants did just sign Bobby Rainey, however, and the Giants tendered exclusive rights to Orleans Darkwa in March.
If the Giants want to make a long-term investment in a running back, Elliott would make sense. But with the moves the brass has made so far, it doesn’t appear the team has plans to draft a back in the early rounds.
The backfield for the Giants was a headache in 2015 Fantasy Football leagues, and Elliott will most likely not get enough touches to have Fantasy success in 2016 if he lands with New York.
Jeremy Langford stepped up during Matt Forte‘s absences, and the coaching staff continued to give him carries throughout the season to prepare him for 2016. While Langford showed potential, the brass for Chicago obviously doesn’t want to put all of their eggs in one basket.
It would be more beneficial to pair Langford up with a veteran back, but Langford and Elliott could still make a powerful duo. According to Parr, the running back coach for the Bears actually recruited Elliott at Ohio State.
Finally, the Dolphins are in a similar situation as the Bears, as new coach Adam Gase is now left with 22-year old back Jay Ajayi as his workhorse. The Dolphins may try to add Arian Foster to the roster when he gets healthier, but the team is seriously lacking in depth at the running back position.
Ajayi was considered one of the most talented backs in the 2015 NFL Draft, but teams were scared away from him because he tore his ACL in 2011. That’s how the Dolphins were able to draft him in Round 5.
I like Ajayi as a deep sleeper for 2016, but this is one of the less competitive backfields Elliott would find himself in. That means Miami could be the place where he sees the most touches, increasing his odds for Fantasy success.
But this is a team that still has to find an identity, which is never a good thing for a rookie player. Success for the Dolphins in 2016 will be tied to if Ryan Tannehill can take a step forward and improve under Gase.
Ezekiel Elliott’s 2016 Fantasy Football Value
In 2014, I said that Jeremy Hill would be a better pick than Carlos Hyde because Hill would have more touches than Hyde.
If you judge Elliott’s Fantasy success solely based on that, he has the most opportunity right now in Miami. His most ideal landing spot, however, would ultimately be Dallas.
But everything would have to be perfect…
The offensive line for the Cowboys would have to remain one of the best in football, and Morris and McFadden would have to have extremely limited roles.
Again, Elliott is talented enough that he could work his way up to the top of the depth chart. But in terms of instant success, tamper your expectations for instant Fantasy success for Elliott if he finds himself in a very crowded backfield.