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The Morning After

Ezekiel Elliott's Hot Start

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The running back position has been devalued. Spoiler alert. We had back-to-back drafts in 2013-14 without a single runner taken on Day 1. Teams would rather try to find a late-round Alfred Morris than risk an Hour 1 Trent Richardson. So when the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 overall, it wasn’t outright panned — have you seen Zeke’s college tape? — but rightfully viewed as a questionable throwback.


A throwback it has been — to the 2014 Cowboys, a dominant, ball-control offense that came within a Calvin Johnson Rule of the NFC Championship Game. You could argue Dak Prescott has been a more important find. The Cowboys could still run the ball in 2015, averaging 4.63 yards per carry and 118 yards per game, but were derailed by their total inability to replace an injured Tony Romo. Dak vs. Zeke for Cowboys Offensive Rookie of the Year could end up a debate worth having.


But if Prescott has surprised, Elliott has done everything the Cowboys expected and then some. Suddenly leading the league in rushing, Elliott has cleared 134 yards on the ground in three straight games. Slowed by conditioning issues early in the season as he returned from a hamstring injury, Elliott’s yards per carry have increased every week, going 2.6, 4.0, 4.7, 6.0 and 8.9. Sunday’s 15/134/2 performance — which included a 60-yard touchdown and another 37 yards receiving — came against a Bengals defense that entered the week allowing the eighth fewest fantasy points to opposing runners. Cincinnati was permitting just 3.8 yards per carry (13th) and 97.5 yards per game (14th). They had yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Elliott ran all over them, same as he did weaker units in the Bears and 49ers.


The Cowboys cannot declare victory on a draft pick after five games. Running backs have short shelf lives. As Todd Gurley is proving in painful fashion, Elliott can only go as far as his offensive line will take him. Right now, it’s dominant. Only time will tell Elliott’s Cowboys story. Fantasy owners, however, are under no such obligation to wait. Elliott has been a rousing success as a first-rounder, a potentially league-winning pick. Tough matchups with the Packers and Eagles are on deck, but Elliott — his speed, lateral agility and explosiveness — is as tough of a matchup for opposing defenses as they are for him. The first round in fantasy drafts was the right time for the league’s best young runner.         


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Five Week 5 Positives


Rob Gronkowski looking like Rob Gronkowski. Martellus Bennett’s three touchdowns got the headlines — and fantasy points — but it was Gronk with the most promising performance. Bennett proved he won’t be fading away with Tom Brady under center, but Gronk proved he was healthy, and a healthy Gronk is one of the most dangerous players in the league. Gronk caught a 19-yard pass on New England’s second play from scrimmage, and had the grab of the day moments later. Shedding hits and dragging would-be tacklers, Gronk rumbled 34 yards in a way no other NFLer can. Brady may have laid to rest his chemistry concerns with Bennett, but also reaffirmed his bromance with Gronk. It should be “better late than never” for fantasy players who took the first- and second-round plunge.  


Tevin Coleman’s latest air raid. A sprinter who caught only two passes as a rookie, Coleman wasn’t on the radar as one of 2016’s checkdown kings. 17 grabs and 313 receiving yards later, he’s lapping the field at running back pass catching. A kryptonite matchup for linebackers, Coleman needs only a few yards of space to create big plays. The Broncos gave it to him Sunday, and he made them pay repeatedly. Opposing defenses will wise up. Coleman’s Week 5 tape will be studied furiously. But there’s only so much you can do to stop Coleman’s 4.39 speed, and his surprisingly soft hands have him looking like a weekly top-30 option in every format.   


Sammie Coates’ 6/139/2 effort against the Jets. Coates’ day was remarkable on so many fronts. For his 72-yard touchdown where he ran right by Marcus Williams. For his career highs in catches, yards and scores. For his dropping not one, not two, but three other potential touchdown passes. Seriously. Coates had a mind-boggling case of the dropsies, but also a somewhat valid excuse, as he was playing through a lacerated and stitched-up hand. Most importantly, he had the trust of his quarterback, who kept coming his way despite the stones he slipped over his hands at critical moments. With a 40-yard catch in all five games this season, Coates is looking like who we thought Cordarrelle Patterson might be. There are going to be duds, but so many big plays in one of the league’s most explosive offenses.   


Terrance West’s 95-yard day. This one could actually be a negative, as despite West’s success, the Ravens bafflingly gave him just 11 carries against one of the league’s worst run defenses. It was all the more strange because the game was close throughout, and the windy remnants of Hurricane Matthew made throwing a dicey proposition. The problem has since been rectified with the firing of OC Marc Trestman. Despite Sunday’s questionable use, Trestman’s demise makes it clear West will get an extended look as the early-down hammer. The ex-Brown has 32 carries for 208 yards (6.50 YPC) in two games since Justin Forsett’s release. For all Kenneth Dixon’s promise, he didn’t show anything Sunday to suggest he’s ready to force a timeshare. West will be an upside RB2 for next week’s game against the Giants.  


LeSean McCoy continuing to eat. Facing a(nother) tough defense on the road, McCoy took the rock 18 times for 150 yards. Through five games, he’s rushed 85 times for 447 yards (5.25 YPC). He’s done so against a gang of run defenses allowing a collective 3.79 yards per carry and 94 yards per game. Now the schedule lightens up considerably, with arguably the league’s two worst Run Ds on tap in the 49ers and Dolphins. McCoy should carry teams in season-long, and be worth the price of admission in DFS.  


