Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has been one of the biggest fantasy football weapons since coming into the league. However, the former first-round pick had an underwhelming 2020 after Dak Prescott and several members of the offensive line went down to injury. With everyone healthy again, can Elliott return to being an elite fantasy football player?
2021 Fantasy Football Outlook: Ezekiel Elliott
The 2020 Dallas Cowboys were a very strange team. Losing your starting quarterback is obviously going to affect the performance of every other player on the team, but even with Prescott on the field, there isn’t much to be learned from Elliott’s 2020. The Cowboys defense was unspeakably bad early in the season, forcing Prescott and the offense into a shootout in every single game. For reference, Prescott was on pace for a record-shattering 710 passing attempts last year.
Despite Prescott’s high passing pace, the Cowboys weren’t really a pass-heavy team in neutral situations. Game script dictated they throw early and often, but when in a neutral script, the Cowboys were actually a well-balanced team. We are dealing with small samples here, but when Prescott was healthy and not playing in garbage time, the Cowboys ranked 15th in early-down passing frequency.
Good news for Ezekiel Elliott: even with Mike McCarthy in town, the offense was pretty balanced when adjusting for game script pic.twitter.com/2Q5EZexGZf
— Dave Latham, Lifelong Bucs Fan (@DLPatsThoughts) August 4, 2021
Elliott’s biggest strength in fantasy has always been his unquestioned control of the backfield. While he is getting up there in age, the running back still managed to have complete control of the rushing work. Through the first 13 games, Elliott played in at least 63% of the offensive snaps and had seven games with a 70% or high snap percentage. Those numbers dipped down the stretch, but that was likely due to injury. Elliott missed Week 15 and was likely on a snap count for the final two games of the season.
With Dak Prescott and the offensive line healthy, Ezekiel Elliott should be in for a bounce-back season. Even when just about everything went wrong last year, he still finished as the RB9 in PPR leagues. This is his floor, and his ceiling is a top-three finish. As previously mentioned, the Cowboys had a league-average passing rate with Prescott in neutral situations last year. If anything, the Cowboys will put even more emphasis on the run early on as they ease Prescott back into action.
This offense is going to score a lot of points, and the Cowboys defense should be better than it was during the first five weeks of 2020. This is a perfect recipe for Elliott, and he should be a lock for an RB1 finish if he keeps his massive workload.
Some fantasy analysts are worried about the presence of Tony Pollard, but I am not one of them. The advanced metrics and film both state that Pollard was the better running back last year, but I don’t think that will affect Elliott’s workload in any meaningful way. Elliott hasn’t truly been an elite runner since 2018, yet the Cowboys continue to give him all the touches he can handle. Rushing success has a lot more to do with the offensive line than the actual runner, and Elliott isn’t bad enough to actively sabotage the success of a running play. As long as he’s finding the holes and receiving a massive salary, he will be the featured back in this offense.
Ezekiel Elliott Fantasy Football Average Draft Position
As of this posting, Underdog ADP has Ezekiel Elliott as the fifth player off the board, right behind Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and Alvin Kamara. This also puts him in the same neighborhood as guys like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Davante Adams.
This is the perfect spot for Elliott. McCaffrey is the unquestioned 1.01, while Cook and Kamara should finish above Elliott. While I would personally take Elliott over Henry due to his work in the passing game, I can’t fault anyone that would rather have Henry.
Elliott is going to command a massive workload in what should be one of the best offenses in football. While he is getting older, he should have one or two more years of elite production left in his tank. Fortunately, age doesn’t really matter in redraft, and Elliott should easily return value in the middle of the first round.
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