Fantasy Spin - Ezekiel Elliott's Suspension

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Feel those shock waves? That's the fallout from the announcement that Ezekiel Elliott will be suspended the first six games of the 2017 season, stemming from allegations of domestic violence that occurred before his rookie season. Fantasy football owners who just burned their third overall pick on Elliott are undoubtedly kicking themselves (and the TV) for drafting this early.

Elliott will appeal, but it's highly likely the suspension will stick. There's obviously no way to replace an average of over 100 yards and one TD per game on 5.1 Y/A. So what happens now?

Let's look at all the ramifications, from where Elliott's ADP now falls to who stands to benefit from this surprising outcome.

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Who Will Carry the Weight in Dallas?

There's little need to explain the significance of this loss to the Cowboys and fantasy owners alike. In his rookie season, Elliott led the league in rushing yards (1,621), rush attempts (322), and yards per game (108.7). He scored 15 times in 15 games and was a true bell-cow in every sense of the word. His lesser production in the receiving department puts him just behind David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell in nearly all fantasy rankings, but it would be rare to find a re-draft league in which Elliott wasn't a top-three pick. Is there any way the Cowboys can replace that type of production with what's currently on the roster? In a word, no.

In 2016, veteran Alfred Morris served as a steady, if uninspiring backup, picking up 243 yards and a pair of TD on a paltry 3.5 yards per carry average. He contributed almost nothing as a pass-catcher either. His advantages: he's a solid pass protector, doesn't fumble (not even one in 2016), and looked good in the Cowboys' preseason opener. Odds are he will be the main back for the season opener, but that may not mean a whole lot. Morris seemed to be on the bubble to even make the roster at one point, but he's looked strong in training camp and is the most reliable runner they have at the moment.

Remember Darren McFadden? Oh he's still around. But he hardly played at all in 2016 before needing elbow surgery, and he's not likely to get much burn in the pre-season as they try to keep him healthy. You may not recall, but he actually managed over 1,000 yards on a healthy 4.6 YPC average starting 10 games for Dallas in 2015. If healthy (and not too rusty), he brings a lot more to the table than Morris as a runner and could eventually supplant Morris as the starter.

Then there's FB/RB hybrid Rod Smith. Smith is a big back from Ohio State that's been with the team for a few years. He's powerful and has impressed in the preseason, but offers little more than the prospect of a bulldozer who can drag guys for a couple yards in a cloud of dust. He was rumored to be the favorite to back up Zeke for a while during camp, but that moment may have passed.

Then finally there's Ronnie Hillman, who the Cowboys brought in to be the third-down back, replacing Lance Dunbar. Hillman is a dark horse, as he did respectably well as an every-down back for a short stint in Denver in 2015 after a rash of injuries gutted the depth chart. He's a longshot to be named the starter at any point, however. He was uninspiring in Minnesota last year before moving on to San Diego and doing even less, averaging 3.2 yards per rush attempt.

Bottom Line: The most likely scenario is that Morris is named the "starter," but only in a scenario where the dreaded committee approach is utilized, with Morris, McFadden, and Hillman splitting carries. Worse yet, until Elliott returns, Jason Garrett could opt to use Smith on the goal line, vulturing scores from whomever gets the bulk of the work. If you own Elliott, try to acquire Morris and/or McFadden ASAP and be ready to pony up the early FAAB. Just don't expect much and get ready to tear your hair out as the three or four understudies split carries until one gets a hot hand. Keep an eye out for current free agents like Rashad Jennings or DeAngelo Williams, who could be brought in to stabilize the position. They may be worth a flier in MFL10s or deep leagues.

 

The Impact on Dak

Maybe you're saying: "Well hey, this is fine by me. I own Dak, not Zeke." One thing the Elliott suspension likely means is that Dak Prescott's value as a passer and goal-line runner have increased for the first six games of the season. He ran for six TD last season and may be apt to try to run some more in himself, or have a few more designed runs or run/pass options called for him near the goal line in Zeke's absence. It's also inevitable that the breakdown of run/pass calls overall will skew to rely on Prescott's arm/legs more. If your league hasn't drafted yet, I wouldn't necessarily vault him way up your draft board to a QB1 because of this, but if you had him even with another QB, this may warrant nudging him up a spot or two.

 

Where to Pick Elliott Now

With nearly half of the fantasy season lost, Elliott is certainly not worth a first-round pick from here on out. Where his value lies certainly depends on the format and your leaguemates' respective opinions of him. With a three-game suspension to start 2016, Le'Veon Bell was still taken in the early second round on average and delivered amazing production the rest of the way, making him one of the best bargains of the draft season. Elliott's suspension is double that, however, so perhaps he's best left to the end of the second or early third round unless you believe that in 10 games he will find a way to outproduce players like Leonard Fournette or Todd Gurley. Many believe that Elliott was due for a slight decrease in production anyway, but any way you slice it, he is no longer an elite fantasy option for redraft leagues and can be considered a classic risk-reward pick.

 

More 2017 Fantasy Football & ADP Analysis


Check out all of RotoBaller's 2017 fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.