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Five Week 5 Negatives


Ryan Tannehill’s continued implosion. Tannehill was a Steady Eddie his first four years in the league, frustratingly never really getting any better, but stubbornly staying just good enough to suggest promise. 2016 has been different. Working with the best coach, at least by reputation, Tannehill has gone completely off the rails. Over the past two games he’s committed four turnovers, absorbed 11 sacks and produced one touchdown. For the year, he has seven scores and nine turnovers in five games. He’s taken at least five sacks three times. A bad line and nonexistent running game offer convenient alibis, but the simple truth is that Tannehill appears completely lost in the pocket. Perhaps we’re seeing why he infamously wasn’t allowed to audible under the previous regime. Tannehill doesn’t feel the pressure until its ramming his face into the turf. Without improvement against the Steelers and Bills the next two weeks, a benching is a real possibility, regardless of Gase’s claims.     


Brock Osweiler bottoming out. Watching Osweiler’s film might be the only thing that could cheer Tannehill up. The $72 million man has been a nightmare, completing 57.9 percent of his passes to go along with a 6.02 YPA and 6:7 TD:INT ratio. He was completely overmatched by the Vikings’ elite defense. That could happen to anyone, but Osweiler was nearly as bad against the Titans, Patriots, Chiefs and Bears. Osweiler has more than enough weapons at his disposal. He just might not have enough talent. It’s important to remember he was benched for Peyton Manning last season, who played the quarterback position worse than anyone else in the league. Osweiler has a cake Week 6 matchup in the Colts before venturing to Denver to take on Von Miller’s Broncos. He won’t be usable in either game, and perhaps won’t even be starting by Week 8.  


Melvin Gordon’s fumble in the latest Chargers meltdown. The Chargers were clinging to hope with 19 minutes remaining against the Raiders. That was their first mistake, but an understandable one. Winning 24-19, they had the ball at their own 34. That’s when Gordon decided to give it right to the Raiders, leading to an immediate touchdown and lead the Silver and Black would not relinquish. The critical giveaway was Gordon’s second in as many weeks. Gordon has seven total touchdowns, but played as big of a part in the Chargers’ constant meltdowns as anybody. He doesn’t make big plays (just six rushes of 10 yards or longer) and doesn’t sustain drives (3.35 yards per carry). He’s done all this against the softest schedule imaginable. Now Gordon must contend with the Broncos in two of his next three games. Sell high while you still can.      


Steve Smith Sr.’s ankle injury. The Rules and Regulations aren’t supposed to involve getting hurt, but that’s what Sr. did after getting off to a hot start against Josh Norman’s Redskins. The good news is, it’s not a season-ender like last year’s Achilles’ issue, but the bad news is, it could be a high-ankle sprain. Sr. has been truly ageless as a football player, but Father Time is nevertheless reminding him of his age much more often. If Smith misses Sunday’s game against the Giants, it will create a WR4 opening for sophomore Breshad Perriman.  


Yet another Browns quarterback getting hurt. We’re long past farce in Cleveland. Filling in for Josh McCown who was filling in for Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler got driven into the turf in the process of committing a safety. His shoulder looked wrecked, but a rib/chest injury was the diagnosis. Whatever it is, it seems likely to keep Kessler out for Week 6. It means Charlie Whitehurst will be under center, provided he’s not sidelined by the knee tweak he suffered late against the Patriots. It’s bad news for every Brown except Terrelle Pryor, who will probably be called on to play a bigger role in the passing game as a Kordell Stewart/slash player. Things continue to get worse before they get better in Cleveland.   


Questions


1. Like … has anyone ever explained the purpose of the game to the Chargers?


2. Will Angry Tom Brady at least spare the innocents?


3. When did the Jets re-sign Vernon Gholston and start him at all seven front seven spots?


Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)


QB: Marcus Mariota (vs. CLE), Alex Smith (@OAK), Trevor Siemian (@SD)

RB: Jay Ajayi, Jalen Richard, Dwayne Washington, Devontae Booker, James Starks, Bobby Rainey

WR: Sammie Coates, Jeremy Kerley, Kenny Britt, Chris Hogan, Robert Woods, Cameron Meredith, Breshad Perriman

TE: Cameron Brate, Hunter Henry, Charles Clay, Will Tye

DEF: Titans (vs. CLE), Lions (vs. LAR)


Stats of the Week


Fourth in receiving (507 yards), T.Y. Hilton is the only player in the league to be targeted at least 10 times in every game.


Aaron Rodgers had a sub-6.00 YPA for the third time in four games, and seventh in past nine.


Tom Brady’s 400-yard game in his 2016 debut was the eighth of his career. He did it in just 54 minutes.


Eli Manning has two touchdowns over his past four starts.


Tevin Coleman's 313 yards receiving are 28th in the NFL, and 75 more than any other running back.


Awards Section


Week 5 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB David Johnson, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR T.Y. Hilton, WR Sammie Coates, WR Amari Cooper, TE Martellus Bennett  


The Now You’re Starting To Get The Picture Award, from @MatthewFairburn: The crowd at the L.A. Coliseum is booing Jeff Fisher for kicking a field goal on fourth-and-four at the goal line down a TD.


The I’ve Had It Up To Here Award, from Barry Jackson: Don't worry. All Dolphins need are another QB (unless things change quickly),RG, RT, TE, CB, 2 LBs, 2 DEs, a safety.Other than that, great! 


Retweet of the Week, from @Chargers before it was a football account: going to bed.


Patrick Daugherty

Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for NBC Sports Edge. He can be found on Twitter .