The Dallas Cowboys had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in their season debut. Quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a hand injury late in the 19-3 loss, and reports indicate that the franchise passer will need surgery and is going to be sidelined indefinitely. From a fantasy football perspective, this leaves Ezekiel Elliott in an interesting situation. Will the running back be able to be a viable option without his star quarterback?
#Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is set for surgery to repair a fracture in the thumb on his throwing hand, a clean fracture that knocks him out more than a month. He’ll have a firm timeline after the procedure: https://t.co/zwUi6Ms3Io
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 12, 2022
Fantasy Football: Ezekiel Elliott Outlook Without Dak Prescott
First, let’s talk about Elliott himself. Once valued as one of the most important players in fantasy football, the running back had plenty of red flags entering this year. Elliott showed signs of slowing down in each of the past two seasons, and some believed that Tony Pollard would earn a larger share of the work.
Based on the first game of the season, this prediction appears to be partially true. While Elliott is still the lead back, he’s not the unquestioned alpha of years past. When all was said and done, Elliott finished the night with 10 carries to Pollard’s six, and both running backs saw two targets.
Looking at the backfield from purely an opportunity standpoint, this looks similar to what the New England Patriots did with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson last year. Elliott will still be the lead back and see a sizable portion of the early-down opportunities, but Pollard will still see some early-down work and will likely finish the season with more targets. While both players saw two targets, Pollard ran more routes.
Life Without Dak Prescott
Running backs can still carry fantasy relevance while splitting early-down work, but they need to be in the right situation. Even if Prescott stayed healthy, it’s hard to imagine a world where this version of the Cowboys offense was good enough to make Elliott anything more than a low-end RB2.
Running backs that don’t catch too many passes need to score touchdowns, and it’s hard to do that when the offense cannot move the ball. Even when Prescott was in the game, the Cowboys’ passing attack looked awful. Prescott missed his fair share of throws and Tampa Bay’s defense is good, but the heart of the issue comes down to a lack of talent at the skill positions.
CeeDee Lamb wasn’t able to do it all on his own, and Noah Brown and undrafted rookie Dennis Houston didn’t do anything to inspire confidence. Add in the fact that Dallas’ banged-up offensive line lost yet another starter, and it’s hard to see how this offense would function even with a healthy Prescott. Michael Gallup will be back eventually, but how much hope can you reasonably place on a good-but-not-great receiver coming back from an ACL injury?
Nobody wants to lose their starting quarterback, but the Cowboys truly have no Plan B. Cooper Rush is bad, even by backup quarterback standards, and Dallas might honestly struggle to hit double-digit points on a weekly basis with Rush in the lineup. If Prescott truly cannot return for months on end, the team will likely trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. While notably better than Rush, he’s still a below-average starter that won’t be able to turn this underwhelming situation into anything above average.
Ultimately, this leaves Elliott in a terrible situation. He’s going to see a decent amount of early-down, low-value touches, but Pollard will eat into his passing work, and there won’t be many red zone opportunities to go around. Volume will get him somewhere, but it’s hard to imagine him being anything more than a low-end RB2 at best for the rest of the season.