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Was Drafting Ezekiel Elliott in the First Round Good Process or Just Good Results?


It seems like every single year there's some rookie running back who fantasy owners fall in love with. Whether it's Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry, the hype surrounding said rusher ends up making their ADP skyrocket. In some cases, like Zeke, the bandwagon pushes him as far as the first round. But for Derrick Henry, him being drafted by the Tennessee Titans to pair with DeMarco Murray but a damper on things. Either way, fantasy owners love their sleeper rookies.

Here we'll be taking a look at whether or not Ezekiel Elliot's first round ADP was justified as a good strategy or if it was just good results. I know that every single person reading this is going to say "of course it was a good strategy, he was so good!" We're not talking about how good he was, though. We're talking about whether or not it's wise to take a rookie in round one.

There are two sides to every single thing in life and this is no different. Let's examine whether drafting a rookie running back early is a strategy worth repeating in 2017.

 

Drafting Zeke in 2016: Lucky or Good?

Exhibit A: 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 322 attempts.

Exhibit B: 569 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 152 attempts.

If you paid attention to last season you'd know that Exhibit A is Ezekiel Elliot's rookie season. Exhibit B is Bishop Sankey's rookie season. In order for me to sway you over to my side you have to understand that the argument isn't "was Ezekiel Elliott worth taking in round one?" because that answer is obviously yes. It assumes that you're automatically getting the player we all expected him to be based on his collegiate performance. That's not what really what we're arguing. We're arguing whether or not it's worth it to take a rookie RB in round one.

That brings us to process versus results. The process is attempting to build your team around a rookie, running back or otherwise. I get that Bishop Sankey was drafted as an RB2 rather than an RB1 with an ADP in the fifth or sixth round. But even with that in mind, Sankey fizzled out faster than you can say "Washington Huskies." He was a total bust. And what does that tell us? It tells us that it's impossible to know how good (or how bad) a rookie is going to be. Zeke is certainly a more talented player and had a more successful, publicized college career. There's still plenty of counterarguments to go against him. Some expected Eddie Lacy to be the next dominant force in college football based on his past. He too is seeing his performance dwindle. What about Vince Young? Or Tajae Sharpe? Devin Funchess? Take your pick.

For every rookie that's a bust, there are a handful that are successful. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying all of these players were a bust. Just that their hype hasn't matched their on the field play...yet.) Saying that we knew, with absolute, one hundred percent certainty, that Ezekiel Elliott was going to be one of the top-three running backs in the league in his first year is a false reality. No one knows anything. We didn't know that LeGarrette Blount would score 18 touchdowns in 2016. We didn't know that DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson, two bonafide studs from 2015, would be so hindered by their quarterbacks that they'd break our hearts the following year. We. Don't. Know.

That's why it's results, not process. Zeke had to put up monster, Earth-shattering numbers in order for it to be worth the risk. Todd Gurley was the right strategy in round one of 2016 drafts. He was one of the leagues best backs the year prior, despite missing the first couple of games in his rookie year. So we take him on as the next big thing. Then the Rams do their Rams thing and go back to being a fantasy wasteland. It doesn't mean the pick wasn't justified or you should have known Gurley would be a colossal bust. Ezekiel Elliott happens to see himself in the reverse situation.

I will leave you with one completely out-of-the-box analogy. If you were to jump out of a plane without a parachute and somehow survived completely unscathed, would you still try and tell me that it was a good idea? Or would you say, "Hey, that was a really bad idea, but good thing it turned out OK!" Unless you are completely set in your ways, I think you'd lean toward the latter. So, if you have the feeling that Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook are going to be the next big thing once you see where they land on draft day, go ahead and pull the trigger. Just maybe not in the first round...