First-round fantasy drafters finally got the news they’ve been waiting for: Ezekiel Elliott has reported to the Cowboys.
Zeke’s extension comes with $90 million in new money, including a whopping $50 million guaranteed. Left without new deals are Amari Cooper and franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, as Jerry Jones continues to fight the cap battle to get all of “his guys” under contract for the foreseeable future.
If Jones thought he could fool any of us into thinking the Cowboys don’t run their offense through their star running back, he was sorely mistaken. Even if you include his eight missed games, Elliott has accounted for 33 percent of the team’s total offensive plays since arriving in 2016.
Despite missing all of training camp, Elliott has insisted he’s in football shape and ready to go. Even if Elliott is worked back in slowly — and NFL.com’s Jane Slater reports that might be the case — he remains an auto-start, opening up the season with the soft slate of the Giants, Redskins and Dolphins. Elliott’s value in PPR formats also continues to rise, as he reeled in the fifth most receptions amongst running backs in 2018.
Play-calling aside, Zeke has been intrinsically tied to the success of the Cowboys’ offensive production, and not just from a rushing standpoint. Prescott is not the same quarterback without his running back. In Dak’s eight-game sample without Elliott, he averages 5.51 fewer fantasy football points, 0.4 more INTs per game and 0.33 fewer touchdowns per game. Elliott extends drives, operates as a safety valve and provides defenses a nice distraction for a rushing quarterback like Prescott to sneak in for a touchdown himself. He provides an upgrade at every position fantasy-wise, from Prescott to Michael Gallup and beyond.
Immediately after being traded from the Raiders (ninth worst rushing offense in 2018) to the Cowboys, Cooper saw an immediate spike in production, a rarity for wide receivers switching teams mid-season. He was on pace to finish the season as the WR45 in Oakland, but he finished on a PPR WR7 pace with Dallas. With Elliott, Cooper and Gallup, the Cowboys have struck a perfect balance between the rush and pass that stands to benefit all fantasy assets involved.
While Zeke had the fantasy football community in sheer panic as they looked for a fill-in for their first round pick, many landed on rookie backup Tony Pollard. The No. 128 overall pick shined in the preseason and watched his ADP peak in the seventh round just days before Elliott’s extension was finalized. In an instant, Pollard went from potential league-winner to pure handcuff. So, what do we do with him now?
If you fell victim to the Pollard trap of 2019, it’s worth noting that you might be in a great position to sell him to Elliott owners, particularly in dynasty leagues. If you’re the Elliott owner, now is the time to buy. In three preseason games, Pollard racked up 15 rushing attempts for 84 yards and a touchdown and brought in all three of his targets for 19 yards. He showed ability as a dual-threat back in college at Memphis too, which is helpful should he ever need to step into the role.
Elliott’s holdout highlights the value of taking a look at your running backs in dynasty and assessing which might be worth handcuffing on the cheap. Some names that come to mind include Chase Edmonds with the Cardinals and Jaylen Samuels with the Steelers.
Don’t buy stock at its peak value, and fantasy football assets are no different. Heed the warning of Zeke!